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Bishop Wall introduces regular ‘ad orientem’ Mass at Gallup cathedral

“… I am trying to open the treasury of the Church’s patrimony, so that, together, we can all experience one of the most ancient ways that the Church has always prayed, starting with Jesus and reaching even to our own day…”

Bishop James Wall of Gallup celebrates Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral (Photo courtesy of Diocese of Gallup, NM)

Gallup, N.M., Jul 23, 2019 / 11:11 am (CNA).- Bishop James Wall of Gallup announced Monday that each Sunday a Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral will be said with the celebrant facing the same direction as the faithful, in order better to respect the Blessed Sacrament.

Such worship, he said in a July 22 letter to the Diocese of Gallup, is “a very powerful reminder of what we are about at Mass: meeting Christ Who comes to meet us. Practically speaking, this means that things will look a bit different, for at such Masses the Priest faces the same direction as the Assembly when he is at the altar.”

“More specifically, when addressing God, such as during the orations and Eucharistic Prayer, he faces the same direction as the people, that is, toward God (ad Deum). He does so literally, to use a phrase dear to St. Augustine, by ‘turning toward the Lord’ present in the Blessed Sacrament. In contrast, when addressing the people, he turns to face them (versus populum).”

The bishop wrote that “since the recent solemnity of Corpus Christi, the 11:00am Sunday Mass will henceforth be celebrated ad orientem at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Gallup.”

Bishop Wall opened by reflecting on Benedict XVI’s recent letter in which he noted a certain laxity in how the Eucharist is approached.

“We would do well to remember,” Bishop Wall wrote, “that the Eucharist is not simply a nice ‘sign’ or ‘symbol’ of communion with God, but rather truly is communion with God.”

He said the emeritus pope’s letter “provides an opportunity for us to reflect on how better to respect the Most Blessed Sacrament,” noting arriving early for Mass to pray; remaining afterward to offer thanksgiving; dressing appropriately; keeping the Eucharistic fast; regular, even monthly confession; and reverent reception of the Eucharist.

“There is, however, one particular practice that I would like to highlight here,” said Bishop Wall. “It is about exercising the option to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass facing ‘toward the East’ (ad orientem) or ‘toward God’ (ad Deum) as distinct from ‘toward the people’ (versus populum).”

He acknowledged that such celebration can be “contentious” and that “to make changes to the way we pray can be difficult,” adding that “by explaining and advocating for this, I am in no way trying to disrupt the way the people of this Diocese pray.”

“Rather, I am trying to open the treasury of the Church’s patrimony, so that, together, we can all experience one of the most ancient ways that the Church has always prayed, starting with Jesus and reaching even to our own day, and thereby learn from the ‘ever ancient, ever new’ wisdom of the Church.”

The bishop wrote that “celebrating Mass ad orientem is one of the most ancient and most consistent practices in the life of the Church.”

However, he said that “celebration of Mass ad orientem is not a form of antiquarianism, i.e. choosing to do something because it is old, but rather choosing to do something that has always been.”

“This also means, in turn, that versus populum worship is extremely new in the life of the Church, and, while a valid liturgical option today, it still must be considered novel when it comes to the celebration of Mass,” he noted.

In ad orientem worship the main point, the bishop said, is that it “shows, even in its literal orientation, that the priest and the people are united together as one in worshipping God, even physically with their bodies.”

He added that describing such Masses as ones in which “the priest has his back to the people,” while technically true, “largely misses” this main point, which is “much grander and more beautiful.”

“Celebrating Mass ad orientem, then, is meant to remind us … that the Mass is not first and foremost about us, but rather about God and His glory—about worshipping Him as He desires and not as we think best. It is His work after all, not ours, and we are simply entering into it by His gracious will,” Bishop Wall reflected.

He also pointed out that a “common objection or at least misunderstanding is that this particular way of celebrating Mass was disallowed at or after the Second Vatican Council. This is not accurate, as none of the conciliar documents even mention this.”

In fact, “a close reading of the rubrics of the Roman Missal will still show today that ad orientem is assumed to be the normal posture at Mass: they often describe the priest ‘turning to face the people,’ which implies he is facing the altar before and after doing so.”

Bishop Wall also addressed the idea of “preference,” and the principle that “when it comes to taste, there is no room for dispute.”

“To a point, that is true,” he said. “Nobody can fault anybody for liking chocolate chip ice cream more than mint, or Chevrolet more than Ford. When it comes to the ways in which we worship God, however, nothing is simply a matter of taste.”

He quoted from a 2016 writing by Msgr. Charles Pope, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, who said that “Preferences should be rooted in solid liturgical principles. […] People matter, and they should be nourished and intelligently engaged in the Sacred Liturgy—but not in a way that forgets that the ultimate work of the Liturgy is not merely to please or enrich us but to be focused on and worship the Lord”.

The decision to provide one ad orientem Mass at the cathedral each Sunday “provides the faithful with the opportunity to attend the Mass in this way … which is still approved and generously allowed by the Church,” he said.

Bishop Wall added that he would like to encourage the practice throughout the diocese as an option for priests.

In his letter, Bishop Wall referenced Fr. Uwe Michael Lang’s Turning Towards the Lord [Ignatius Press], as well the works of Benedict XVI on the liturgy.

Bishop Wall’s decision echoes an appeal made several years ago by Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

In July 2016, the prefect had said during an address that “I believe that it is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction – Eastwards or at least towards the apse – to the Lord who comes, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God.”

Cardinal Sarah’s encouragement to priests to say Mass ad orientem was part of an address on how the Second Vatican Council’s document on the liturgy can be more faithfully implemented.


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27 Comments

  1. I grew up before Vatican II, so I took the ad orientem form for granted. When the altars were turned around, I was delighted because now I can focus on Him since I can see the sacred vessels. I find that I focus much more on the priest with the ad orientem. I am sure the priest is important. but I really prefer to focus on Him. Oh well, even with the ad orientem form, I can close my eyes and focus on Him. But I still prefer to see the altar rather than the priest.

    • I find with versus populum that you tend to focus more on the priest. Think about it: who do you engage more, someone whose face is turned to you or someone who has his back to you?

      • If I’m not mistaken, it was part of the playbook of the USSR’s KGB agents who were placed in seminaries to destroy the church from withing that the priest should be encouraged to face the people to make the Mass more about the priest than the Lord. Their playbook also contained the plan for communion in the hand and while standing.This diminishes the sacredness of the sacrament. Those agents have been quite successful.

      • Dear Peter, When I can see the sacred vessels where He is present from the Consecration onward, why should I look at the priest? When I can’t see the sacred vessels, what else do I have to look at except the priest?

          • Dear Douglas, Thank you for your suggestion about focusing on the crucifix when I cannot see the sacred vessels. However, the crucifix is still only a symbol, while He is actually present in the sacred vessels after the Consecration. I would prefer focusing on the Tabernacle than on the crucifix because He is actually present in the Tabernacle, but in most ad orientem churches that I know, the priest stands in front of the Tabernacle during most of Mass.
            Any other suggestions?

          • Will your next argument be “Well, I can’t see the Precious Blood because it’s in a gold chalice, it needs to be glass; and I can’t see the Host when it’s lying flat so it needs to be suspended so I can actually see it at all times?”

          • Dear Leslie, Those are your words, not mine. If that is what you want to see, then may He realize it for you.
            Actually, my next words are: if I can’t focus on Him, then I can focus on the priest as Alter Christus. But I believe that there is a problem with focusing on the priest?
            However, He is the only one I want to focus on, He in the fullness of His members in which heaven is wedded to earth. For whoever has the Son can claim the Father, and where the Father and the Son are, there too is the Holy Spirit. And there I can embrace you with the same love with which He loves you.

    • Dear Leslie, Those are your words, not mine. If that is what you want to see, then may He realize it for you.
      Actually, my next words are: If I can’t see the sacred vessels or the Tabernacle, then I can focus on the priest as Alter Christus. But I believe there is some problem with focusing on the priest?

  2. A return to a Latin, Tridentine Mass would go a long way toward re-estabising the universal character of the Church. Once, a Catholic could feel at home in any Catholic church in the world. Now, it can be hard to feel at home in the church around the corner…

  3. I am about to go to sleep and I read this. There is still good news!
    So I go to the land of nod with this image of green sprouts on a dying tree.

  4. This is a good thing initiated for my Diocese of Incardination by a good man. Give the people an option the 11 am Sunday Mass is the primary liturgical hour for the community. Other Masses NO. What parishioners who attend the NO should desist from is burying their attention in the missalette rather than focus visual attention on the altar and the Eucharist especially during the consecration which the NO makes more evident visually. All the liturgical movements prior to consecration are visible. When the priest raises the Holy Eucharist everyone is called to look and offer adoration of the Real Presence instead of looking away. Insofar as the traditional liturgy it a wonderful option that should draw priests who prefer the NO to learn and adopt from the traditional Mass, something Benedict XVI hoped would occur when he reinstituted the tradtional liturgy.

  5. The Bishop is wrong and Vatican II got it right. If the priest has his back to the people clericalism will start again.

    • Vatican II never stated that ad orientum should end. Anyone familiar with Sacrosanctum Concilium knows that. I recommend Fr. Lang’s outstanding study Turning Towards the Lord for a clear and cogent explanation of the history and theology.

      “If the priest has his back to the people clericalism will start again.” So, clericalism ceased in the early ’70s, did it? That’s a fairly remarkable claim, especially since there is plenty of evidence that clericalism (abuse of power, corruption, arrogance, dictatorial attitudes, etc) did not dwindle at all after the Council.

      I’ve been attending Divine Liturgy for two decades, and there has never been any sense of clericalism attached to it. Quite the contrary. The overwhelming sense, as it should be, is that the priest leads the people in prayer and worship. And, lest we forget, the Mass/Divine Liturgy are first and foremost about worshipping God–not about how we feel about the priest, or about our place in the liturgy.

    • The priest is worshiping as one of us, leading us in worship, not separated from us. His back should never be to the Lord. Clericalism is supported more by the priest acting as “master of ceremonies” which ignores the Lord of the Mass.

  6. Bishop Wall is on the right track. Turning the priest around to face the congregation was one of the biggest mistakes of the new version of the Mass.

    I hope this idea spreads.

  7. It is way better to introduce preconciliar mass early morning.
    This “treasure” looks just like priest rotating around the table and, well, saying some parts with his backs to the people.

      • I serve as an altar boy at the traditional mass. So sentences like “Celebrating the Mass ad orientem doesn’t make it a “preconciliar Mass.” makes little sense to me.

        I just think than Novus Ordo Missae is designated to be sayed to the people. And it can’t be changed or modified using priest facing his backs to the people. He just says loudly some parts with his backs to the people. That’s all.

        It would be way better to change the already existing 8:00 AM mass to pre-Conciliar mass and leave the 11:00 AM one as simple and as quick as possible.

        And please note: “the table” means the the offertory table as illustrated on the photo. Altar can be seen in the background. It is usually not used at reformed mass.

        • “So sentences like “Celebrating the Mass ad orientem doesn’t make it a “preconciliar Mass.” makes little sense to me.”

          The Mass before the Second Vatican Council was the traditional Latin Mass. Celebrating the Novus Ordo ad orientem doesn’t make the Novus Ordo a preconciliar Mass.

          “I just think than Novus Ordo Missae is designated to be sayed to the people.”

          No, it’s not, or the instructions wouldn’t specify that at certain points the priest should face the people. Nowhere in Vatican II or anything else was it stated that the priest should face the people; it was another one of those sneaky little changes so dishonestly introduced.

          “It would be way better to change the already existing 8:00 AM mass to pre-Conciliar mass and leave the 11:00 AM one as simple and as quick as possible.”

          There is nothing complex or time-consuming about celebrating the Mass ad orientem. And even if there were, there’s no reason why the 11:00 one should be “as simple and quick as possible.” Gosh, think of the horror of having to spend a few extra minutes at Mass on a Sunday! Such cruelty!

          “And please note: “the table” means the the offertory table as illustrated on the photo. Altar can be seen in the background. It is usually not used at reformed mass.”

          Sacrifices are offered on altars. The Mass is a sacrifice, and if the priest is using something that looks like a table on which to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass, it’s an altar.

  8. After being in the fight for the Tridenitine Mass for over 30 years this seems to be just another confusion when looking at the picture alter girls going to frustrate traditionalists. This is only going to confuse more people cuz you have the priests some masses facing you some masses the back have you done all the homework yet. Are all the Tabernacles back in the middle of the altar there still Tabernacles on the side this is another Mass confusion I guess I’m getting it to the age that I feel we need the Lord to come back again and it’s sad only because I’m old this is shot

  9. Think of the reaction of people who see someone standing still and looking up to the sky. The tendency is to look up there also to see what it is that is engaging that persons attention.

  10. I can’t wait for this to begin happening in my diocese. I would prefer to have our priest praying with us rather than at us. It is less distracting and more reverent.

  11. At The First Communion (on Holy Thursday) Jesus is often depicted sharing w his disciples the bread & wine, His Body and Blood, to His side at a banquet like table or in front of Him at a u-shaped table. Jesus is looking at each on of them. Thus the motivation for the current popular orientation.

    The focus is Jesus. The priest is a mediator, a bit player if you will. At the Consecration, the Jesus is offering each of us to share in His Body and Blood through the mediation of a physical stand in, the priest.

    I would take it further. The priest should stand off to the side for all of the mass up to the offertory. Then approach the table preparing the gifts facing the congregation. Thn step to the side again to recite the prayers up to consecration. The once again as a physical stand in for Jesus apprach the table face the people and offer to share w us in Jesus’ name His Body and Blood.

    • why do you argue about the presence of the priest? it is Jesus the Son of Almighty God that we have come to worship and incredibly receive. Jesus our Savour is the reason and focus of the Mass not the priest. where is the tabernacle placed in the church so all attending can worship Him…. the REAL PRESENCE of Almighty God.

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