The Ad Orientem Revolution has Begun!

Even before his election as the successor to St. Peter, Pope Benedict has been urging us to draw upon the ancient liturgical practice of the Church to recover a more authentic Catholic worship. For that reason, I have restored the venerable ad orientem position when I celebrate Mass at the Cathedral. (Bishop Edward J. Slattery, East Oklahoma)

Okay, it’s only in one diocese – and then only in the Cathedral when Bishop himself celebrates mass, nevertheless, it shows what can be done when a bishop decides to use his own proper authority for regulating the liturgy in his own diocese. No need to wait for Vatican III on this, guys!

You can read his full article here.slattery(He looks a “let’s do it” kinda guy, doesn’t he?)

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42 responses to “The Ad Orientem Revolution has Begun!

  1. Did Lutherans copy the Catholic change of orientation after the Council, as Anglicans did? Facing the people really does detract from the sacrality of the Mass: as one priest said, “It’s not a cooking demonstration.”

    I am aware that traditional, liturgically-minded Lutherans are still very clear that the priest and ministers turn to the congregation when addressing them, as when the Scriptures are read and preached, and likewise turn to face the same direction as the congregation when prayer is offered to the Lord.

    Contrast this with a young Catholic, who told me that he’d never realized that the priest prayed at all at Mass – he just thought he pronounced an unending series of exhortations. It is peculiar to read prayers toward the congregation as if they are the intended recipients, rather than the ones for and with whom the prayer is offered unto God.

    How ridiculous it is that some priests turn the Consecration into a mime: “Take this (lifts host), all of you (makes sweeping gesture with it), and eat it…” – for these words are in the midst of a prayer to God the Father, the Holy One being addressed.

    Oddly enough, the shift from the age-old ad orientem versus rests upon no real document – there was a brief excitement about liturgical historians about it in the fifties and sixties, but research has reconfirmed that it was the norm until, oh, 1969… – and indeed the very rubrics of the Missal still presume the priest faces East, with his people, not against them, since at certain points it still says “turning to the people” he ought say such-and-such.

    It’s such a sad canard to claim that the priest has his back to his flock: no, he leads them toward the Return of Christ in glory, which wonder is foreshadowed in the Mass.

    As well, Catholic sensibilities find it odd that the priest facing the people has his back to the tabernacle, if this is centred and not shunted off to the side.

    The priest stands at God’s board as mediator, like a new Moses, as an sacramental icon and instrument of Christ the Priest: he is not meant to be an actor, comedian, or lame-duck president gamely smiling over a navel-gazing mob.

  2. Traditional Lutheran church architecture assumes the “ad orientem” direction. Newer Lutheran architecture has been influenced by Vatican II and/or evangelical protestantism (for example, free-standing altars). Explanation given for the priest/pastor standing behind the altar and facing the people is mainly that of “proclamation” (and with some it is boiled down to simple communications theory).
    In short, “ad orientem” is lauded by traditional Lutherans.

  3. Tony

    … it shows what can be done when a bishop decides to use his own proper authority for regulating the liturgy in his own diocese.

    Presumably just about every other bishop has used his ‘proper authority’ to allow for the priests to face the people?

    Is there some mystery about God being ‘more present’ in the East than in the space between the priest and the congregation?

    • Yes, when “facing the people” was introduced, this was done precisely on the authority of the local bishop. But this was a very long time ago (episcopally speaking) and today’s bishops have simply inherited the decisions (made on a lack of of understanding the true liturgical importance of the 1900+ years of ad orientem celebration – an importance of which you, Tony, also seem to be unaware) of the past. Armed with a better appreciation and forty years of experience of the effect of the “westward” facing experiment, today’s bishops are in a new situation to judge and compare the wisdom of the past and the present.

      • Peregrinus

        Question: Is the decision about orientation one which a bishop takes for his diocese or his priests, or is it one for the individual celebrant? If, e.g., my pastor wished to celebrate ad orientem in my parish church, would he need his bishop’s agreement? (Or would it merely be prudent to seek it?)

        • Actually, you are quite right. The individual celebrant needs no authorisation to decide to celebrate “ad orientem”, as this was and remains the universal norm. What is required is in fact permission to celebrate from “behind” the altar – an authority which is given by individual bishops. Still, if a priest were to decide to do this regularly at Sunday mass in the Ordinary Form of the Rite, he would be prudent to preceed this with a great deal of education (similar to that which Bishop Slattery gave in his diocesan paper) and to get the support of his bishop in this decision.

          • I will add though, that as far as I know, the local bishop could recind his permission for celebrating from “behind” the altar, thus requiring all priests in his diocese to adopt the “ad orientem” position. Again, it such a requirement would need to be made in a very prudent manner to encourage priests to comply!

      • Tony

        David,

        You seem to be implying that every other bishop (except Bp Slattery presumably) suffers from a lack of understanding or made their decisions about orientation by ‘inheritance’.

        Bit of self-serving logic there don’t you think?

        Is it possible that some … most … almost all Bishops made a decision for facing the people that was intended and based on their understanding of liturgy (which may be different to yours)?

        By your own admission, Slattery seems to be the only one who is ‘marching in step’.

        … today’s bishops are in a new situation to judge and compare the wisdom of the past and the present.

        You mean one bishop and why is the situation ‘new’? I’d guess that a significant number of bishops (and an even higher number of Cardinals) have a strong memory of pre-VatII orientation.

        • No, that isn’t what I am saying, Tony, and you know it. I am saying that the Latin Rite Catholic bishops of the world have inherited a situation from their forbears that is now astonishingly entrenched (given its very recent history). The reversing of the usual orientation came about because practically no-one (no one of influence anyway) understood the importance of “the old way”. They all seemed to assume it had something to do with “the priest having his back to the people.” The 1960’s were full of strange ideas about the world, and this was just one of them.

          It would require “great courage” (as Sir Humphrey would say) for any bishop to take the step 0f returning our liturgical orientation to normal. Probably the best way is by pastoral example, rather than by dictat. The Bishop of Rome and the Bishop of East Oklahoma have both taken this step. There may in fact be others around the world less publicised. I think we will find, over time, a growing number of Bishops and Priests returning to the normal orientation as awareness of the issues and of the real purpose of this orientation grows.

          • Tony

            No, that isn’t what I am saying, Tony, and you know it.

            Well no, I don’t and your point of view is not advanced by telling me what I know.

            What I know is what I see every week and that is priests facing the congregation.

            The reversing of the usual orientation came about because practically no-one (no one of influence anyway) understood the importance of “the old way”.

            But this is the point I was suggesting beggars credulity. We are talking about a period of very stable leadership dominated by two in particular — PJPII and PB16 — and you’re saying ‘no one of influence understood the old way’?

            It seems to me that an implication of your theory is that just about every Bishop (not to mention Cardinal) has been either spineless or ignorant or both on this issue.

            Of course Ratzinger was there at the beginning (VatII) and is now Pope. So what’s changed?

            Is it possible that there is another view, ie, that bishops have actually engaged with this issue (rather than passively inherited it) and decided for the norm (NB by norm I mean what I see every week)?

  4. Peregrinus

    Couple of points, in no particular order:

    1. My experience of [i]ad orientem[/i] masses is limited (and, since early childhood, has exclusively involved the Ordinary Form).

    2. I think it is most effective in a small, intimate chapel, where celebrant and congregation are physically close, not separated by space or by substantial architectural features. In that environment you really do get a powerful sense of the celebrant praying for and with the people. I think this is to some extent lost if the celebrant is separated from the people by screens, altar rails, long choirs or chancels, a flight of steps, etc. At the worst extreme you have the celebrant standing directly in front of the tabernacle and celebrating mass on a sort of shelf, widely separated from the congregation whose participation in the sacrament is limited by the fact that they can neither see nor hear the celebration. I honestly don’t think that this is pastorally or liturgically effective.

    3. With respect to the practice of other traditions, I have seen at Anglican eucharists the minister celebrating from the south side of the altar, i.e. facing the altar and presenting his profile to the congregation, who can thus see and hear what he is doing and saying, without getting the sense that he is “performing” to them.

    4. I think there is a danger in the “facing God” language used to support the [i]ad orientem[/i] posture, particularly when – as is common – the tabernacle is centrally located being the altar. I’ve met an awful lot of [i]ad orientem[/i] fans who equate “facing God” and “facing the tabernacle”; this seems to me to give the tabernacle a role and significance which, in the Eucharist, belongs to the altar. I have to say that the “shelf altar” which was common before churches were re-ordered can contribute to this problem, in minimising the physical significance of the altar while maximising that of the tabernacle. The “facing God” language also appears to me to deny – or, at least, to be capable of being read as denying – the reality of the Church as the Body of Christ. If the celebrant faces the other members of the Eucharistic assembly, in what sense is he [i]not[/i] “facing God”?

    5. The [i]ad orientem[/i] posture predates the fashion for placing tabernacles behind the altar. (Indeed, it predates the fashion for having tabernacles at all.) It’s likely that it symbolises facing the rising sun, and so facing the dawn that is the Resurrection. It’s also quite likely, I would guess, that it is an inheritance from pagan customs (and I see no problem with that). In the modern world this symbolism loses much of its force for us – we are an industrial, not an agricultural society. Plus, we have artificial light, so the dawn is not quite as important to us as it was to our ancestors. I think the facing God/facing the tabernacle rationale is an attempt to substitute a new significance, now that the old has lost its force.

    6. I think the “priest parying for and with people” argument does tell in favour of [i]ad orientem[/i], especially if the environment of the particular church is conducive to that. I also think this would be reinforced if we accepted the norm of the people, as well as the priest, standing throughout the Eucharistic prayer, so that their posture is the same in stance as well as direction.

    • Couple of points, in no particular order:

      1. My experience of [i]ad orientem[/i] masses is limited (and, since early childhood, has exclusively involved the Ordinary Form).

      My experience, on the other hand, from my childhood right up until the time when I began to celebrate the liturgy myself as a Lutheran pastor when I embraced the “Roman style”, was of “ad orientem” celebration. Most Lutheran clergy in Australia would still celebrate the liturgy in this fashion, as most Lutheran altars (complete with high neo-gothic reredos) are still against the “west” wall.

      2. I think it is most effective in a small, intimate chapel, where celebrant and congregation are physically close, not separated by space or by substantial architectural features. In that environment you really do get a powerful sense of the celebrant praying for and with the people. I think this is to some extent lost if the celebrant is separated from the people by screens, altar rails, long choirs or chancels, a flight of steps, etc. At the worst extreme you have the celebrant standing directly in front of the tabernacle and celebrating mass on a sort of shelf, widely separated from the congregation whose participation in the sacrament is limited by the fact that they can neither see nor hear the celebration. I honestly don’t think that this is pastorally or liturgically effective.

      Your pastoral and liturgical judgement is completely at odds with the pastoral and liturgical judgement of the entire Church, east and west, before 1970. In the East, the iconastasis served the same purpose as the European long chancels and rood screens. I have never heard an Eastern Orthodox criticise the iconastasis as liturgically or pastorally unhelpful. In fact, even in the west, for many centuries, the Eucharistic canon was recited by the priest at the altar entirely covered by a curtained canopy. Evidence of this can still be seen in ancient churches in Rome and elsewhere.

      3. With respect to the practice of other traditions, I have seen at Anglican eucharists the minister celebrating from the south side of the altar, i.e. facing the altar and presenting his profile to the congregation, who can thus see and hear what he is doing and saying, without getting the sense that he is “performing” to them.

      The reason the Anglicans did this is precisely because they knew what “ad orientem” celebration implied: that the mass was a sacrifice offered to God. The Oxford Movement was responsible for changing the practice almost universally in Anglicanism to the “ad orientem” celebration until the 1970’s. The practice of “south end” celebration only survives today in a few historically low church Anglican parishes (mostly replaced today by evangelical Anglicanism).

      4. I think there is a danger in the “facing God” language used to support the [i]ad orientem[/i] posture, particularly when – as is common – the tabernacle is centrally located being the altar. I’ve met an awful lot of [i]ad orientem[/i] fans who equate “facing God” and “facing the tabernacle”; this seems to me to give the tabernacle a role and significance which, in the Eucharist, belongs to the altar. I have to say that the “shelf altar” which was common before churches were re-ordered can contribute to this problem, in minimising the physical significance of the altar while maximising that of the tabernacle. The “facing God” language also appears to me to deny – or, at least, to be capable of being read as denying – the reality of the Church as the Body of Christ. If the celebrant faces the other members of the Eucharistic assembly, in what sense is he [i]not[/i] “facing God”?

      This is a real confusion – but the solution is education. As you point out below, the “ad orientem” celebration is much, much more ancient than the placement of the tabernacle on the altar, and so the two are linked actually in the opposite way from that which the confusion implies: the natural instinct was to place Sacrament where the divine presence was already liturgically situated: in the “East”.

      5. The [i]ad orientem[/i] posture predates the fashion for placing tabernacles behind the altar. (Indeed, it predates the fashion for having tabernacles at all.) It’s likely that it symbolises facing the rising sun, and so facing the dawn that is the Resurrection. It’s also quite likely, I would guess, that it is an inheritance from pagan customs (and I see no problem with that). In the modern world this symbolism loses much of its force for us – we are an industrial, not an agricultural society. Plus, we have artificial light, so the dawn is not quite as important to us as it was to our ancestors. I think the facing God/facing the tabernacle rationale is an attempt to substitute a new significance, now that the old has lost its force.

      In fact, you don’t have to look for a pagan origin for the practice of east-orientation (a tautology, by the way): it was already firmly established in the Jewish cult. The temple in Jerusalem was oriented toward the east. There is a fascinating study called “Yahweh and the Sun” (see http://books.google.com.au/books?id=n8XblpbjPTIC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q=&f=false ) which demonstrates the importance of east-facing in the Jewish cult. Of course, it is related to the created cosmos and the place of the human being within it. The Christian liturgy embraced this and incorporated into their worship of the Creator. The ancients had a much more acute awareness of this than we do today. This became painfully obvious to me recently when I asked my Anima Education class where they thought the seven day week had its origin. “Genesis 1?”, they suggested. But how does this explain the seven day week in non-Jewish cultures? They were at a loss. Not one of them pointed to the four seven day periods of the phases of the lunar month. It is time we once again reacquainted ourselves with the wisdom of the ancients. Take off your shoes and feel the earth!

  5. Peregrinus

    Couple of points, in no particular order:

    Your pastoral and liturgical judgement is completely at odds with the pastoral and liturgical judgement of the entire Church, east and west, before 1970. In the East, the iconastasis served the same purpose as the European long chancels and rood screens. I have never heard an Eastern Orthodox criticise the iconastasis as liturgically or pastorally unhelpful. In fact, even in the west, for many centuries, the Eucharistic canon was recited by the priest at the altar entirely covered by a curtained canopy. Evidence of this can still be seen in ancient churches in Rome and elsewhere.

    Perhaps I should have said “I don’t think ad orientem celebration is liturgically or pastorally effective at fostering the sense of priest praying for and with the people when there are wide spaces, architectural barriers, etc.” There may of course the other considerations which point towards its suitability.

    I note what you say about iconostases, canopies,etc. If the people can’t see the priest at all, then obviously different considerations apply. I think their inability to see him is itself a barrier to the formation of the sense of unity of purpose which we are speaking of here, and this will be so regardless of what posture he adopts behind the screen or canopy. The western liturgical tradition departs from the eastern in decisively “opening up” the altar to the view of the faithful, and this is one respect in which I prefer the Western tradition. (Yes, this is a departure from the very earliest traditions – but, then, so it liturgical Latin.)

    The reason the Anglicans did this [celebrating from the south] is precisely because they knew what “ad orientem” celebration implied: that the mass was a sacrifice offered to God. The Oxford Movement was responsible for changing the practice almost universally in Anglicanism to the “ad orientem” celebration until the 1970’s. The practice of “south end” celebration only survives today in a few historically low church Anglican parishes (mostly replaced today by evangelical Anglicanism).

    Interesting. Right enough, I saw this in Ireland, where traditionally the Anglican church has been fairly broad-to-low.

    This [facing God/facing the Tabernacle] is a real confusion – but the solution is education. As you point out below, the “ad orientem” celebration is much, much more ancient than the placement of the tabernacle on the altar, and so the two are linked actually in the opposite way from that which the confusion implies: the natural instinct was to place Sacrament where the divine presence was already liturgically situated: in the “East”.

    Current liturgical norms are that the tabernacle is [i]not[/i] to be on the altar of celebration. It may be on the sanctuary “in a form and place more appropriate” which is apart from the altar of celebration, or it may be in a separate chapel of its own (connected to the church). And I suspect that this emphasis is an attempt to avoid the placement of the tabernacle to dominate the altar which has contributed to the misunderstanding which seems to be widespread.

    One further thought on “priest praying with and for the people”. When we are on a common journey, or watching a performance, we all tend to face in the same direction, for obvious reasons. But for most other common projects, we tend to face one another – whether this be sharing a meal, or planning an enterprise, or having a conversation. And the more the common project involves participation by all, the truer this is.

    We certainly can’t imagine the mass as watching a performance. We can, I suppose, imagine the mass as a common journey (to Calvary and beyond), but that’s hardly the dominant mode of imagining or discussing the mass in the Catholic tradition. It does seem to me that “the priest praying with and for the people” requires that priest and people should all face the altar, but this criterion is met by both ad orientem and versus populum stances. And “all facing the altar” is just as much a common orientation as “all facing East” – more so, in fact, in a cross-shaped church which uses transepts for seating, where part of the congregation is in fact facing north or south, but all are still facing the altar. Plus, versus populum puts the focus on the (real) altar rather than the (rather abstrusely symbolic) liturgical East.

    So on the whole I think it’s right that versus populum should be the usual stance. It puts the focus on the altar without the need for any “education” which, so far as I can see, has been woefully lacking so far, and needs to start among the liturgical traditionalists themselves.

    • You seem to assume, Perry, that there SHOULD be some sort of direct relationship evident between the people and the priest in the liturgy. This is, in fact, an unwarrented assumption. The real relationship that matters in the liturgy is the relationship of both priest and people to God, present by the Spirit in Jesus Christ. The “invisibility” of the priest therefore emphasises the mystery of the presence of God, and orientation toward him, rather than toward the priest.

      As you say, the current GIRM Australia expressly states that “it is more in keeping with the meaning of the sign that the tabernacle in which the Most Holy
      Eucharist is reserved not be on an altar on which Mass is celebrated.” (GIRM §315) However, there is nothing to suggest that a “front and centre” placement in the Church is not still most appropriate . In fact, GIRM Australia even envisages a situation where “the tabernacle is in the centre behind the altar” (§310).

      As you rightly point out, in situations where our focus is on an object beyond ourselves, eg. “on a journey” to a particular destination as you suggest, it is true that we all face in the same direction. In other activities, where our focus is on one another or on an object or activity that is “in our midst” rather than beyond our midst, we tend to gather facing each other. I guess it rather depends on what you understand we are doing in the liturgy as to which you think is more appropriate.

      The fact is that it is all to easy to imagine the mass as a “performance”. The set up is exactly the same as a theatre or a cinema – a “stage” up the front, and a place where the “audience” sits. The fact that there is actually something/someone “to watch” up the front just invites us more into this.

      I recall once a Lutheran school chaplain telling me a story about an exchange student from Asia attending school chapel devotions (non-Eucharistic, but still focused on the central altar and cross in the front of the church). She was spooked. “You all get together, sit in front of the stage, and talk to someone on the stage, but there isn’t anyone there.” Interesting, isn’t it?

      As for “both ad orientem and facing the people stances” in the liturgy, of course there are times when it is appropriate for the priest – or other liturgical minister – to be facing the people. Eg. For the readings, for blessings, for greetings, etc. And there are other times when it is appropriate to be facing east, for all prayers (which, oddly enough, are addressed to God and not to the people, so why should the priest be facing the people when he says them?).

      Regarding cross-shaped churches, did you know that before the “remodelling” that shifted the altar into the crossing between the transepts the seating in the Cathedral in Melbourne, which is cross shaped including the seating in the transepts, all faced toward the eastern sanctuary? I think this would have been the case universally in such buildings.

      “The real altar”? What do you mean?

      And no, the versus populum does NOT put the emphasis on the altar, it puts the focus on the altar AND the priest who stands at it.

  6. Basically, the whole “facing the people” deal (as a norm) was a big mistake and should never have been adopted. Good to see someone making an effort to reverse the decision.

  7. Augustine says (De Verbis Domini, Sermone 100, 2): “The East,” that is Christ, “calleth thee, and thou turnest to the West,” namely mortal and fallible man.

    – St Thomas Aquinas, S.T., IIaIIæ, 189, 10, resp.

    An important correction for you all:

    NO bishop permitted/ordered the priest to say Mass facing the people – it suddenly came in at the time of the reform of the liturgy, but no document mentions it except obliquely (a few mention a free-standing altar as good, saying that if there is one the priest is thereby free to face the people, but if you trace back the footnotes to this from one document to the next you find that there is NO order, nor justification given, for this).

    It is a product of now-outdated liturgical historical research, which naively and rather foolishly though that pre-Constantine the liturgy was celebrated ad populum – when all modern research simply confirms that the liturgy always and everywhere was ad orientem versus.

    In Catholic spheres, the reason for celebrating ad orientem – viz., that it is an immemorial and apostolic custom received in our tradition – had been forgotten. The early liturgical movement sought to educate people about the existing rites, so that people could more deeply and intelligently participate. The bastard offspring of this was the move to change, simplify and rationalize in an Enlightenment manner…

    The earliest mention in Catholic circles of changing to facing the people was in the context of Low Mass, where the scripture readings were read by the priest at the altar (though in the very rubrics it was allowed to have the Epistle read at the rails by a lector, this had died out). In order for him to read the readings facing the people, the suggestion was made to say all the Mass versus populum. Obviously there is no need to do so in the Novus Ordo.

    It is completely unheard of to locate God in between the priest and people (He is illimitable and everywhere), let alone identify the presence of the Lord in His Body, all His people, as the supreme locus of God on earth – obviously, as every liturgical document states, God is supremely present in the Eucharistic species, more so than in Jack or Jill, filled by grace as one hopes they are.

    As the Pope (when Cardinal) pointed out, to think that God is more present in the assembly, and so one should face the congregation, is to lapse into aberrant and absurd self-worship and solipsism. The worship of God thus becomes navel-gazing.

    Recall my friend who as a boy thought the priest never prayed, just exhorted the congregation on and on and on… which is how the modern Mass can come across at its worst.

    It is quite Catholic to see being close to the priest as great – after all, mediæval pictures of Low Mass often show the kneeling people crowding up to and around the very altar in their joy and desire. But in a large church on a feastday or Sunday, there is also something grand and moving about a big sanctuary with the most holy Mysteries being consummated therein – and if you haven’t served at a big Mass, you will not realize that as much space as possible is needed in the sanctuary to allow for the ceremonial action to be really splendid.

    Perry, I think it uncatholic and also incredibly patronizing to the whole venerable Eastern tradition – arguably more in continuity with all ages than our own Western rite – to airily dismiss their sacred liturgical practices on sentimental grounds. This is very rude.

    Facing the altar – all on the same side of the altar – is more uniting of all in a common purpose and common orientation (I use the word in all its senses) than opposing the cleric to the laity by having them on different sides!

    The idea of priest and people, or worse, different sections of the people, staring at each other is distracting and subtracts from the predominant and primary focus on the liturgy: the vertical dimension ad Deum, from our communion with Whom comes our fellowship with each other (the horizontal dimension, which is necessarily secondary).

    David, and other Lutherans, remind us of the tradition that we western Catholics have neglected and turned away from in our folly!

    How stupid of us, giving in to the myth of progress that is so untrue (we are no better than our fathers, no more moral; likewise, how dare we claim we are more religious), to think that just because something has been done since the all-hallowed Council it is therefore more important than 1900 years of worship. How utterly divorced from the right notion of tradition!

    Please see my post on this very issue, summarizing the ancient and universal understanding of worship toward the East as the norm and rule for Catholics:

    http://psallitesapienter.blogspot.com/2009/06/turn-altars-round.html

  8. Perry,

    Not to I wish to be intemperate (forgive me), but it is more Catholic to realize, as the latest revision of the rubrics of the Missal state, that in a smaller (read typical parish) church (or chapel) the best place for the Sacrament is centred – whereas in a really big church (read Cathedral or collegiate church) it is just as appropriate, and, more important, in continuity with tradition, to have a special and noble altar and chapel of the Bl Sacrament.

    There is a good reason why the faithful like to see the tabernacle in the middle, not thrown off to one side as if it were a relic or statue fit only for old women.

    Do you note the rubrics and the insistence of Canon Law (look it up) that the faithful should, upon coming into church, reverence the sacrament by genuflecting? Obviously, if the tabernacle is shoved away and downgraded, so will the correct response to it: to hail and adore Christ present in His Sacrament.

    If the Mass is said ad orientem, it is fitting to see the reserved sacrament at the Eastward end of the church, since it is in veiled mystery the presence of Christ amongst us, Who in glory shall come again, Whose great works we remember and Whose Advent we await with eagerness and trembling.

    It is particularly upsetting to sensibilities to see the priest turn his back to the Sacrament.

    The devotion to the altar came first; by an obvious process of paying due honour to the Sacrament, over time it came to be co-located with the altar. Now, one obvious lesson of the postconciliar reforms is that some things are irreformable without real loss and the encouragement of heterodoxy: because taking the tabernacle away can scandalize and confuse the faithful.

    If Mass is said eastward, how easily all these issues square with each other: all face east together, and the mysterious presence of Christ even outside the Mass is shewn intimately linked therewith by having the place of reservation closely united with the altar.

    There is nothing sillier than having a blessed sacrament chapel with no altar!

  9. We ought have a hunger for the Mysteries!

    How well this is cultivated when Mass is said ad orientem!

    The Liturgy of the Word is celebrated “usward”, since it is God’s message to His beloved.

    Then, in response to this, we give thanks in the supreme fashion…

    The priest advances to the altar, and there arranges the elements he sets apart from profane use for their utter transformation…

    He turns to us all, as we rise, such is the urgency of his request: Pray that this sacrifice be acceptable! We all cry out that this be so, for the glory of God and the good of all His holy Church.

    He glorifies the Lord… we sing the song of all the armies of heaven…

    (Since he enters into the Great Prayer, he does not, nor ever has, turned to us even when singing “Lift up your hearts” – his very posture makes us look to the East with eagerness.)

    All of drama is encapsulated in this: in this the Great Prayer, he acts in the person of Christ, Who is the Invisible and Only Priest – and lifts up high for us all to behold and worship the Holies, for what was mere bread and watered wine has become the Flesh and Blood of Him Who is our Life, offered for us all.

    This first elevation (or pair thereof) is for us to recognize Christ come in His Mysteries, so the focus is on adoration.

    The priest commemorates the great works of God in Christ, and offers the Victim for living and dead… at the end of the Prayer, he makes a joint elevation: Through Him, with Him, in Him [Who is present as Victim], all glory and honour are unto God!

    This second lifting up, as the rubrics specify, is not for us to look at: rather, it is a gesture of offering. (Neither here, nor at the twofold elevation earlier, may nor should the priest turn to the people.)

    Without turning, the priest leads us all in the Lord’s Prayer…

    The priest turns from the altar only twice more until giving out Communion: first, to bless us with the Peace of Christ; second, to call us to come receive the Body of Christ! Lord, we are not worthy!

    If, as the rubrics have always provided, and as seems better to express the unity of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest likewise prays the Prayer after Communion at the altar, he only turns to the people again at the very end of the Mass, to bless them and send them forth.

    This is very fitting and very moving, attesting to the sublime mysteries being brought to us from heaven on high.

    This is the modern Mass offered up in continuity, as the Pope recognizes to be the more perfect way.

    (Cardinal Hume noted that such ad orientem celebrations, as at the Brompton Oratory, is really much more in accord with what the Council Fathers desired. Too much not in consonance with the Council was railroaded through, to the peril of souls.)

  10. There is also, in the Fore-Mass (as the earlier liturgical movement writers called it) a pertinent movement across the sanctuary, from the right of the altar (as seen from the nave) to the left thereof:

    1. Initially, the priest venerates the altar in the centre (just as, upon entering the sanctuary, he genuflects to adore the reserved Sacrament, as the liturgical books have always and still specify).

    2. He then goes to the chair, which – pace those who enthrone it behind the altar – is better on the right, and leads the penitential rite there, and there prays the collect (perhaps facing the altar).

    3. The focus then shifts to the lectern on the left: there the lessons are read for us. (If there is a deacon, he is blessed on the right, carries the Gospel from its throne on the altar, and reads it on the left also.)

    4. The sermon can well be preached, not from the lectern, but from the chair – as is especially fitting for bishops, but as priests may do.

    5. The Creed and intercessions can be led from the right at the chair; the deacon (or reader of the intercessions in his absence) can be on the left.

    Then, to the central altar!

  11. Recall, Perry, that even if the people stand for the Eucharistic Prayer, the rubrics of the Missal have always and still specify that all kneel – even the deacon(s) – for the Consecration, as a sign of adoration.

    Notitiæ has advised that, for those unable to kneel owing to infirmity or whatnot, the proper posture is to bow profoundly at this point.

    Compare this to the “lazy Mass” I often see here in my hometown: the congregation SIT right through the Preface and Eucharistic Prayer. This is so poor and disrespectful.

    Here in Australia, the bishops have ruled that we should all kneel for the Prayer and so forth: disobedience is wrong.

    The new edition of the Missal declares that, where the custom of kneeling throughout is kept, this is praiseworthy – sentire cum Ecclesia!

  12. A curiosity on kneeling: before the Council, the posture of the people at Mass was a matter of custom rather than prescription; gradually, over time, kneeling had come to be more and more common, for the very obvious reason that – as the New Testament shews – it is the posture of prayer and adoration. Fear those who would dissuade one from kneeling!

    But in any case, the posture of the ministers and those in choir was regulated by the rubrics and ceremonial – sometimes bizarrely to modern sensibilities: for instance, those in choir ought kneel during the Canon UNTIL after the Elevation of the Chalice, when they ought stand!

  13. Johno

    In this great southern land of Australia, are there any priests celebrating the Novus Ordo ad orientem?

    If not, why not?

    Does it take we the parishoners to ask?

  14. Well. Thanks for all that, Josh. A lot to take in, but just goes to show ya that there are solid thoelogical, historical, canonical and liturgical reasons for the ad orientem orientation.

    And the only reason behind versus populum is “I think its nicer”.

    • “I think it’s nicer” is the only argument that counts these days, David!

    • Tony

      And the only reason behind versus populum is “I think its nicer”.

      That makes three suggestions as to why versus populum is the norm by my reckoning:

      1. Bishops passively inherited it
      2. Bishops didn’t have the spine to change back to the ‘proper’ way, and now
      3. They (and, I guess, most Catholics) think it’s ‘nicer’.

      I am disciplined, mentally tough,
      trained and proficient in rational thinking and argumentation.

      Then you’d know about straw men I’d wager!

      • Was your comment meant to make any sense, Tony?

        If you rarely ever agree with David, yet consider yourself not to be out with the dissident Catholics, while simultaneously disagreeing with the Church so much it would take days for you to enumerate the ways, while also holding the position that you want to “dialogue” does this make you a troll? A “nuanced” troll?

        • Tony

          If you rarely ever agree with David …

          On what basis do you make that claim? I’d imagine that David has many more views than those he expresses on this blog and even if they represented the some total, I’d don’t comment on, let alone disagree with, most of them.

          … yet consider yourself not to be out with the dissident Catholics …

          Sorry, I’m simply not interested in how other people categorise me.

          … while simultaneously disagreeing with the Church so much it would take days for you to enumerate the ways …

          On this issue I’m agreeing with the Church. The Church, as far as I can ascertain, regards ‘versus populum’ as the norm. David has challenged that on the evidence of one bishop and suggested that the other bishops are out of step with the coming ‘revolution’.

          Your ‘troll’ reference escapes me and given that I suspect that it is thinly disguised ad hominem, it’s probably just as well.

          • I’m simply not interested in how other people categorise me.

            I’m not interested in whether you are interested or not. I am interested in why you agree with dissident Catholics, while apparently trying to set yourself up as someone who isn’t a dissident Catholic and wants to “dialogue” with everyone. You have an odd conception of “dialogue,” I think.

            My troll remark was not meant to be ad hominem, Tony, although it is certainly unpleasant.

            In that way, it’s a bit like calling someone a heretic. It’s descriptive and unpleasant, but not ad hominem.

            A troll, in the blogosphere, is a person who engages in combox discussions, not for the purpose of true discussion, but for some other mischievous purpose.

            David might disagree with me, where you are concerned, and fair enough, but I can’t be bothered doing this any more.

            I will grant you that many people in the Church think ‘versus populum’ is normal or at least desireable.

            Of course, many people in the Church think using contraception is just ducky.

      • No, Tony. Being the disciplined, tough, trained, and proficient-in-rational-thinking-and-argumentation-person that I am, and presume that you also are, we should be able to agree that points (1) and (2) are why we STILL have “versus populum” celebrations. (3) is the only reason it caught on in the first place.

        Nor do I suggest that the “liturgical experts” who first proposed the change did so because it was “nicer”. They had their reasons (historically and theologicall wrong as it turned out), but the reason the people accepted this nonsense was because it was “nice”.

        • Tony

          No, Tony. Being the disciplined, tough, trained, and proficient-in-rational-thinking-and-argumentation-person that I am, and presume that you also are …

          I make no such claims.

          … we should be able to agree that points (1) and (2) are why we STILL have “versus populum” celebrations.

          Why? I couldn’t imagine more unlikely grounds for explaining the current situation and I’m pretty open to being critical of Bishops when I think it’s justified.

          They had their reasons (historically and theologicall wrong as it turned out) …

          Well, you haven’t made a case for that at all. You’ve celebrated the arrival of one swallow, but it’s a long way from Summer!

          … but the reason the people accepted this nonsense was because it was “nice”.

          You make that assertion with even less evidence than (1) and (2) and you’ll surely appreciate that an assertion made without evidence can be refuted without evidence.

          • Let’s just say Josh has provided more than enough evidence.

            If you want more, go read Ratzinger’s Spirit of the Liturgy or Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer by U.W. Lang.

            All the arguments brought forward in favour of “versus populum” that are not built upon spurious historical and theological and liturgical grounds amount to “it’s nicer”. Or rather “it isn’t nice for the priest to turn his back on the people”. That isn’t a rational argument, and so I don’t pretend it is.

  15. Tony

    I am interested in why you agree with dissident Catholics …

    I agree or disagree with points of view and arguments. I don’t determine what ‘faction’ people belong to and then agree or disagree.

    … while apparently trying to set yourself up as someone who isn’t a dissident Catholic

    I’m not setting myself up as anything. This is your doing. I don’t have to defend your characterisation of me or my arguments.

    … and wants to “dialogue” with everyone. You have an odd conception of “dialogue,” I think.

    Again, you’re telling the story.

    A troll, in the blogosphere, is a person who engages in combox discussions, not for the purpose of true discussion, but for some other mischievous purpose.

    In other words it’s ad hominem. The issue here is David’s ‘revolution’ which I have addressed in all my comments without personal attack. You’re now changing the subject to an assessment of me. That’s ad hominem. If not, please tell me what you mean by the term.

    David might disagree with me, where you are concerned, and fair enough, but I can’t be bothered doing this any more.

    I never asked you to!

    I will grant you that many people in the Church think ‘versus populum’ is normal or at least desireable.

    Many? You mean ‘just about everybody’ don’t you?

    Of course, many people in the Church think using contraception is just ducky.

    And, no doubt, many think we should burn trolls and heretics.

    The bottom line is that your comment is not relevant to this topic and is ad hominem. It is your good self who is being ‘mischevious’.

    • You’re not a troll, Tony. Trolls lack your rationality and general politeness.

      • Tony

        You’re not a troll, Tony. Trolls lack your rationality and general politeness.

        Said without a hint of irony David?

        No, that isn’t what I am saying, Tony, and you know it.

        Is that what you mean by polite?

        • Yep. In that ball park.

          • Tony

            Interesting given that I haven’t engaged in the kind of ‘politeness’ that calls other people names.

            I accept, if only for the sake of argument, that there are good rationales for ad orientum.

            But surely a ‘reasoned debate’ calls for us to understand both sides of an argument?

            I suggested that your explanation for the current norm (facing the congregation) came down to practically all bishops and Cardinals being either ignorant or spineless or both and that those who weren’t prefered the norm because it was ‘nice’.

            If that is true — and I’m not aware that you’ve denied it — it is a damning assessment of a whole generation of church leaders including your own boss.

            When I find this hard to accept you and Louise (who seems to think disagreeing with you is like disagreeing with the church) get all tetchy.

            And then you call me names and accuse me of being impolite!

  16. Dear Tony,

    Please don’t be upset – I know myself how easy it is to make maladroit remarks whose repercussions spiral out of control…

    • Tony

      Thanks for your concern Joshua, but maybe your remarks are best directed at those who engage in ad hominem and the host of this blog who ramps it up a notch?

  17. A very important point David makes: versus populum actually exaggerates the priest’s role at Mass: from being the servant, he becomes a jokester and compere…

    Facing the people is actually a great temptation for the priest to take over and play more than his due part, at worst taking over and setting up a personality cult.

  18. Tony

    A very important point David makes: versus populum actually exaggerates the priest’s role at Mass ….

    I am amazed at the claims being made in this topic. I can imagine it could exaggerate the priests role but if a priest has a mind to ‘exaggeration’ he will not be constrained by ad orientem.

    … from being the servant, he becomes a jokester and compere.

    Because … of course … a servant never faces a master?!

    Facing the people is actually a great temptation for the priest to take over and play more than his due part, at worst taking over and setting up a personality cult.

    Interesting. My memory of the pre-VatII church was that many priests lorded it over their parishes in very cult-like relationships! Apparently ad orientum didn’t protect us from those demi-gods.

  19. David, being the host of this blog, is in absolute control thereof! 😉

    Louise I think is easily annoyed…

    • Tony

      Thanks again Joshua.

      On the first point you are, of course, correct.

      On the second … well … I won’t go there!