So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).



The common turning toward the east was never considered a “celebration toward the wall” or viewed as the priest turning “his back to the people.” For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together “toward the Lord.” They did not close themselves into a circle; they did not gaze at one another; but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, Benedict XVI)

Significantly, this posture was actually ordained by God even before the Incarnation and Redemption, as prefigured in Sacred Scripture. God taught Moses how he wished to be worshiped and it is manifested in The Book of Exodus. As priest, Moses goes to the Tabernacle to stand before God, interceding for the people who are required to watch while standing in front of their tents. In addition they were required to bow low when God came down from the Cloud (just like in the Canon of the Mass when our Lord comes down on the altar).

A PDF from Musica Sacra: CLICK HERE for original file.

Musica Sacra

Ad Orientem Worship

John Damascene (d. 749) provides a fine apologetic for prayer facing ad orientem in the concluding part of his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. It is worth quoting in full:

It is not without any reason or by chance that we worship toward the east. On the contrary, since we are composed of a visible and an invisible nature, of an intellectual nature and a sensitive one, that is, we also offer a twofold worship to the Creator. It is just as we also sing both with our mind and with our bodily lips, and as we are baptized both in water and in the Spirit, and as we are united to the Lord in two ways when we receive the sacrament and the grace of the Spirit.

And so, since God is spiritual light [cf. 1 Jn 1:5] and Christ in sacred Scripture is called “Sun of Justice” and “Orient” [cf. Mal 4:2; Zec 3:8; Lk 1:78], the East should be dedicated to His worship. For everything beautiful should be dedicated to God from whom everything that is good receives its goodness. Also, the divine David says: “Sing to God, ye kingdoms of the earth: sing ye to the Lord; who mounteth above the heaven of heavens, to the east” [Ps 68(67):33-34]. And still again, Scripture says: “And the Lord had planted a paradise in Eden to the east; wherein he placed man whom he had formed,” and whom He cast out, when He had transgressed, “and made him to live over against the paradise of pleasure,” [Gn 2:8; 3:24 LXX] or in the west. Thus it is that, when we worship God, we long for our ancient fatherland and gaze toward it. The tabernacle of Moses had the veil and the propitiatory to the east; and the tribe of Juda, as being the more honorable, pitched their tents on the east; and in the celebrated temple of Solomon the gate of the Lord was set to the east [cf. Lv 16:14; Nm 2:3; Ez 44:1-2]. As a matter of fact, when the Lord was crucified, He looked toward the west, and so we worship gazing towards Him. And when he [sic] was taken up, He ascended to the east and thus the Apostles worshiped Him and thus He shall come in the same way as they had seen Him going into heaven [cf. Acts 1:11], as the Lord Himself said: “As lightning cometh out of the east and appeareth even into the west: so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” [Mt 24:27]And so, while we are awaiting Him, we worship toward the east. This is, moreover, the unwritten tradition of the Apostles, for they have handed many things down to us unwritten.

CLICK HERE for Inauguration (Solemn Mass, ad orientem) of the John Henry Newman Institute of Liturgical Music (Part 2).

Online Edition - April 2005
Vol. XI, No. 2
Turning Towards the Lord
Orientation in Liturgical Prayer
by U.M. Lang

The author, Uwe Michael Lang, is a member of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in London, and has a doctorate in theology from Oxford University. The book, with a foreword by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, examines the subject from historical and theological perspectives. It was published by Ignatius Press in 2004 ( Text heads have been added by Adoremus. Edited here for length. Visit Adoremus for the footnotes and the full citation.

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The Reform of the Liturgy
and the Position of the Celebrant at the Altar

The reform of the Roman Rite of Mass that was carried out after the Second Vatican Council has significantly altered the shape of Catholic worship. One of the most evident changes was the construction of freestanding altars. The versus populum celebration was adopted throughout the Latin Church, and, with few exceptions, it has become the prevailing practice during Mass for the celebrant to stand behind the altar facing the congregation. This uniformity has led to the widespread misunderstanding that the priest's "turning his back on the people" is characteristic of the rite of Mass according to the Missal of Pope Saint Pius V whereas the priest's "turning towards the people" belongs to the Novus Ordo Mass of Pope Paul VI. It is also widely assumed by the general public that the celebration of Mass "facing the people" is required, indeed even imposed, by the liturgical reform that was inaugurated by Vatican II. 

However, the relevant conciliar and post-conciliar documents present quite a different picture. The Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, speaks neither of a celebration versus populum nor of the setting up of new altars. In view of this fact it is all the more astonishing how rapidly "versus populum altars" appeared in Catholic churches all over the world.1 The instruction Inter Oecumenici, prepared by the Consilium for the carrying out of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and issued on September 26, 1964, has a chapter on the designing of new churches and altars that includes the following paragraph:
Praestat ut altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit. [It is better for the main altar to be constructed away from the wall so that one can easily walk around the altar and celebrate facing the people.] 2
It is said to be desirable to set up the main altar separate from the back wall, so that the priest can walk around it easily and a celebration facing the people is possible. Josef Andreas Jungmann asks us to consider this:
It is only the possibility that is emphasized. And this [separation of the altar from the wall] is not even prescribed, but is only recommended, as one will see if one looks at the Latin text of the directive.... In the new instruction the general permission of such an altar layout is stressed only with regard to possible obstacles or local restrictions.3
In a letter addressed to the heads of bishops' conferences, dated January 25, 1966, Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, the president of the Consilium, states that regarding the renewal of altars "prudence must be our guide". He goes on to explain:
Above all because for a living and participated liturgy, it is not indispensable that the altar should be versus populum: in the Mass, the entire liturgy of the word is celebrated at the chair, ambo or lectern, and, therefore, facing the assembly; as to the Eucharistic Liturgy, loudspeaker systems make participation feasible enough. Secondly, hard thought should be given to the artistic and architectural question, this element in many places being protected by rigorous civil laws.4 
With reference to Cardinal Lercaro's exhortation to prudence, Jungmann warns us not to make the option granted by the instruction into "an absolute demand, and eventually a fashion, to which one succumbs without thinking".5

Inter Oecumenici permits the Mass facing the people, but it does not prescribe it. As Louis Bouyer emphasized in 1967, that document does not at all suggest that Mass facing the people is always the preferable form of Eucharistic celebration.6

Missal Rubrics 

The rubrics of the renewed Missale Romanum of Pope Paul VI presuppose a common direction of priest and people for the core of the Eucharistic liturgy. This is indicated by the instruction that, at the Orate, fratres, the Pax Domini, the Ecce, Agnus Dei, and the Ritus conclusionis, the priest should turn towards the people.7 This would seem to imply that beforehand priest and people were facing the same direction, that is, towards the altar. At the priest's communion the rubrics say "ad altare versus",8 which would be redundant if the celebrant stood behind the altar facing the people anyway. This reading is confirmed by the directives of the General Instruction, even if they are occasionally at variance with the Ordo Missae.9 The Third Editio Typica of the renewed Missale Romanum, approved by Pope John Paul II on 10 April 2000 and published in spring 2002, retains these rubrics.10

This interpretation of the official documents has been endorsed by the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship. ... .

The revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which was published for study purposes in the spring of 2000, has a paragraph bearing on the altar question:
Altare exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit. [Let the main altar be constructed separate from the wall so that one can easily walk around the altar and celebrate facing the people -which is desirable wherever possible.]12
The subtle wording of this paragraph (possit - possibile) clearly indicates that the position of the celebrant priest facing the people is not made compulsory. The instruction merely allows for both forms of celebration. At any rate, the added phrase "which is desirable wherever (or whenever) possible (quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit)" refers to the provision for a freestanding altar and not to the desirability of celebration towards the people.13

Nonetheless various news reports about the revised General Instruction seemed to suggest that the position of the celebrant versus orientem - or versus absidem - was declared undesirable, if not prohibited.

This interpretation however has been rejected by the Congregation for Divine Worship in a response to a question submitted by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna. The response is dated 25 September 2000 and signed by Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez, then Prefect of the Congregation, and Archbishop Francesco Pio Tamburrino, its Secretary:
In the first place, it is to be borne in mind that the word expedit does not constitute an obligation, but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete seiunctum (detached from the wall) and to the celebration versus populum (towards the people). The clause ubi possibile sit (where it is possible) refers to different elements, as, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc. It reaffirms that the position towards the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier (cf. the editorial in Notitiae 29 [1993] 245-49), without excluding, however, the other possibility.
However, whatever may be the position of the celebrating priest, it is clear that the eucharistic sacrifice is offered to the one and triune God and that the principal, eternal, and high priest is Jesus Christ, who acts through the ministry of the priest who visibly presides as His instrument. The liturgical assembly participates in the celebration in virtue of the common priesthood of the faithful which requires the ministry of the ordained priest to be exercised in the Eucharistic synaxis. The physical position, especially with respect to the communication among the various members of the assembly, must be distinguished from the interior spiritual orientation of all. It would be a grave error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is towards the community. If the priest celebrates versus populum, which is legitimate and often advisable, his spiritual attitude ought always to be versus Deum per Iesum Christum (towards God through Jesus Christ), as representative of the entire Church. The Church as well, which takes concrete form in the assembly which participates, is entirely turned versus Deum (towards God) as its first spiritual movement.14

Obviously, the relevant paragraph of the General Instruction must be read in light of this clarification.15

. . .

"Face-to-face" or "facing East"?

Two main arguments in favor of the celebrant's position facing the people during the Eucharist are usually presented. First, it is claimed that this was the practice of the early Church that should be the norm for our age. Second, it is maintained that the "active participation" of the faithful, a principle that was introduced by Pope Saint Pius X and is central to Sacrosanctum Concilium, demanded the celebration towards the people.18

The aim of this study will be to counter these arguments in a twofold way.

First, an examination of the historical evidence will show that the orientation of priest and people in the liturgy of the Eucharist is well-attested in the early Church and was, in fact, the general custom. It will be evident that the common direction of liturgical prayer has been a consistent tradition in both the East and the West.

Second, I should like to argue, relying on the thought of contemporary theologians, that the permanent face-to-face position of priest and people is not beneficial for a real participation of the faithful in the liturgy, as envisaged by Vatican II. Recent critical reflection on participatio actuosa has revealed the need for a theological reappraisal and deepening of this important principle.

Cardinal Ratzinger draws a useful distinction between participation in the Liturgy of the Word, which includes external actions, especially reading and singing, and participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where external actions are quite secondary. He writes:
Doing really must stop when we come to the heart of the matter: the oratio. It must be plainly evident that the oratio is the heart of the matter, but that it is important precisely because it provides a space for the actio of God. Anyone who grasps this will easily see that it is not now a matter of looking at or toward the priest, but of looking together toward the Lord and going out to meet Him.19
The statement of the Congregation for Divine Worship already quoted shows that speaking of "celebrating towards the people" indicates merely the position of the priest vis-à-vis the congregation at certain parts of the liturgy but does not refer to a theological concept.20 The expression versus (ad) populum seems to have been used for the first time by the papal master of ceremonies, Johannes Burckard, in his Ordo Missae of 150221 and was taken up in the Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae of the Missale Romanum that Pope Saint Pius V issued in 1570. The Ritus servandus deals with the case where the altar is directed to the east and, at the same time, towards the people (altare sit ad orientem, versus populum). This is indeed the state of affairs in the major Roman basilicas with the entrance facing east and the apse facing west. Here versus populum is to be looked upon merely as an explanatory appositive, namely in view of the immediately following directive that in this case at the Pax Domini the celebrant does not need to turn around (non vertit humeros ad altare), since he already stands ad populum anyway.22 It is in this topographical sense that the similar passages in Amalarius (ca. 830)23 and Durandus (towards the end of the thirteenth century)24 are also to be understood.

When these texts use the phrase versus populum, they do not necessarily mean a visual connection between the people and the sacred action at the altar. It is by no means suggested here that nothing should limit, let alone block, the faithful's view of the ritual acts of the celebrant. Such an interpretation would have seemed alien to the understanding of the liturgy that was common from Christian antiquity until well into the Middle Ages and is still found in the Eastern Churches. Thus it is hardly surprising to find that even with altars versus populum the sight was significantly restricted, for example, by curtains that were closed during certain parts of the liturgy or already by the architectural layout of the church.25

The guiding points of the Congregation for Divine Worship make clear that the expression versus populum does not convey the theological dimension of the Eucharistic liturgy. Each Eucharist is offered for the praise and glory of God's name, for the benefit of us and of the holy Church as a whole ("ad laudem et gloriam nominis Dei, ad utilitatem quoque nostram, totiusque Ecclesiae suae sanctae").

Theologically, the Mass as a whole, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, is directed at the same time towards God and towards the people. In the form of the celebration one must avoid a confusion of theology and topography, especially when the priest stands at the altar. The priest speaks to the people only during the dialogues at the altar. Everything else is prayer to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Evidently, it is most desirable that this theology should be expressed in the visible shape of the liturgy.26

Cardinal Ratzinger is equally emphatic that the celebration of the Eucharist, just as Christian prayer in general, has a trinitarian direction and discusses the question of how this can be communicated most fittingly in liturgical gesture. When we speak to someone, we obviously face that person. Accordingly, the whole liturgical assembly, priest and people, should face the same way, turning towards God to whom prayers and offerings are addressed in this common act of trinitarian worship. Ratzinger rightly protests against the mistaken idea that in this case the celebrating priest is facing "towards the altar", "towards the tabernacle", or even "towards the wall".27 The catchphrase often heard nowadays that the priest is "turning his back on the people" is a classic example of confounding theology and topography, for the crucial point is that the Mass is a common act of worship where priest and people together, representing the pilgrim Church, reach out for the transcendent God.

Church of the Holy Ghost image

Ad Orientem Worship

Celebrating the Novus Ordo (Ordinary Form) of the Roman Rite “ad orientem” means that the Liturgy of the Word is celebrated facing the people. The Liturgy of the Word is where Jesus teaches His people through the reading of Sacred Scripture and priest’s homily. The Liturgy of the Eucharist, is celebrated with the priest and people facing the same direction. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Christ offers Himself to the Father, through the priest who acts in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), and the lay faithful, offer their own sacrifice, in union with the offering of the priest. Together, priest and faithful go to Christ who comes to them.

The General Instruction for the Roman Missal and the rubrics (directions written in red) in the Roman Missal directs the priest when to face the people and when to turn towards the altar. The instructions follow:

Arriving at the altar:
When the Entrance Chant is concluded, the Priest and the faithful, standing, sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, while the Priest, facing the people, says: ”In the name of the Father…”
The Liturgy of the Word is at the Ambo, facing the people.

After the washing of hands, the rubrics state:
“Returning to the middle of the altar, and standing facing the people, the Priest extends and then joins his hands, and calls upon the people to pray, saying, Orate, fratres (Pray, brethren). The people rise and make the response May the Lord accept the sacrifice, etc. Then the Priest, with hands extended, says the Prayer over the Offerings. At the end the people acclaim, Amen.” (GIRM 146)
After the conclusion of “For the kingdom…”:
“Then the Priest, with hands extended, says aloud the prayer Domine Iesu Christe, qui dixisti (Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles) and when it is concluded, extending and then joining his hands, he announces the greeting of peace, facing the people and saying, The peace of the Lord be with you always. The people reply, And with your spirit.” (GIRM 154)
After the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God):
“Then the principal celebrant takes a host consecrated in the same Mass, holds it slightly raised above the paten or the chalice, and, facing the people, says the Ecce Agnus Dei (Behold the Lamb of God). With the concelebrants and the people he continues, saying the Domine, non sum dignus (Lord, I am not worthy).” (GIRM 157)
After Holy Communion and a period of silence:
“Then, standing at the chair or at the altar, and facing the people with hands joined, the Priest says, Let us pray; then, with hands extended, he recites the Prayer after Communion. A brief period of silence may precede the prayer, unless this has been already observed immediately after Communion. At the end of the prayer the people acclaim, Amen. ” (GIRM 165)
Following the last collect:
“After the Priest’s blessing, the Deacon, with hands joined and facing the people, dismisses the people, saying, Ite, missa est (Go forth, the Mass is ended).” (GIRM 185)
Ad Orientem

Cardinal Ratzinger draws a useful distinction between participation in the Liturgy of the Word, which includes external actions, especially reading and singing, and participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where external actions are quite secondary. He writes: “Doing really must stop when we come to the heart of the matter: the oratio. It must be plainly evident that the oratio is the heart of the matter, but that it is important precisely because it provides a space for the actio of God. Anyone who grasps this will easily see that it is not now a matter of looking at or toward the priest, but of looking together toward the Lord and going out to meet Him.” U.M. Lang quoting J. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 174, cf. 171­77. See also the critical remarks of M. Kunzler, 'La liturgia all'inizio del Terzo Millennio', in Il Concilio Vaticano II: Recezione e attualità alla luce del Giubileo, ed. R. Fisichella (Milan: San Paolo, 2000), 217­24, and D. Torevell, Losing the Sacred: Ritual, Modernity and Liturgical Reform (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 2000).

(T)he 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal reads: “The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.” The subtle wording of this paragraph indicates that the position of the priest facing the people is not compulsory. Moreover, careful scrutinization of the Latin text reveals that the added phrase “which is desirable wherever [or whenever] possible” (“quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit”), refers to the provision for a freestanding altar, and not to the desirability of celebration facing the people.—Fr. Z.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman

—from Cream City Catholic—Lost Reverence

Everyone ought to come into the Church as the publican did, to say in his heart, “Lord, I am not worthy to enter this sacred space; my only plea for coming is the merits of Jesus Christ, my Savior.” When, then, a man enters a church, as many do, carelessly and familiarly, thinking of himself, not of God, sits down coldly and at his ease, either does not say a prayers at all, or merely hides his face for form’s sake, sitting all the while, not standing or kneeling; then looks about to see who is in the Church, and who is not, and makes himself easy and comfortable in his seat, and uses the kneeler for no other purpose than to put his feet upon; in short, comes to Church as a place, not of meeting God and His Holy Angels, but of seeing what is to be seen with the bodily eyes. . . I mean when a man acts in all respects as if he was at home, and not in God’s house–all I can say is, that he ventures to do in God’s presence what neither Cherubim nor Seraphim venture to do, for they will veil their faces, and as if not daring to address God, praise Him to each other, in few words, and those continually repeated, saying Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.

Turning Together Towards the Lord

1. Since 2008, most Masses at St. Mary’s Church have been celebrated with the priest standing on the same side of the altar as the congregation during the Eucharistic Prayer, a custom not widely seen today in the Catholic Church except for in the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, commonly called the Tridentine Mass. This custom of priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar is called praying towards the East or ad orientem, and at St. Mary’s even the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite – the Mass of the Second Vatican Council – is celebrated ad orientem. Here’s why.

Our History
2. From Christian antiquity, priests and people celebrated the Holy Eucharist by facing together towards the Lord, which meant standing together on the same side of the altar. This ancient and universal practice was lost sight of in the last two generations by the new practice of the priest standing across the altar from the people during the Eucharistic Prayer, a custom almost never before found in the sacred liturgy except for rare instances of architectural necessity, and in the last few years, theologians and pastors have begun to review this innovation in light of the best scholarship and the experience of the Church since the late 1960’s.

3. Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was one of most thoughtful and respected critics of the unintended consequences which flow from the priest and people facing each other across the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer. Ratzinger argued that this arrangement, in addition to being a novelty in Christian practice, has the effect of creating a circle of congregation and celebrant closed in upon itself rather than allowing the congregation and celebrant to be a pilgrim people together turned towards the Lord. And this closed circle, in turn, too easily renders the Eucharist more of a horizontal celebration of the congregation gathered than a vertical offering of the sacrifice of Christ to the Father. This flattening of divine worship into a self-referential celebration is, in part, why too many Catholics experience Mass as much less than the source and summit of the Church’s life, and the remedy for this malady is to open the closed circle and experience the power of turning together towards the Lord.

4. This can be done primarily in two ways: 1) return to the ancient and universal practice of the priest standing with the people on the same side of the altar as together they face the East of the sacred liturgy, the place from which the glory of the Lord shines upon us, or 2) even when the priest and people remain separated on opposite sides of the altar, place a cross at the center of the altar to allow both celebrant and congregation to face the Lord. Pope Benedict, through his writing and by his example, encouraged priests everywhere to work towards these goals to enrich the experience of divine worship and free us from the danger of solipsism which is contained in self-referential ways of praying — a danger against which we have been repeatedly warned by Pope Francis.

What changed in the 1960’s and why?
5. The ritual forms and liturgical texts of Catholic worship have changed and evolved many times throughout the centuries, and the architectural arrangements for the celebration of the sacred rites have likewise changed. Ordinarily, this process of change is slow, deliberate, and incremental, but in the 1960’s the Church experienced an intense burst of change which dramatically altered both the ritual forms of our worship and the architectural arrangements of our churches. Because there were so many changes in such a short span of time, all of the alterations were considered by many people to be essentially connected to each other, but that is not the case. A good example is the use of Latin in the liturgical texts promulgated after the Second Vatican Council. Many people falsely believe that because Vatican II permitted the use of the vernacular languages in worship, the Council banished Latin from the modern Roman Rite. In fact, however, the same Council which permitted the use of the vernacular also insisted that all Catholics should be able to say and sing their parts of the new Mass in Latin. Celebrating the modern Roman Missal in Latin, therefore, is not in any way a rejection of the Second Vatican Council; rather, the regular use of Latin in modern worship is precisely what the Council Fathers called for.

6. A similar confusion exists with respect to the location of the altar and the place of the priest at the altar. From Christian antiquity, most churches had only one altar, and it was freestanding, meaning that the priest could walk completely around it during the celebration of the liturgy. This custom was retained in the Christian East by Orthodox and Catholics alike, but in the West the altar was gradually pushed back from the center of the sanctuary to the rear wall, in large measure to allow it to merge architecturally with the tabernacle. This change was later accompanied by adding additional altars to most churches, eventually yielding the custom of having three altars in each church. Even before the Second Vatican Council, though, pastors and theologians began to argue for a return to our own tradition of having but one altar in each church and insisting that it once again be freestanding. This was, in part, the fruit of the Liturgical Movement of the 19th and 20th centuries which reminded the Church, among other things, that the altar is the preeminent symbol of Christ in the liturgy. Accordingly, throughout the Western Church the old “high altars” found at the rear of the sanctuary were abandoned, changed, or replaced to allow the ancient and renewed custom of a freestanding altar. But just as this was happening, a novelty was introduced and attached to the newly detached altar: the custom of the priest and people facing each other across the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer — an innovation about which the Second Vatican Council said not one word. So, there is no essential connection between the liturgy of Vatican II, the freestanding altar, and the priest facing the people at the altar. In fact, even now the rubrics in the modern Roman Missal are written with the assumption that the priest and people are together facing liturgical East during the Mass.

Why face East?
7. Praying in a sacred direction is a feature common in many religions. Think, for example, of Muslims who pray facing Mecca – a practice instituted by Mohammed, who initially had his followers pray facing Jerusalem. Following similar customs in Judaism, the idea of a sacred direction has been a part of Christianity since the beginning. The first Christians expected the return of Christ in glory to occur at the Mount of Olives, from where He ascended to His Father, and so it was a common practice for them during prayer to turn towards the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. This practice later evolved into the general custom of preferring to face Jerusalem during prayer, and as the Church spread through the Mediterranean world, this notion further changed into a connection between the light of the rising sun and the glory of the returning Son. The seeds of this idea are planted throughout Scripture (e.g. Wisdom 16:28, Zechariah 14:4, Malachi 3:2, Matthew 24:27, Luke 1:78, and Revelation 7:2), and the early Church placed great emphasis on this point. St. Justin Martyr wrote in the second century “For the word of His truth and wisdom is more ardent and more light-giving than the rays of the sun, and sinks down into the depths of heart and mind. Hence also the Scripture said, ‘His name shall rise up above the sun.’ And again, Zechariah says, ‘His name is the East.’” And St. Clement of Alexandria was even more emphatic: “In correspondence with the manner of the sun’s rising, prayers are made toward the sunrise in the East.” (For a much fuller explanation of this theme, I recommend the splendid little book Turning Towards the Lord by Uwe Michael Lang, published in 2004 by Ignatius Press and introduced with a forward by Joseph Ratzinger.)

8. For these reasons, since the building of Christian churches began on a large scale in the fourth century, they have literally been “oriented” to the East wherever local geography permitted this, and even when the building could not run on an east-west axis, the apse of the church and the altar within it have been understood as the liturgical East, the symbolic place of the glory of the Lord. Moreover, because the entire Eucharistic Prayer is addressed to God the Father and not to the congregation, the normal posture of the priest has always been to face the East with his congregation and offer the sacrifice of the Mass with and for them to the Father. Accordingly, it is a simple category mistake to think of the priest as having his back to the people when they stand together on the same side of the altar; rather, the priest and people by their common “orientation” show that they are together turning towards the Lord, a physical metaphor for the interior work of conversion which can be thought of as the “re-orientation” of our lives. This is why in nearly every place and for almost all of Christian history, the priest has stood with his people on the same side of the altar so that, together facing the East of the sacred liturgy, they could offer the pleasing sacrifice of their lives (cf. Romans 12:1) while pleading the sacrifice of Christ.

How does the congregation participate in the celebration of Mass?
9. One objective of the liturgical reforms of the 1960’s was to encourage the active participation of the Catholic people in the celebration of the sacred liturgy, in part by reminding them that they are participants in, not spectators of, offering the sacrifice of Christ at the heart of all Christian worship. Unfortunately, in the years following the Second Vatican Council, the Church’s desire that all the faithful participate fully in the sacred liturgy was too often rendered a caricature of the Council’s teaching, and misconceptions about the true nature of active participation multiplied. This led to the frenzied expansion of “ministries” among the people and turned worship into a team sport. But it is possible to participate in the liturgy fully, consciously, and actively without ever leaving one’s pew, and it is likewise possible to serve busily as a musician or lector at Mass without truly participating in the sacred liturgy. Both of these are true because the primary meaning of active participation in the liturgy is worshipping the living God in Spirit and truth, and that in turn is an interior disposition of faith, hope, and love which cannot be measured by the presence or absence of physical activity. But this confusion about the role of the laity in the Church’s worship was not the only misconception to follow the liturgical reforms; similar mistakes were made about the part of the priest.

10. Because of the mistaken idea that the whole congregation had to be in motion during the liturgy to be truly participating, the priest was gradually changed in the popular imagination from the celebrant of the sacred mysteries of salvation into the coordinator of the liturgical ministries of others. And this false understanding of the ministerial priesthood produced the ever-expanding role of the “priest presider,” whose primary task was to make the congregation feel welcome and constantly engage them with eye contact and the embrace of his warm personality. Once these falsehoods were accepted, then in many places the service of the priest in the liturgy became grotesquely misshapen, and instead of a humble steward of the sacred mysteries whose only task was to draw back the veil between God and man and then hide himself in the folds, the priest became a ring-master or entertainer whose task was thought of as making the congregation feel good about themselves. But, whatever that is, it is not Christian worship, and in the last three decades the Church has been gently finding a way back towards the right ordering of her public prayer.

11. In February 2007 Pope Benedict XVI published an Apostolic Exhortation on the Most Holy Eucharist entitled Sacramentum Caritatis in which he discusses the need for priests to cultivate a proper ars celebrandi or art of celebrating the liturgy. In that document, the pope teaches that “the primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself,” and an essential part of that work is removing the celebrant from the center of attention so that priest and people together can turn towards the Lord. Accomplishing this task of restoring God-centered liturgy is one of the main reasons for returning to the ancient and universal practice of priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar as they offer the sacrifice of Calvary as true worship of the Father. In other words, the custom of ad orientem celebration enhances rather than diminishes the possibility of the people participating fully, consciously, and actively in the celebration of the sacred liturgy.

12. There is, of course, nothing intrinsically wrong in celebrating the sacred liturgy with the priest facing the people from across the altar, and that remains the way in most Ordinary Form Masses are offered throughout the world. At the same time, the celebration of Mass ad orientem is not in any way contrary to liturgical law, the mind of the Church, or the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, and no special permission is needed to celebrate Mass facing liturgical East, even in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. This means that both postures are equally legitimate ways of celebrating the sacred mysteries, and both have a place in the life of the Church. The celebration of Mass ad orientem at St. Mary’s is meant to be both an example of true diversity in the Church’s liturgical life and a sign of the continuity of the modern Roman Rite with the Church’s most ancient customs. We invite all who join us in divine worship to enter fully, consciously and actively into the offering of Christ’s perfect sacrifice for the salvation of the world.

—Father Jay Scott Newman

7/22/16 - Louis Tofari: ad orientem v. ad populorum
Spaemann: "The Greatest Liturgical Problem is the Direction of Celebration of the Mass." [link]
A native of Berlin and professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Munich, Robert Spaemann is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. A specialist in the thought of Fénelon and author of a well-known critique of political utopia, as well as numerous moral works (including Happiness and Benevolence, PUF, 1997), he is a great friend of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He received recent attention on account of some very critical comments on Amoris Laetitia. We are taking advantage of the holidays to present you with the reflections on the liturgy which he gave to Fr. Claude Barthe for the work Reconstruire la liturgie, published by Éditions Francois-Xavier de Guibert in 1997, that is, 10 years before the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. Here, he explores the direction of the celebration, a question which has recently been the subject of a strong and clear intervention on the part of Cardinal Sarah, who was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship by Pope Francis, and to which we will return in subsequent letters.


Fr. Claude Barthe – You have often echoed the profound dissatisfaction of Catholics who are unhappy with the new forms of worship. You have contributed to a certain number of them rediscovering the traditional liturgical practice in Germany today.

Robert Spaemann – I have noticed that many of those who are unhappy with the situation which they encounter in their parishes experience mixed feelings when given the option of assisting at the traditional Mass. Among them, two categories can be identified: those who assist at this Mass for the first time in their lives, and those who knew it in their childhood. The former have to come back several times in order to get used to the traditional Mass, because at first it seems really strange to them, for instance on account of the Latin, or the canon recited in a low voice, but on persevering, they find they can no longer do without it. Personally, I had the following experience: at first, the new Mass did not particularly shock me; but as the years went on I grew more and more displeased with it. While with the traditional Mass it’s exactly the opposite. But what I find even more striking are the reactions of the older people, who have a sort of nostalgia towards the old Mass. When these people enter a church where the old Mass is being celebrated, they react in two ways. Some are spellbound and weep with joy; while others are very ill at ease and say: “No! This is no longer possible, you can’t do this”. […] Their reaction is to tell themselves: “How is it that these people continue to celebrate the traditional Mass, while we have had to pay such a price? It’s all been for nothing, we could just as well have continued doing as they do.” And they don’t want to accept that. As they have paid this price, they want things to change for everyone.

That said, it must be conceded that in itself, the traditional Mass does not have a definitive form. It is permissible to desire certain changes, for instance, the possibility of occasionally receiving Holy Communion under both Species in the course of one’s life. I find this corresponds with what Our Lord wanted.

What would you suggest as a starting point for modifying the liturgical experience of ordinary parishioners?

I believe that the biggest problem is the celebration versus populum. The Mass facing the people profoundly changes how we live the ceremony. We know, notably through the writings of Msgr. Klaus Gamber, that this form of celebration never existed as such in the Church (1). In ancient times, it had an entirely different significance. With the priest facing the people today, we get the impression that he says the prayers in order to make us pray, but it doesn’t seem that he is praying himself. I’m not saying that he doesn’t pray, and indeed some priests manage to celebrate Mass versus populum while visibly praying. John-Paul II comes to mind: one never got the impression that he was addressing the people during Mass. But it’s very difficult to achieve.

I once assisted at a Corpus Christi procession in the diocese of Feldkirch in Austria, presided over by the bishop, who is a member of Opus Dei. At the station altars, the bishop turned his back on the monstrance while reciting the prayers (2). I said to myself that if a child saw that, he could no longer believe that the Lord is present in the Sacred Host, because the little one knows very well that when you are talking to someone, you don’t turn your back on him. Things like that are very important. There is no point in the child studying his catechism if what he learns is contradicted before his eyes.
So I believe that the first thing to do is to turn the altar around. It seems to me that this is more important than the return to Latin. Personally I have many reasons for valuing Latin, but it is not the most fundamental question. For my part, I would prefer a traditional Mass in German to the new Mass said in Latin.

You said at the beginning that the Tridentine liturgy does not in itself have a definitive form. It could have and can still change.

The changes must be so gradual and so imperceptible that a person nearing the end of his life would have the impression that he is still using the same rite as that of his childhood, even if this rite has in fact changed. I don’t know if you are familiar with the letter in which Cardinal Newman recounts his first trip to Italy. He had entered the cathedral of Milan and had been struck by the number of ceremonies which were taking place simultaneously: a small procession to one side, Masses being said at the side altars, canons reciting the Divine office in the choir. One got the impression that everyone was attending to his own business, but ultimately it was all part of the same thing. Newman was awestruck by this kind of plurality, because the Protestant influence in England was so strong that everyone had to do the same thing at the same time.

Catholic freedom! You are therefore in favour of different methods of participation?

I actually believe in the importance of there being different ways of participating in the Mass. And first of all, it seems to me a scandal that all of the faithful always receive communion at every Mass, because it is impossible to assume that each person can consider himself to be always in the state of grace—having the right dispositions to communicate. When the topic of Protestants practising intercommunion with us is discussed, no one ever speaks about them going to confession. Of course a person can remain in the state of grace throughout his entire life, but it cannot be assumed. Yet this is never discussed. One should be able to assist at Mass without receiving Communion. For this reason, it seems to me personally that persons who consider themselves always disposed to receive Holy Communion should occasionally refrain from receiving, for instance once a month, in order to make this abstention possible for others. And if someone said to me: “I absolutely have to receive Holy Communion”, I would tell them: “Receive It on Mondays.” Those who really need to receive Holy Communion often, assist at Mass during the week. If they don’t go to Mass throughout the week, they cannot say that they absolutely need Communion.

It must be possible to participate to a greater or lesser extent in the Mass. So near the door you have the publican’s place. And this place should be respected, without the person occupying it being obliged to speak or even to listen to what is being said into the microphone. I knew a young girl, a non-Catholic, who was very attracted by the Church. But when she entered a church and saw the microphones on the altar, she no longer wanted to take the plunge. She said: “If there’s a microphone there, that means it’s not serious, because God doesn’t need a microphone to hear me.” It is very important to know that in a church it is God we address.

Yes, there is a lack of freedom in the current liturgy and this, in fact, is one of the characteristics of today’s Church.
(1) Gamber Klaus, Tournés vers le Seigneur! Éditions Sainte-Madeleine, 1993. Msgr Gamber and Joseph Ratzinger were professors at the University of Regensburg at the time of the liturgical reform, a very bad experience for both of them.(2) In the traditional rite, the celebrant does not even turn his back to the monstrance for the “salutations” to the people (Dominus Vobiscum, etc.), but stands to one side.

[Source: Paix Liturgique. / Translation by Maria McDermott]

Keeping our Eyes on the Prize: Jesus

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin
Posted: Thursday, February 2, 2017 12:00 am
Let us keep our eyes fixed on

Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith. (Heb 12:2)

This verse from the Letter to the Hebrews has become one of my favorites, for it summarizes so concisely the purpose of our faith, that is, to look at Jesus, to learn from him, and to try to be more like him every day.

I was reminded of this truth again recently when I came across something Pope Francis said in one of his homilies at the end of the Christmas Season: “Jesus Christ manifested himself; we are invited to know him, to recognize him in our lives and in so many circumstances of life.” And, the Pope continues, we should ask ourselves the following questions: “Is Jesus Christ at the center of my life? And what is my relationship with Jesus Christ?”

Very good questions for us to consider, no?

But of course Francis isn’t the first Pope to talk about the centrality of Christ. Pope Benedict said, in truly memorable words: “There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know him, and to speak of others of our friendship with him.”

Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus; getting to know him and centering him in our daily lives – that’s what our Catholic Faith is all about. Or, in other terms, it’s about embracing Jesus as our friend, and Jesus wants us to be his friend: “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything . . . You did not choose me, but I chose you,” Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper. (Jn 15:15-16)

There are many ways in which we develop and nurture our friendship with Christ: by our reception of the sacraments, by participating in the life of the Church, by keeping the Commandments, by serving other people, especially the poor and needy, and by imitating the example of the saints, first of all our Blessed Mother Mary. In all of these ways we are connected to Christ.

But, without a doubt, the foundation of our friendship with Christ is the practice of intense, personal prayer. After all, what kind of friends don’t converse with one another and share everything? And, simply put, that’s what prayer is.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta, when asked if there was a “secret” to her holiness said: “My secret is a very simple one: I pray. To pray to Christ is to love him.”

And then there’s the story about St. John Vianney who noticed a poor peasant coming to church every day to spend hours praying to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The future saint asked the man, “What do you say to Jesus during all that time you’re kneeling before him in the Holy Eucharist?” “Nothing,” the peasant replied. “I just look at him and he looks at me.”

People in love don’t always have to talk constantly, do they?

The story of the prayerful peasant reminds us of another insight, and that’s the power and beauty of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. The rich devotional heritage of the Church, the Magisterium, and the lives of many saints bear witness to the fruitfulness of Eucharistic Adoration.

For example, Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote: “Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us.”

Pope Paul VI, even in the turbulent wake of the Second Vatican Council, encouraged the practice of Eucharistic prayer: “In the course of the day, the faithful should not omit visiting the Blessed Sacrament. Such visits are a sign of gratitude, an expression of love, and an acknowledgment of the Lord’s presence.”

And St. John Paul offered this affirmation: “The Eucharist is a priceless treasure: by not only celebrating it, but also by praying before it outside of Mass, we are enabled to make contact with the wellspring of grace.”

In short, praying before the Blessed Sacrament is an excellent way of nourishing our friendship with Christ.

That shouldn’t be surprising, though, for it’s only natural to look at the one to whom we’re speaking, isn’t it? It’s that same instinct, I think, that’s leading to a renewed appreciation of the celebration of the Mass ad orientem, that is, priest and people facing the Lord, instead of one another. Keep in mind, it is an approved liturgical option.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, and champion of ad orientem worship, in a recent interview explained the need for “conversion,” a turning-around, this way: “The best way to celebrate, for priests and faithful, is turned together in the same direction – toward the Lord who comes. It’s to turn together toward the apse, which symbolizes the East, where the cross of the risen Lord is enthroned. By this manner of celebrating, we experience even in our bodies, the primacy of God and adoration.”,8698

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