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Boise bishop bans ‘ad orientem’ Masses in new liturgical instruction

by JD Flynn for CNA

Bishop Peter F. Christensen of Diocese of Boise, Idaho, takes a photo of a statue of Pope Pius IX after concelebrating Mass with bishops from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome Feb. 6, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Denver, Colo., Apr 1, 2020 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- The bishop of Boise told priests last month that Mass in the diocese should not be celebrated in the ad orientem posture, and that material from “independent websites” is not appropriate for religious instruction.

“I am instructing priests in this diocese to preside facing the people at every celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass,” Bishop Peter Christensen wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to priests, which was published in the March 27 issue of the Idaho Catholic Register.

“There are priests who prefer ad orientem. I am convinced that they mean well and find it a devout way to pray. But the overwhelming experience worldwide after Vatican II is that the priest faces the people for Mass and this has contributed to the sanctification of the people.”

The bishop wrote that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal is “unambivalent” about liturgical orientation, and “makes it plain that the universal Church envisions the priest presiding at Mass facing the people.”

While liturgists have debated the precise meaning of the liturgical document that references the direction a priest faces during the celebration of the Mass, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship clarified in 2000 that the document does not forbid the ad orientem celebration of the liturgy.

In 2016, Bishop Arthur Seratelli, then-chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference liturgy committee, wrote to U.S. bishops that while the General Instruction of the Roman Missal “does show a preference for the celebrant’s facing the people ‘whenever possible’ in the placement and orientation of the altar,” the Church “does not prohibit the celebration of the Eucharist in the Ordinary Form ad orientem.”

“Although permitted, the decision whether or not to preside ad orientem should take into consideration the physical configuration of the altar and sanctuary space, and, most especially, the pastoral welfare of the faith community being served.”

While neither universal canon nor liturgical law require the permission of a bishop before a priest celebrates the Mass ad orientem, Seratelli wrote that “such an important decision should always be made with the supervision and guidance of the local bishop,” Seratalli wrote.

Ad orientem, or facing the east, was, until recent decades, the long-standing historical posture for celebrating Mass in the Latin rite, and has been understood to reflect the community’s watchfulness for the return of Jesus Christ from the east. In the ad orientem posture, both the priest and the people face the apse of the Church, or the tabernacle, during the celebration of the Mass.

The ad orientem celebration of the Mass fell out of customary use in many parts of the world after 1969-1970 revisions to the Roman Missal, although those revisions did not explicitly call for a change in liturgical orientation. The possibility of the versus populum, or facing the people posture was mentioned in a 1964 Vatican instruction regarding the placement of altars. In recent years, some Vatican officials and U.S. bishops have promoted and encouraged a return to the ad orientem posture.

Christensen’s letter said that in his diocese, the ad orientem orientation would be prohibited. He explained that “it was clearly the mind of the Council that the priest should face the people.”

Deacon Gene Fadness, a spokesman for the Diocese of Boise did not explain what document of the Second Vatican Council conveys the “mind of the Council” on the matter, which is not mentioned in Sacrosanctum concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s apostolic constitution on the liturgy.

Fadness did tell CNA that “In all liturgical matters, Bishop Peter carefully considers the statements of the CDWDS, the instructions in the ritual books and Canon Law, and his responsibility as chief liturgist of the diocese.”

Christensen’s letter also told priests that “in instructing the faithful regarding questions of posture, gesture, reception of Communion, etc., clergy are to refer always to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the Order of the Mass, and other officially promulgated ritual books for the form of liturgy they are celebrating; or to documents propagated by the Holy See or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and approved by appropriate authorities.”

“Sources such as independent websites and social media platforms that are unaffiliated with the Holy See or the USCCB are not to be considered trustworthy or appropriate for catechesis,” the bishop wrote.

Fadness declined to name the independent websites the bishop had in mind, but when presented with examples of such websites, namely Word on Fire, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic Answers, the spokesman told CNA that “The Bishop has no problem with solid Catholic sources such as Word on Fire, Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic Answers. But, of course, he is not bound by what any contributing writers to these sites say, and he prefers that his priests give priority to the GIRM and approved USCCB documents as catechesis for the faithful on liturgical matters.”

The deacon told CNA that Christensen “is the Bishop for our diocese and has full authority to determine liturgical practices within it.”

He cited as an example of the bishop’s authority a March 2019 decision to require Catholics to kneel in the Mass after the Agnus Dei, as is the norm in the U.S., but was not the practice in Boise until Christensen’s intervention.

In his February letter, Christensen offered additional liturgical norms for the diocese, instructing that while Catholics are permitted to receive the Eucharist while kneeling, priests should not use kneelers or Communion rails that might encourage the practice. The bishop also requested that priests celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass notify the bishop they are doing so, and instructed that “elements from Missal use at the Extraordinary Form liturgy are not to be imported into Masses celebrated under the Ordinary Form.”

Christensen, 67, has been Bishop of Boise since 2014. He was named Bishop of Superior, Wisconsin, in 2007. Fadness told CNA that Christensen’s aim was “reminding his priests that the integrity of the instruction within each Missal must be respected insofar as possible.”

The letter was sent to priests in February, but published at the end of March, after the public celebration of Mass had been suspended across the U.S. because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked about the timing of the letter’s publication, Fadness explained that the diocesan newspaper “publishes only twice monthly.”
“The Bishop is merely asking that the Ordinary Form be followed during a Novus Ordo Mass and the Extraordinary Form be followed during the Traditional Latin Mass,” Fadness explained.

“Some of our priests were mixing Extraordinary Form practices with the Ordinary Form, which was causing confusion among the faithful, some fearing that we were introducing pre-Vatican II practices.”

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  1. “[T]he overwhelming experience worldwide after Vatican II is that the priest faces the people for Mass and this has contributed to the sanctification of the people.” More proof, if any be needed, that our bishops inhabit their own planet entirely detached from the reality of this one. As the Catholic faith shrinks throughout the world, they prattle on and on about the great liturgical renewal. Listening to them talk about liturgy is like eavesdropping on a conversation in a psych ward.

    • I totally share your amazement that this Bishop would not only come to this conclusion, but would do so now. Not only does the evidence you cite reveal the absurdity of his comments about sanctification and its association with the Novus Ordo, but consider the current crisis. He chooses now to deny a God-centered practice when we are faced with our desperate need to return to God as our center? Some of these Bishops are just lost!!!

    • It is difficult for some to admit that the very dark, very destructive influences that affect us all, IF WE LET THEM, affect Bishops, Cardinals, the Pope, etc. We are all human and sinners all. These evils both gently and violently distort our minds and corrupt our hearts, our Human Ecology, if we don’t stand strong against the Demonic Collective that preaches Satan’s False Gospel (radical liberalism, satanism, radical homosexuality, abortion, radical environmentalism, radical feminism, etc.). It can happen to anybody and happened to me in the past. Both the great PHYSICALITY in the great SPIRITUALITY of Catholicism made me free.

      True Catholicism is an extremely physical Religion in the most purest sense. Why does it even matter to turn to the East in Mass? Because we are responding to JESUS Authority over the whole universe and He is the True SUN that illuminates all men (Malachi 4:2). That’s also why it matters SO much to eliminate that practice to those who are confused and affected under the influence of those that resist JESUS Universal Authority and who want to replace Him with impostors or even themselves as an anti-Heavenly Father “supreme authority”.

      Ironically, they don’t rise any loud objections to people who do the Yoga practice of doing the Sun Salutation in the morning to the East. We True Catholics must instead face and salute our Lord Jesus, the SUN OF JUSTICE, coming from the East, with our INDIVIDUAL PRIVATE prayer in the morning, and no one can forbid us that. No one. We are not saluting a ball of gas known as the sun, but the Very Word of God that created it, us and all that exists. Glory be to His Mighty Name!!

  2. A photograph of the text of the article “Bishop Issues clarification to priests regarding liturgical practices” in the March 27-April 9, 2020 issue of the Idaho Catholic Register is available right now at . There is no obvious way to navigate to an archive of earlier issues. It may be unreachable when the next issue is published.

    There appear to be two main points:

    Bishop Christensen is forbidding celebrating the Novus Ordo mass ad orientum (point 2 of the article, with heading “Priests in the Diocese of Boise will face the people when presiding at the Ordinary Form of the Mass).

    The bishop requests to be informed with details about frequency of celebration and attendance for the Extraordinary Form, which he states is information that is to be reported to the Holy See during each ad limina visit (point 4 of the article, with heading “Celebration of the Extraordinary Form).

  3. “and this has contributed to the sanctification of the people.”

    Has the Bishop been asleep for the past 50 years or so?

    • Yup, Leslie. It does make you wonder.
      The part here about folks fearing the introduction of pre Vatican II practices, who fears that ? Just my own personal experience has found it among people who are a decade or more older than me. And I’m a grandma.
      The future of the Church will be with young families who are open and generous to life. And they tend to be more traditional.
      You’d think our bishops might take a closer look at their flock’s demographics and figure that out.
      I actually had friends, a family with a dozen children, who had moved to the Boise diocese area. They’d given up on the seriously bad liturgical “reforms ” going on in their own diocese and joined a schismatic sect in Idaho. But that came with it’s own troubles.
      It’s hard to be a parent these days. The support system in our parishes just isn’t there and folks do the best they can, occasionally making choices that can lead away from Rome. I wish our bishops would take this seriously.

    • Respectfully, he is wide awake to his own agenda. He may be sincere in what he is doing despite the fact that he is sincerely wrong.

  4. And when the diocese is deprived of vocations, will he realize he is being chastised? Only 5 seminarians in a major seminary. Some bishops are just clueless.

  5. This bishop is a hireling, a false shepherd, a Judas bishop. For 65 years I have heard bishops like him suppress traditional devotions and Masses, harass and intimidate traditional Catholics, and promote every form of heresy and sexual perversion as they never tire of extolling the “great and glorious Second Vatican Council” and its “liturgical renewal”. Utter nonsense, as any Catholic with eyes, ears, and a functioning intelligence cam see. I have well and truly had it with these lying hypocrites who have brought ruin and destruction on the Catholic Church with their insanity.

  6. Bishop Christensen is behaving like a dishonest and cowardly tyrant.

    He is using falsehood to assert control.

    And he is combining this with the pogrom of suffocation suggested by Bishop Robert Barron, to persecute Catholic priests and faithful who make recourse to Catholic internet sites (presumably those that work to preserve tradition, and talk honestly about Church injustice and corruption.

    I was born into and lived in ad oriented worship, which was obviously practiced by the Church for about 1,970 years, as a primary gesture of priest and people turning toward God The Father, as the Eucharistic Prayer, the Roman Canon, was offered by the priest “in personam Christi.”

    I was sanctified by that as a boy.

    I am not sanctified by watching a Mass facing the people, and neither are most Catholics, who have shown they are not by leaving the “facing the people” Church, and disbelieving in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

    The cult of Bishop Christensen begins as a cult of self-deceit, and persists only by propogating deceit to our children.

    Bishop Christensen has exposed himself as a tyrant.

    • Bishop Christensen is not to be tarred with the same brush as some of his more deserving colleagues; and he is not a “tyrant.”

      The earlier rumor coming out of Idaho (I write from neighboring Washington), now clarified in the bishop’s actual letter (, was that the Tridentine Mass was to be prohibited. Not even possible—instead it is hybrid Masses that are prohibited; and, true enough, that in both cases (Novus Ordo and Extraordinary Form) the priest now will face the parishioners. Two points. . .

      First, part of the backstory might be that Idaho is a particularly “interesting” place. Heterogeneous (and seven times the size of Maryland), it stretches from Grizzly Bear country in the north to Mormon territory in the south. (Occasional rumblings about a two-state policy splitting north from south). Church-wise, in the 1970s one “bishop” Francis Schuckardt claimed dominion in the mountains to the north, and even appointed himself the only legitimate Pope of the remnant Church—-a bit like Lefebvre except more so. Over the years he faded (d.2006), but can we speculate that the familiar post-Vatican II risk of schism (whether overt or accidental) in Idaho runs especially deep?

      Second, an ironic twist about “ad orientem.” Many Catholic church buildings, themselves, are mis-oriented. When the priest faces the parishioners, he is not turning his back against the east, but instead he is facing east—-and regardless (and like the parishioners), in all cases he is facing toward the centrality of the altar and the Real Presence. (St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Boise has its main entrance to the east.)

      • Peter,
        I think we’re talking about “liturgical East”.
        For a tabernacle centered church – That’s facing the tabernacle.
        The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass flows in a more logical manner with the Priest and the congregants praying in the same direction – especially during the Eucharist Prayer.
        It’s befuddling why this bishop refuses to understand or allow this orientation.
        I’m a simple person, and It’s obvious to me.

        • Ah, I stand corrected about the orientation to the “east” (or rather, I “kneel” corrected).

          Here’s a follow-up point. In the final doxology, and in all cases, we pray together—with the priest—all facing up: “Through Him, with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.”

          In this, at least, we are all praying in the same direction—-up (though, again, not geographically): in the Mass we join Christ in his sacrifice to(ward) the Father.

          I certainly agree that an understanding of this ultimate “orientation,” especially, also has been washed out by theater-in-the-round liturgies.

          • Peter –

            Clearly, Bishop Christensen disagrees with your sense that those who pray ad orientatum are praying with those who pray versus populum. Clearly, he thinks that his preference is superior to sndopposed to the other.

      • Peter –

        I respect your opinion and do not take offense at your disagreement.

        I repeat my assertion that the Bishop is most definitely being a tyrant, because:

        A – he is asserting that his position is authoritative based on something that is NONSENSICAL and WITHOUT EVIDENCE, which is his assertion that his preference for versus populum “is clearly the mind of the Council.”

        B – He is both asserting that USCCB and Vatican are assumed to be trustworthy, when they have proven themselves the opposite; and is issuing a smear against any “independent Catholic website that is unaffiliated with the USCCB or the Holy See” as “not to be considered trustworthy” by virtue of being unaffiliated with the two patently untrustworthy organizations.

        C – He is exploiting the COVID crisis period to force this on the faithful while they are under maximum duress.

        • Thank you. Here are my nuances on your lucid three points:

          A. Perhaps…, in his chosen wording, the bishop simply (!) and too easily conflates greater lay participation in the Mass (Vatican II) with the physical “versus populum” (as “clearly in the mind of the Council”). More unwitting (and seminary-influenced?) than tyrannical?

          B. To blacklist all “independent Catholic website[s]” is in my view a DOA throwaway (but some are poorly informed and flaky, yes?), and no more likelihood than re-instituting the marginally more defensible Index of Forbidden Books (mandatory face-masking against sometimes randomly-extravagant and pandemic use of the printing press?–from Trent to 1966); …but reminiscent, too, of the Christological Arian Controversy with the steadfast laity “social distancing (!),” successfully, from viral abdication by the majority bishops of the day.

          C. Timing with the COVID crisis still can be more of an internally-driven coincidence, although Vatican announcement this week of a new deaconess resuscitation study group (a theological “ventilator” strapped to a twice-dead horse) also inspires disdain.

          As part of the Idaho context, at least (not an answer), for all of the above, I propose my opening comment of April 2. The fractures and weightiness of the Bishop Schuckardt event (aka “pope” Schuckardt, beginning in the 1970s) are not easy to fully characterize and appreciate, but the secular Wikipedia gives one summary:

    • Yes it’s more than possible ble, it’s very likely.

      Note how “Team Francis” employed the “trusted” and “avuncular” Bishop Robert Barron to float the idea of trying to suffocate the truth by banning “independent Catholic websites.”

      I have been struggling for years to try to keep confidential about Bishop Barron, who at first strongly appealed to me, because of his public condemnations of “dumbed down, coloring book” Catholic faith courses at Catholic schools. His speech at the Magnificat Conference several years ago ended with a call to arms about this. I thought he was a man of principle. Those were the Benedict years.

      Now it is the time of The Pontiff Francis, the anti-Benedict.

      Bishop Barron’s recommendation of employing “eloquent amibuity” in the death penalty gambit by the Pontiff Francis patently demonstrated that Bishop Barron prefers ambiguity to truth itself, and has willingly sacrificed Catholic intellect on the altar of sycophancy for the Pontiff Francis, and has produced what can only be called “the Catechism of The Francis Cult.”

      When Bishop Barron suggested banning others from communicating via “non-approved” websites, he finally convinced me that he is a corrupt Bishop, whose principle is not “The Mind of Christ” but instead the “libido domanandi,” and his aim is controlling “the cattle.”

      He is not a man who willing to stand face-to-face with an intelligent interlocutor and seek the truth.

      He is, instead, a man who takes the stage only when he is unopposed, and can safely oppose others by asserting dominance, instead of winning people over with sound Catholic intelligence. Consider his interview by Ben Shapiro, when Bishop Barron WOULD NOT look the man in the eye and say “I and we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, is Truth personified, and that the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth, and no one can be saved without believing in Jesus.” He could only muster an impoverished tribalism: “The Catholic view – go back to the Second Vatican Council…says it very clearly. I mean, Christ is the privileged route to salvation. I mean, God so loved the world He gave His only Son that we might find eternal life. So that”s the privileged route. However, Vatican II clearly teaches that someone outside the Christian faith can be saved.”

      Bishop Barron could not speak the Gospel, he could only speak the Second Vatican Council, which has taken the place of the Gospel itself.

      Returning to Bishop Christensen: he and other domineering Bishops are now executing the Bishop Barron plan of suffocating authentic Catholic evangelizers and journalists.

      It’s the “New Non-Evangelization.”

  7. I don’t believe the bishop has the authority to restrict nor prohibit ad orientem. Ad orientem is an option provided for in the GIRM. No permission from the bishop needed because it’s universal liturgical law that the bishop cannot negate with particular law in his diocese.

  8. That this should come out during our need for true and soul caring pandemic times seems incredibly disoriented (pun intended) Haha Did anyone notice it was April first?? Wish I could say April fool!!!!!! but respecting the office, I wont. The vocations are growing by leaps and bounds among the people oriented toward our God and King in worship.

  9. The two orientations illustrate the changing theologies re God and God’s people.
    God is not remote like the burning bush in the mountains but is intimate and dwells within tge community of the faithful.
    Where two or tyree are gathered in my name there am I in their midst.

    • Much could be said in response to this sincere and misguided remark, but suffice to say you need to read the Old Testament a bit closer. For instance, how is the burning bush an example of God’s remoteness when, in fact, that was when God revealed himself in a most direct and personal way to Moses, even disclosing Himself (“I AM WHO AM”) to Moses. Plus, there’s the problematic fact that until the mid-20th century, neither Western or Eastern liturgies had versus populum orientation, and the latter still do not. And yet, despite that, Christians have always believed that God dwelt among them, as the Holy Spirit divinizes each one at baptism and incorporates them into Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church. So, try again.

  10. I think the long-term effect there will be to drive more people to the extraordinary form, especially the younger people who are having large families. Regardless of what the bishop says, nothing in the actual documents of Vatican II is at all clear that versus populum is what the Council Fathers intended. Beyond that, I am wondering if the concept of a territorial diocese is already obsolete; the differences among bishops become all too painfully obvious in an era of instant global communication. Perhaps we should all become part of personal prelatures or ordinariates. In many cases, that is almost the de facto situation anyway.

  11. I too am taken aback by the word ‘fearing’. I have wonderful memories of the great solemn liturgies especially at Easter. So much novelty is not even suggested in the Vatican II documents.

  12. At the Consecration, when the Body and Blood of Christ are elevated, I wonder how many in the congregation believe the Consecrated Body and Blood are being shown to them. It is an offering up of the Son to God the Father. Since we do not know what God the Father looks like, we use a crucifix to symbolically receive the offering. This is valid as we worship three Gods in One. So God the Father and the Holy Spirit are present in Jesus Christ. No? Also, Vatican II never abrogated “Ad Orientem” or even the celebration of the Mass entirely in Latin.

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