Why is ad orientem worship so controversial?

Although Vatican II said nothing about changing the priest’s direction during Mass, ad orientem has become a symbol of more traditional liturgy, leading some to see it as voicing hesitation or even a rejection of the new liturgy

Priest celebrating the traditional Latin Mass at the church of St Pancratius, Rome / Thoom/Shutterstock

Until the 1960s, Catholics worshipped ad orientem, with priest and congregation facing the East during Mass. Originally Christians celebrated Mass before daybreak Sunday morning with the rising sun serving as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection (testified by Pliny the Younger’s letter to the Emperor Trajan in 112 A.D.). The common liturgical direction toward the East honored the resurrection and anticipated the Lord’s coming in glory.

The oldest Christian church discovered in the world (without a later structure built over it), the house church at Dura-Europos in Syria, dating from the early 200s, was found with its altar touching the wall, facing East. Churches were constructed throughout history in this same fashion, with the altar (whether against the wall or not) oriented toward the East.

Even though there were more exceptions to a strict interpretation of this geographical direction in recent times, priest and people still worshipped facing the Lord together throughout the entire history of Catholic worship. Services facing the people arose during the Reformation, because ministers were focused on speaking to and leading the congregation. The priest during Catholic worship, however, acts in the person of Christ and leads the members of the Body in a common approach to the Father. The Mass does not focus on the people but seeks to give glory to the Father through Christ and in the Holy Spirit. The Mass is not about us ultimately but about coming into communion with God, worshipping him and being drawn into his life.

Why, then, did we change the direction of Catholic worship to face the people, called ad populum, in contrast to ad orientem?

The Second Vatican Council did not mention this change and there is no official liturgical document from the 1960s that directed it. The thought following Vatican II’s constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, was that the Mass, which had been celebrated in an oft-inaudible Latin, should be more accessible to the people. In the experimental period between the constitution in 1963 and the promulgation of the reformed Mass of Pope Paul VI in 1969, the posture of facing the people had already become standard as a kind of spontaneous reaction to the liturgical mood of greater transparency and accessibility.

It is truly amazing that a timeless practice of Christian worship, such as the posture of ad orientem, would be abandoned without the directives of a Council or even any deliberation from authoritative bodies. Over the last 50 years, it has become the absolute norm.

At the same time, works such as Pope Benedict XVI’s Spirit of the Liturgy and Uwe Michael Lang’s Turning Towards the Lord (both published by Ignatius Press) have pointed to the implications of this change for the way Catholics perceive the meaning of liturgy. It appears to have become more human-centered rather than God-centered, indicating more of an enclosed circle than a transcendent action that draws us beyond the confines of the church. Inspired by these reflections, some priests have been seeking to recover the ad orientem posture.

And not far behind that decision, controversy lurks.

Many congregations panic, thinking that the priest has “turned his back” on them. Others allege a return to a properly abandoned archaic way of doing things: “Father’s taking us back to the past.” Bishops will tell priests to desist, and two prominent archbishops have put restrictions on the practice just this last year in the United States.

Nothing compares, however, to the literal “liturgical war” that has erupted in India within the Syro-Malabar archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly, rejecting the decision of the Church’s governing synod to introduce a uniform celebration of the liturgy with the Liturgy of the Word facing the people and the Liturgy of the Eucharist ad orientem. While this decree was implemented in the rest of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in relative peace, protests from priests and the laity have led to the replacement of an archbishop and violent disruptions of liturgies and meetings in this one archeparchy. No resolution has been reached.

What is so controversial about ad orientem that would lead to restrictions by bishops and violent protests?

Although Vatican II said nothing about changing the priest’s direction during Mass, ad orientem has become a symbol of more traditional liturgy, leading some to see it as voicing hesitation or even a rejection of the new liturgy. If the post-Vatican II liturgical changes sought a greater openness to the world, increased intelligibility, accessibility, and transparency, then the return to ad orientem would seem to constitute an “about face.” For supporters, it would reorder the liturgy toward greater solemnity, transcendence, mystery and a common orientation toward God.

Although there is nothing, other than custom, that connects the new order of the Mass intrinsically to celebrating Mass ad populum, some priests and bishops may feel threatened by an older and even ancient custom as challenging the established order. The Church will have to navigate this important question in the coming decades.

Will we return to this ancient practice, despite controversy, or retain the congregation-centered posture that has become the new norm?

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About Dr. R. Jared Staudt 53 Articles
R. Jared Staudt PhD, serves as Director of Content for Exodus 90 and as an instructor for the lay division of St. John Vianney Seminary. He is author of How the Eucharist Can Save Civilization (TAN), Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture (Divine Providence Press) and The Beer Option (Angelico Press), as well as editor of Renewing Catholic Schools: How to Regain a Catholic Vision in a Secular Age (Catholic Education Press). He and his wife Anne have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.


  1. … and two prominent archbishops have put restrictions on the practice just this last year in the United States.

    I live in the diocese of one of those prominent archbishops, who issued his decree just before Christmas. It was supposedly done because he’d received complaints from Catholics who’d been away from attending Mass and who’d returned for the holiday season. They had therefore missed the pastor’s catechesis on the benefits of facing east. There’s an irony buried in there somewhere.

    • “It was supposedly done because he’d received complaints from Catholics who’d been away from attending Mass and who’d returned for the holiday season.”

      More than once I have had the thought that maybe the solution to these conflicts is to have designated “Boomer Parishes,” or at least “Boomer Masses” within a parish.

      In another 15 years or so, it would be moot. But it might get us through the next decade or two.

  2. My first church as a boy had the altar on the south side. My next church as a teen had the altar on the west side. My next church as a youth had the altar on the north. As far as I know the orientation was determined by the lay of the available land and building functionality as determined by architects. Facing east was never an overriding issue when building a church in most locals; it should not be a symbol of the traditional mass because, strictly, it was not.

    • Absolutely agree. My first church as a boy, built a bit before Vatican II (1859) faced north. The next (also pre-Vatican II) faced south. St. Peter’s in Rome faces west. The Basilica of St. Louis the King, first cathedral west of the Mississippi, faces north. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (the “New Cathedral,” built in 1914) faces north. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception faces north. Ad orientem is like folk etymology – an explanation that makes sense in hindsight but isn’t necessarily true.

      • Churches originally faced East. Modern zoning and street planning makes facing a particular direction difficult, awkward, or downright impossible. In such cases when Mass was always celebrated ad orientem, there had to be an “orient” to be “ad,” so the altar was said to be in the “liturgical East” — not just in Catholic churches but in Anglican ones as well (I don’t know about Lutheran). Inside the church, the wall the altar was on was just called East, and the other walls referred accordingly. The point was that the Mass was celebrated with people facing as close to facing the East as possible, and the priest also facing that direction.

    • After God expelled Adam and Eve, at Eden’s Eastern Gate, God placed angels with a swirling sword of fire protecting the ‘tree of life’ within. (see Genesis 3:23-24).

      Symbols carry deep and often forgotten meaning. Words and directions are valuable sources of information/orientation for men wandering in a cosmos with many distracting and confusing landmarks.

      Some churches are ‘in the round.’ With no specific orientation, what direction does the altar face and how may this relate to Scripture?

      • Three quick points:

        1) Christians were worshipping facing East centuries before Islam existed. (This reminds me of a Protestant woman who once told me that she not could accept Catholic bishops because the Mormons have “bishops”. Hmmm.)

        2) Christians don’t ignore creation and the material realm just because pagans hold flawed or false beliefs about the same. Should Catholics not use water or wine in the sacramental order because Pagan A or Pagan B used water or wine in some pagan ritual? (I highly recommend the work of Jean Danielou on this topic, notably The Bible and the Liturgy).

        3) The ancient understanding of facing the rising son is rooted, in part, in Psalm 19, which “is interpreted as a song about Christ … The east supersedes the Jerusalem Temple as a symbol. Christ, represented by the sun, is the place of the Shekinah, the true throne of the living God.” (Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 68).

        • I understand. And I accept it all.

          I first keep in mind though that the symbolism doesn’t overtake the Real Presence. Christ is really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament at the Consecration, in the Exposition and in Repose in the Tabernacle.

          Reflecting on Him and praying before Him, like receiving Him, is similarly real and not mere symbol: He gives Himself to the Father in the Consecration, He is at the Father’s right hand in the Tabernacle and in the Exposition He magnifies His giving of the Spirit of the Father and of the Son.

          I am confident that in these 3 I uphold the Psalm, Danielou and Ratzinger. And thank you for mentioning Danielou, I had planned to buy his book and it keeps slipping from my memory of things to do.

        • Muslims pray toward Mecca, not East for everyone, and not originally…

          Jewish and Christian rejection of a three-way composite monotheism accounts for Mohammed’s decision to reorient the very early direction of Muslim prayer away from Jerusalem, and toward Mecca as the new Holy City, with its traditional pagan shrine of the Ka’ba.

          Practical steps toward an amalgamated monotheism had included such concessions as the timing of Ramadan (in A.D. 623) to begin on the Jewish fast of Expiation, and then the extension for forty days to match the Christian Lenten season first used by the Greek Churches in A.D. 337. Of the “five pillars of Islam,” three are borrowed from Judaism and Christianity: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.

          In addition to retention of the pilgrimage to the Ka’ba (a fourth pillar, and stripped of its 360 pagan idols), an anthropological approach to Islam might also note the transformation of Arabian tribal identity and totems to the global umma united by the Qur’an; the continuation of polygamy (though restricted to four wives); the warrior code, now jihad, not entirely unlike Bushido in pre-modern and Second World War Japan; and the (pagan-like) perception of the Christian Trinity as a blasphemous triad rather than as the self-disclosing and Triune One.

          Enough to wonder about any equivalency under a “pluralism” of religions, or the implied equivalency when simplistically reduced to, yes, three Abrahamic religions.

          • Beaulieu I like to imagine that the “3 Abrahamic religions” caption as an implement or accessory that allowed containing discussion and that it was not held to rigidly evangelical.

            So from this position things then went instead to a foundational fraternalism centering somehow on the Pope and to automatically condition all Christian witness. Which is different.

  3. Why? Because many of us are living in the “theatre” instead of the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary…
    Its entertainment theatre of the absurd, we “entertain” our people with folk hymns and stories, then we rush through the 2nd Eucharistic prayer & communion is a supermarket line of hurry up so we can get out of the parking lot… It’s on us, priests!

  4. At Ignatius Press, Father Fessio celebrates Mass with elements of “versus popolum” and “ad orientem”. When the immediate addressee is the congregation, as for example in the Liturgy of the Word, it’s “facing the people”. When the immediate addressee is God, as in most of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, it’s “facing the Lord” (ad orientem).

    This is a coherent expression of divine worship celebrated using the 1969 missal. (We also use elements of both English and Latin (and Greek, counting the Kyrie).

  5. This writer poorly badly misses the theological meaning of the orientation of the presider and the assembly and stirs and equates his misunderstanding as a “controversy” about what is actually a long settled matter. That our common orientation should be toward the east signified by the crucifix is not liturgical. The crucifix is simply a humanly fashioned symbol. Our common orientation should be toward Christ really present in the Eucharist. Here we have not simply a symbol, like the crucifix, but an efficacious sign not a human-made object, truly God who has made himself present to us. Identifying the crucifix rather than the Eucharist as the point of orientation approaches the boundary of idolatry. Whether the priest is on the same side of the altar as the people or on the opposite side, the entire assembly is “oriented” toward Christ present in the Eucharist.

    • Facing liturgical East is eschatological in nature; it is oriented to “the iconic symbolism of the rising sun (Son)”, as Dr. Larry Chapp explains in this CWR essay. So, yes, it is toward Christ, but, better, it is toward Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is very evident in the Eastern Divine Liturgy, in which the priest faces liturgical East while leading the people in prayer and worship, but then faces the people when addressing them (giving blessings, homily, etc).

      • The Eastern Divine Liturgy, in addition to facing liturgical east, is also often celebrated and CENTERED in the architecturally symmetrical Greek Cross. More contemplative. More silence.

        So, a meditation here…The Western liturgy is celebrated, instead, in the LINEAR basilica (with the cadence of columns leading sequentially and historically to the tabernacle). Something, too, like the reduction of fully human history into a periodized and now progressivist ideology?

        In the West, do we default to much to one side of our spatial and temporal imaginations? Too given, are we, to the sequential and linear perspective on the total reality of things? Today, with this IMAGINATION thingy accounting partly/largely (?) for the disruptive liturgical controversy on how to face both into history and above history?

        Balthasar offers the insight into thinking BOTH horizontally and vertically: “in the Incarnation eternity enters into time, and in the Resurrection, time enters into eternity.” And Benedict (in his “Introduction to Christianity”) explains further that eternity is not “timelessness,” but rather eternity is “sovereignty over time.” Both…

        CHRIST, then, is not a dated episode or ideal on a linear trajectory, but the central EVENT of human history; the Church is not a backward “paradigm” to be radically shifted by the passage of time; and each soul is destined for future deification beginning even now (!), sacramentally, within the Christ who even now is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (both!). Already, we are “surrounded (!) by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). Which brings yours truly to ask if, perhaps, in the Latin Church of the West are we too-much suppressed by small, left-brain imaginations and ideologies dressed up as progressive theologians?

        With some courageous leadership and institutional memory, and carpentry (Joseph was a carpenter!), at this late date HOW might the real Church still salvage and reorient the plebiscite version of synodally–which has “walking together” in cadence into the predictable grasp of noisy, linear and left-brained “aggregators, compilers, and synthesizers”?

      • Not to exacerbate contention, rather a matter for serious thought regarding the sun and Christian worship. Most of us are aware of the Essenes and allegations of sun worship. Professor Morton Smith [author The Case of the Gilded Staircase] attempts to prove that the Temple envisioned by the Essenes had a gilded staircase to reach the roof of the Temple where members of the Dead Sea sect worshiped the sun. Although the Temple Scroll [Column 55:17–18] prohibits worship of the sun it instead speaks of reverence.
        Is reverence of the sun a form of worship? Some scholars queried whether John the Baptist was a member, or at least associated with the Essene sect desert inhabitants. May there be an historical association with the importance of the sun within Christian worship?
        If anyone is knowledgeable of scholarly refutation, or further explanation I would be interested for sake of further edification.

        • Certainly I’m not suggesting that facing East during the liturgy is a form of sun worship, rather might the practice have a similar value to early Christians as was the apparent implementation of statuary to replace the idolatry of the gentiles.

  6. I recently went to a TLM and was pleased to have an altar rail again. I am 82 and remember the LM very well. I would think the USCCB working on a Eucharistic Revival might consider bringing the altar rail back so people can kneel and adore raising their head to open and receive on the tongue again. One thing I didn’t care for was the Gospel was read by the priest facing away from the people. I thought the Gospel should be proclaimed. The altar rail would eliminate many problems.

    • That is a matter of church architecture and not TLM versus Ordinary Form. At the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis we have had a Communion rail since 1914 and we have people receiving Communion on the tongue kneeling at the Communion rail every day, 3 Masses on weekdays and 5 on weekends, with the English language Ordinary Form of the Mass, no TLM necessary.

    • You must have been at a weekday Mass. Normally the Gospel is read in Latin as an offering to God, then in English before the homily. Sometimes the vernacular readings are skipped as they are not part of the liturgy. I have seen this done in NO liturgies as well, but not often.

  7. A first question. What is the purpose of this essay? Does it add anything new to an issue that’s tearing us apart, the belief by many who prefer ad orientem that Mass offered versus populum is not merely contra tradition, but borders on error, while those who prefer versus populum are also, besides the caricature that parishioners feel father is bringing us back to an archaic Church – rather the truth is many are more comfortable with the priest facing them as at the last supper, and speaking in a language they understand?
    Benedict XVI left us with the better approach. Rather than exacerbate the divide, he considered retention of both liturgies was beneficial, that what the Novus Ordo lost in respect to reverence, mystery, could be restored by trans enrichment.
    A major source of the divide is of course Pope Francis’ Traditiones Custodes. By which this reader presumes Jared Staudt’s response is largely a legitimate response to the virtual abolishment of the traditional liturgy. In that vein the value of the Novus Ordo may be overlooked. Even questioned as to its legitimacy. My experience in mission settings is that offering the Mass versus populum is practical, and in the language of African tribes has immediate positive impact conveying who Christ is what he offers. Another significant matter that affects the African and other animists is the connection of the sun, facing East with belief in idolatry. The identification of the divinity with natural phenomena. Let’s cease division and follow the counsel of Benedict XVI.

  8. Controversial? It may just be a silly idea, restoring it. It places even more attention on the priest, and his personal preferences. It moves against the long Catholic desire to see. We have a long tradition of adoration, and of elevation. Lay people want to see what’s going on. Let Christ be at the center of the Mass; ad centrum not ad orientam

    • My family and I have been fortunate to witness and experience the silliness of the priest facing liturgical (and in the case of our parish, literal) East for over twenty years in a Byzantine (Ukrainian) Catholic parish. Perhaps (although I doubt it), it comes across differently in the Latin rite, but the notion that this places more attention on the priest is a strange one, completely contrary to both the experience and the theological reasons behind it. In the Divine Liturgy, the priest faces East when leading the people in prayer and worship; he faces the people when addressing them (for blessings, homily, etc). Personally, my focus throughout Divine Liturgy is usually particular icons in the iconostasis (Christ, the Crucifixion, etc), which help me focus on the prayers to the Triune God; the priest is central mostly in the sense that he is leading worship and is, of course, the ordained minister who says the words of consecration, etc. But his personal preferences are hardly a part of Divine Liturgy; quite the contrary. And I suspect, having only attended one Extraordinary Form Mass in my life, that is also the case in the Latin rite.

      My experience when first becoming Catholic, in a typical (very solid, orthodox, etc) Roman rite parish was that as much as the priest (who was a wonderful man and priest) sought not to the be the center of attention, he was mostly doomed to that role and perception. That was both because he spent the entire time facing the people and because the area around the altar was so bare (the parish had minimal sacred art and statuary) that one could not help but fixate on him. (Of course, the folk band/choir of some 15-20 people did its best to steal some of that attention, and occasionally succeeded.)

      “It moves against the long Catholic desire to see.”

      And yet, after the liturgical changes following Vatican II, there was so little to actually see in most parishes, as they were stripped of art, statuary, etc. It doesn’t take much study or commonsense to see how contradictory and unhelpful so many of those changes really were.

      Anyhow, I’m happy that I have access to the silliness of the Byzantine rite and for the deeply Trinitarian and Christocentric focus of the Divine Liturgy.

      • “the notion that this places more attention on the priest is a strange one, completely contrary to both the experience and the theological reasons behind it”

        For Roman Rite Catholics, it is a practice out of time. It is most often done at the initiative of a priest or bishop, and not usually something raised by lay people in mainstream parishes. So socially, it does call attention to the priest when he does something different from the norm people have experienced.

        “And yet, after the liturgical changes following Vatican II, there was so little to actually see in most parishes …”

        I think you’d be more accurate to date it in the US after WWII, when parishes built schools first and churches later. But we are talking about the Eucharistic elements. Not art.

        For the record, I’m fine with other Christians with a different history of liturgy expressing their worship their way. Roman Catholics in the US today: it’s different now.

        • “For Roman Rite Catholics, it is a practice out of time.”

          Yes, who dares to question sacred traditions established in the 1970s that were not, in fact, even intended by Vatican II?

          But there is some truth to what you say, to the degree that Roman rite Catholics are more modern than they are Catholic. Joseph Ratzinger, in The Spirit of the Liturgy, stated:

          Modern man has little understanding of this “orientation”. Judaism and Islam, now as in the past, take it for granted that we should pray toward the central place of revelation, to the God who has revealed Himself to us, in the manner and in the place in which He revealed Himself. By contrast, in the western world, an abstract way of thinking, which in a certain way is the fruit of Christian influence, has become dominant. God is spiritual, and God is everywhere: does that not mean that prayer is not tied to a particular place or direction? Now we can indeed pray everywhere, and God is accessible to us everywhere. This idea of the universality of God is a consequence of Christian universality, of the Christian’s looking up to God above all gods, the God who embraces the cosmos and is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. But our knowledge of this universality is the fruit of revelation: God has shown Himself to us. Only for this reason do we know Him, only for this reason can we confidently pray to Him everywhere. And precisely for this reason is it appropriate, now as in the past, that we should express in Christian prayer our turning to the God who has revealed Himself to us. Just as God assumed a body and entered the time and space of this world, so it is appropriate to prayer — at least to communal liturgical prayer — that our speaking to God should be “incarnational”, that it should be Christological, turned through the incarnate Word to the Triune God. The cosmic symbol of the rising sun expresses the universality of God above all particular places and yet maintains the concreteness of Divine Revelation. Our praying is thus inserted into the procession of the nations to God.


          Admittedly, these connections were obscured or fell into total oblivion in the church buildings and liturgical practice of the modern age. This is the only explanation for the fact that the common direction of prayer of priest and people got labeled as “celebrating towards the wall” or “turning your back on the people” and came to seem absurd and totally unacceptable. And this alone explains why the meal — even in modern pictures — became the normative idea of liturgical celebration for Christians.

          In reality what happened was that an unprecedented clericalization came on the scene. Now the priest — the “presider”, as they now prefer to call him — becomes the real point of reference for the whole Liturgy. Everything depends on him. We have to see him, to respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing.

          Not surprisingly, people try to reduce this newly created role by assigning all kinds of liturgical functions to different individuals and entrusting the “creative” planning of the Liturgy to groups of people who like to, and are supposed to, “make a contribution of their own”. Less and less is God in the picture. More and more important is what is done by the human beings who meet here and do not like to subject themselves to a “pre-determined pattern”.


          The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is locked into itself. The common turning toward the East was not a “celebration toward the wall”; it did not mean that the priest “had his back to the people”: the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian Liturgy the congregation looked together “toward the Lord”. As one of the fathers of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, J.A. Jungmann, put it, it was much more a question of priest and people facing in the same direction, knowing that together they were in a procession toward the Lord. They did not lock 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….

          But is this not all romanticism and nostalgia for the past? Can the original form of Christian prayer still say something to us today, or should we try to find our own form, a form for our own times? Of course, we cannot simply replicate the past. Every age must discover and express the essence of the liturgy anew. The point is to discover this essence amid all the changing appearances. It would surely be a mistake to reject all the reforms of our century wholesale. When the altar was very remote from the faithful, it was right to move it back to the people. In cathedrals this made possible the recovery of the tradition of the altar at the crossing, the meeting-point of the nave and the presbyterium. It was also important clearly to distinguish the place for the Liturgy of the Word from the place for the strictly Eucharistic liturgy. For the Liturgy of the Word is about speaking and responding, and so a face-to-face exchange between proclaimer and hearer does make sense. In the Psalm the hearer digests what he has heard, takes it into himself, and transforms it into prayer, so that it becomes a response.

          Turn to the East is essential

          On the other hand, a common turning to the East during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of accidentals, but of essentials. Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. It is not now a question of dialogue, but of common worship, of setting off towards the One who is to come. What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle, but the common movement forward expressed in a common direction for prayer….

          • I’m not always impressed with Pope Benedict XVI as a liturgical guide. I’ve read him. I’m unconvinced. He’s not describing any Vatican II parish I’ve ever served.

            Rolling back to the question of the post, I answered why people find it controversial: when a priest changes a practice a parish has embraced and accepted. It then becomes about him, even if his reasoning is with Pope Benedict, it becomes his issue. Especially since the liturgy can be improved with greater reverence and awe in other ways that do not place the priest as the center and focus.

          • Aren’t we more aware of looking at the Lord, really present to us in the Holy Eucharist raised toward us? As Christ held the consecrated bread to the Apostles. That beyond is nowhere else but in Him? Although it’s true as Ratzinger said the Mass unfortunately became more celebration than offer of sacrifice.
            I’m not sure it’s logistics as Ratzinger imputes, rather the ‘spirit’ of the time.

          • Anyone who has attended Divine Liturgy, which is celebrated “ad orientem”, would be hard pressed to deny how central is the presence of Christ, both in the Word and in the Mystery of the Eucharist.

            And, of course, we do see the Holy Eucharist raised before us.

            I’ve heard more than a few Catholics, over the years, utter some variation of this: “I far prefer having the priest looking at the people, because [take your pick] 1) it’s supposed to be meal, 2) it makes me feel like part of the faith community, 3) it reminds me that we are all the people of God.” Well, fine. But the focus is unremittingly horizontal, with hardly any sense of the transcendent, the vertical, and the eschatological. But that might just be my personal bugaboo.

          • “1) it’s supposed to be meal, 2) it makes me feel like part of the faith community, 3) it reminds me that we are all the people of God.”

            Agreed. Well, fine. These are starting points for the formation of a community. They aren’t my reasons. More often I hear, “I can see what’s going on; it’s not behind the priest, hidden from view.”

            That last bit isn’t a deal breaker either. But I would observe that few people object to better music, like hiring a serious music director, to commissioning sculptors, painters, iconographers, etc. to produce real art for the Church. Quality is rarely controversial. But it’s a lot more difficult to pull off than the priest turning 180 degrees on his own initiative.

          • And yes. The photo of your chapel, the priest holding up the Holy Eucharist, the liturgical decor, ambiance is well conducive to deeply spiritual worship. I can see why you’re committed to the Ukrainian Eastern Catholic Rite, and if I were initially introduced to that rite neither would I wish to leave it.

          • I was raised with the priest facing the people, and had no idea there was any other way for the first 20 years of my life or so. Eventually I heard about how the priest used to turn his back on the people and ignore them for most of Mass, how you couldn’t see anything, how the congregation were just onlookers.

            I instantly understood, as soon as I assisted at my first TLM. I suspect that is because I do much better with people when we are doing something together, rather than just talking, so I am accustomed to the relative orientation of a group of people focused on the same thing. A professor faces a class to lecture. An actor faces an audience to monologue. People socializing face each other, the better to read their faces, understand, and empathize. It’s such a habit, that you can’t not do it when you see a face.

            People working on the same computer, face the computer. People working on the same problem on a blackboard, face the blackboard together. People singing from the same sheet of music, face the sheet of music. People gazing in wonder at a sunset, face the sunset together. There is a great feeling of togetherness when you are in a group all focused on the same thing. And yet the thing has the greater importance.

          • It happened in my home parish: school in 1914, church in 1925. It was actually a 1990s directive in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. I visited a parish in 2002 that went $6M into debt to build a school and 20 years later, were still paying it off and using the auditorium for Sunday Mass.

            Looking around after 1945, you’d be hard pressed to find any parish with a school that didn’t build the church second.

        • Mr. Olson was assuredly talking about something other than ‘Eucharistic elements’ when he wrote that “… the area around the altar was so bare (the parish had minimal sacred art and statuary).”

          • But you are assuming that I know more about my personal experiences than does Mr. Flowerday. Tsk, tsk.

          • And yet the context of history I cited was adoration. Host in the monstrance for viewing. Eucharist elevated during the anaphora. And now, the elements fully on view.

            Art is an important issue. But art does not involve the Real Presence.

            As they say, *tsk*tsk*

          • Lay it on, more or less bros. To Bro. Carl – Particularly and especially I assume you know your experience when you explicitly and really do assert that in a language we both understand. To Copy – Art may imitate life but life doesn’t always imitate art. Copy.

        • You’d agree with Martin Luther, then, who early introduced the idea of priests facing the people instead of the uniform traditional orientation of all faithful priestly Catholic people of God worshiping God by turning east to Him.

          The eastern direction is that from which The Light of the World and our life arose. Adam was expelled from Eden and denied re-entry. Adam’s descendants awaited the arrival of Jesus, Jesus on the cross to re-open the gate.
          Scripture signifies Eden’s Eastern gate as specifically guarded and protected.
          (see Genesis 23).

          • Worse than an even bad idea, Luther’s “facing the people” reflected his radical redefinition (a paradigm shift!) of the priest as only a preacher toward the faced congregation–no longer part of the universal assembly formed by the Eucharist as the extension and continuation of Christ’s one sacrifice and communio, once and for all.

            Benedict writes about Luther’s destructively reduced “functional” and even political role of the minister/preacher as contrasted with the displaced sacramental/communal role of the validly ordained priest within the Apostolic Succession, e.g., “Thus nothing remains of the structure of the original Mass” (Principles of Catholic Theology, Ignatius, 1987).

          • Actually, I’d prefer the monastic antiphonal arrangement for a parish church: two halves facing one another and a processional centrum splitting down the middle: font, ambo, altar. And if the geography of the property arranged, on an east/west axis.

          • The monastic antiphonal arrangement was designed specifically for chanting the psalms, because when the monks and nuns did so, the alternated verses, and so were both praying, and preaching to each other. The spent a lot more time chanting the Office than praying the Mass, and needed “choir stalls” to handle the prayer books. During the Mass, they would simply turn to face with the priest. It’s a really nice arrangement.

            Parish churches hardly ever pray the Divine Office, so setting up the church for that, rather than optimizing for the Mass, doesn’t make much sense. Especially as it is far easier to train monks and nuns to face east/liturgical east than it is to train parishes, with frequent influx of visitors and newcomers.

    • Silly seems a rather odd word choice Mr. Todd.
      I see plenty going on when I attend a TLM minus the distractions of multiple laypeople getting off & on the altar, clapping for announced birthdays, anniversaries, visitors, etc. Those things get announced appropriately in the parish hall at a fellowship meal after Mass.

    • Mr. Flowerday: How does a “community” of people trying to be impressed with themselves place Christ anywhere except as an object of personal subjectivity? How does making God subordinate to our desires inspire humility? Do you think structuring worship around self-satisfaction is in the nature of sacrifice?

  9. We read: “Even though there were more exceptions to a strict interpretation of this geographical direction in recent times, priest and people still worshiped facing the Lord together throughout the entire history of Catholic worship.”

    The whole point is not “geographical east,” but rather LITURGICAL east…

    And the meaning, so much obscured in our ideological era (and even synodally!), is that God is infinitely other than ourselves—the OTHER. And, that He has also chosen freely to become intimate with each of our fallen selves. The Syro-Malabar proposal (and Fr. Fessio’s, see Brumley above) have struck me as a transparent solution, and not (!) as a middling “compromise” with Protestantism as has been objected by some, nor as a step backward as objected by others. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2021/08/30/indias-syro-malabar-catholic-church-to-adopt-uniform-liturgy/)

    The problem today is not so much in our positioning in itself, but first of all in our heads—very poor evangelization of “the Word made flesh.” Too many banners and kumbayas and chummy handshakes. Have we all drifted implicitly into the early heresy Monism where we intuit that God is only the highest level of creation—and not the OTHER as the self-disclosing (!) Creator of all things visible and invisible?

    The Syro-Malabar solution is less one of “walking together” synodally, than it is one of first “being” assembled together in the Eucharist as both sacrificial and communal, as well as then hearing words about the Word, with both aspects of this event (!) irreducibly (!) distinct from the other.

    First, what the sacramental Church IS, and only then the possibilities of what the Church DOES liturgically and in the world.

      • Thank you, Meiron, for this pulse check.
        And an important distinction is that, in presentation, the issue should include but not be reduced to a question of accepting, or not, a synodal outcome. In the same way that the Council of Nicaea was, yes a synod, but also more than a synodal process. And today, while the Church DOES synods, the Church IS categorically more than a synod or even a word-game Synod on Synodality.https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2022/10/18/opinion-yesterdays-council-of-nicaea-and-todays-synodism/

        • I’m not qualified to comment on the Eastern Rite Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops. Does it bear any canonical right to anything more than a Roman Rite synodal way of ‘dialogue’?
          Their web site has this:

          The Synod of Bishops canonically convoked and presided over by the Patriarch/Major Archbishop constitutes the supreme authority of a particular Church. It is the legislature, superior tribunal and the electoral college of a particular Church. The Synod of Bishops is not an organ of the Patriarch/Major Archbishop but the supreme authority of a Church, of which the Patriarch/Major Archbishop is the head.

          According to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, all and solely ordained bishops of the patriarchal Church wherever they are constituted, excluding those forbidden by law, are members of the synod.

          The Pillar and other news agencies report that 54 of the 55 S-M Synodal bishops voted for the uniform 50-50 ad orientem/populum compromise. Is this decision binding or not for the one diocesan eparch/bishop hold-out?

          In any event, the ‘process’ of implementing the change or persuading the recalcitrant diocese should have been less confrontational. The S-M Church Synod has this advantage over the Roman Rite synod: The problems in the S-M synod is a ‘small potato’ liturgical war, while the Roman synodal churches disagree on many more fundamentals like doctrines of faith and morals!

          Thanks for the citation of your article. I will read it.

  10. The main reasons we can’t have this particular nice thing anymore is that a surprising number of little old ladies (especially) and little old men like to see the priests face when he’s saying mass. His face. There isn’t an ideological basis for this that I know of (except a vague notion that many of them were told after Vatican II that the more reverent practices from the before times are bad), it’s just what they like. And since they like it they will complain loudly to the Bishop when they don’t get their way, so they get their way.

    We’re in a weird situation where a subset of Catholics have had the liturgy specially tailored to their tastes all their lives – the music they like, the level of informality they like, the celebration of a community which does not exist for younger generations etc – and the comfort of this liturgy to them is somewhat of a terror to the rest of us.

    To be fair I don’t think their liturgy should be pulled out from under them. Priests who want a more reverent liturgy must move slowly and educate their people before making any changes particularly a more “extreme” one such as ad orientem.

    But if Bishops want their dioceses to actually grow they need to ensure there are reverent liturgies available for people under 60.

    • Exactly right. In my decades of priesthood, I have found many parishioners who are in their 70s and 80s claim an outsized influence in insisting that their preferences be imposed on the parish as a whole, regardless of what anyone 40 or under thinks. In the particular case of ad orientem worship, for example, I have had almost no one complain in parishes where it was implemented who was not in the 70 to 80 year old age bracket while many younger catholics were very positive about it.

      While I certainly have respect for the elderly and the many sacrifices they made for the faith, I am not crazy about the fact that many of the aging baby boomers are entirely self focused on only their generation, unwilling to make changes to accommodate the next generations.

      While this is of course not true of everyone in that age bracket. many of them are extremely vocal and have a strong sense of entitlement,
      so often tend to get their way in their parishes. That is not always just.

  11. In his 1526 book “Deutsche Messe und Ordnung des Gottesdienstes,” Luther claimed, “But for the real Mass among true Christians, the altar should not remain in its current form and the priest should always face the people — as we can assume without question Christ did during the Last Supper.” (from Catholic Answers)

    At the Last Supper, Jesus reclined at table and faced those personally called and chosen to “FOLLOW” him.

  12. “God-centered more of an enclosed circle than a transcendent action that draws us beyond the confines of the church” – to heaven? “A common orientation toward God” ? Where is God at mass; He is with us very close in the tabernacle and made present on the altar by the Priest. In the Novus Ordo we become the enactment of the Last Supper, the Priest in persona Christi with the disciples responding, singing, praising, the people praying the mass in union with the priest and the Presence of the Incarnate God Christ Jesus in awe and love and thanksgiving to Him who made Himself our Eternal Sacrifice to feed us with Himself. I do not have to look east towards heaven because in the mass God is with us and adored and praised on the altar and in Holy Communion. Jesus our God is present and with His people and we celebrate Him with great joy. If anyone feels closer to God looking east – both rites are permitted by the Church.

      • Thank you, Father Peter. And I wanted to add the 3 little shepherds in Fatima who with the angel prostrated before the Holy Host praying “Most Blessed Holy Trinity we adore thee profoundly.” The Litany of the Sacred Heart tells us that the Eternal Father dwells in the Sacred Heart of Jesus; so where Jesus is there also is the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Host is GOD entirely. God bless!

        • It seems to me that the pro versus populam crowd think of Mass as the Last Supper. That is not the point of Mass or even the point of the Last Supper itself. The Mass is a re-presentation of Calvary and a Sacrifice given to God by God in our name. During the Elevation we are joining with the priest in offering the little host as a dwelling place for the Second Person of the Trinity. When the priest is ad orientum our prayers literally back up his prayers just as supporters say they’ll back their cause. Versus populam has our prayers almost clashing with the priest’s simply due to directionality. If the Mass is seen as simply the Last Supper, then this matters little, but when the Sacrificial nature of the Mass is taken into consideration it makes joining in the offering more easily visible to have the priest leading the way.

          Another aspect many pro versus populam people don’t seem to care about is that from the very beginning versus populam has been an abuse of the Liturgy. The GIRM still doesn’t instruct priests to versus populam. Instead the GIRM signifies at certain points of the Mass the priest “turns towards the people”. The very implication of this is that the priest is NOT facing the people the rest of the time. Perpetuating this is simply continued disobedience and Liturgical abuse. Whether you like it or not, objectively the Liturgy is written to be celebrated as orientum. Those condemning the practice of ad orientum, whether bishop, priest, or layman, are going directly against the written form of the Roman Rite Liturgy.

  13. I like what BenH has to say because it’s accurate even though my wife and I are well past 60 and have been greatly inspired by attending a TLM for the past several years. We know far too many Boomer-Catholics who would have a fit if the Mass were “tightened up”. Sadly under the current regime there is no chance that anyone will stick his neck out and do one of the most obvious things to improve the current practice of the Mass that the Church has stumbled into. Yet, when you read about the plans for widespread destruction of Catholic morality and doctrine, this issue shrinks.

    • While it is typically a Boomer problem, I suspect not even most Boomers are like that. I know a lot of them that love tradition. The trouble is, the vocal and opinionated ones are more likely to work their way into influential positions in many parishes.

      I wonder what percent of Boomers, if given a kneeler to kneel to receive Holy Communion, would use it gladly.

      I’m not sure I agree that the issue shrinks. Catholic morality does not exist for its own sake, but to aid us in a deeper relationship with God, by keeping us relatively whole and healthy. Catholic doctrine is not meant for mere memorization, but to teach us about God so that, knowing Him, we can love Him. Catholic liturgy is time spent directly and concentratedly on loving God and being with Him. If we make that profane and banal, than we make it hard for the little ones to find the Telos of the morality and doctrine.

      • Our church has reinstalled the altar rail & 90 some percent of parishoners kneel to receive Communion now. There’s an older couple who do not but I suspect it’s more about arthritis than anything else.

  14. For Roman Rite Catholics, it is a practice out of time. It is most often done at the initiative of a priest or bishop, and not usually something raised by lay people in mainstream parishes.

    Care to back that up? Unless things have changed radically in the last 10 years, your personal experience is limited to parishes that are decidedly nontraditional.

    I’m familiar with two parishes here in the archdiocese of Cincinnati that implemented ad orientem. The desire for it was generally discussed by the faithful beforehand and then embraced by the overwhelming majority of them once it occurred. It’s worth noting that both parishes are growing and are filled with young and happy Catholic families.

      • To me you added tendentiousness, not answered the question.

        My next comment is also for you.

        The Novus Ordo requires as much solemnity as the Tridentine and the tendentiousness that wants to prove itself, that began before the Novus Ordo, tries to diminish both while offering itself as something of importance to do with “the people” and other things like that. It makes like tendentiousness is a virtue, even a grace, in charge of both Masses; when actually tendentiousness is a terrible vice -sin- in charge of itself and of misleading everybody.

    • We have a tiny rural parish & our previous pastor began ad orientem Masses last year & he had the altar rail reinstalled. We still use the altar rail, praise God, but our current priest doesn’t do ad orientem Mass. He’s quite orthodox but that’s just been his practice so far.
      I haven’t heard anyone comment about it either way. We have a TLM just down the road so I suppose if folks felt strongly enough, they could go there. I try to attend both Masses.

  15. Good that people are weighing in on this issue.

    The beautiful liturgy in which we Ordinariate Catholics are immersed – Divine Worship – is typically celebrated ad orientem. There is no doubt Who is being worshipped. We, together with the priest, turn toward the Lord. The altar of our host parish church is against the western wall, but we know that as liturgical-east because of the altar crucifix.

    • There’s no doubt in mainstream Roman Catholicism who is being worshipped either. The suggestion, or even hint, that people who worship differently pray in an inferior way, or aren’t worshipping at all abandons the spirit of the liturgy. Perhaps another reason why ad orientem is controversial. We point out the Luke 18:9-14 moment. Some fail to see the significance.

      • I actually fail to see a Luke 18:9-14 connection.
        Whether a priest faces the altar or the congregation doesn’t give us insight into the quality of anyone’s worship. Only God knows that. But facing the altar surely gives a priest less opportunity to draw attention to himself as the pharisee did.

        • When one camp of Catholics suggests that they are worshipping God and the other camps are “horizontal” it’s a pharisee and publican moment. Jesus criticized it. He might criticize Gilbert as well.

          • Lalapalooza tendentiousness, you are siding with anarchists and anarchism and using Scripture where it can’t apply. Todd Flowerday, when you get to that stage it is very hard to turn back; but God expects you at least not to take His Name in vain and this applies to His liturgy that belongs to Him.

          • “…it’s a pharisee and publican moment. Jesus criticized it. He might criticize Gilbert as well.”

            He might criticize your perspective as well, so be mindful of casting the first stone. Your posts often have a pharisaical tone typical of more “progressive” perspectives. “First remove the log out of your own eye….” since we’re quoting Jesus.

  16. Holy Church allows Communion on the tongue and on the hand. I prefer on the hand then I go home and I can kiss my hand where HE laid. “But while I was holding the Host in my hand. I felt such a power of love…and I heard these words from the Host ” I DESIRED TO REST IN YOUR HANDS, NOT ONLY IN YOUR HEART.” (Saint Faustina diary 160, notebook one)

  17. At the appointed time, those who are in Christ will see God face to face, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Face all our shortcomings in the power of Christ, for He cares for us.

    Genesis 32:30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

    Exodus 33:11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.

    Isaiah 45:22 “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.

    Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

    John 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

  18. Catholic prayer and worship in latin and ad orientem is controversial because it contradicts the liberalization agenda of the Vatican II era Church which transforms Holy Mass into Pop Mass. The Latin Mass was valid for fifteen hundred years and will always be valid!

  19. I guess I am amused by the pro-versus populum people complaining that pro- ad orientem people disagree with them, and offer arguments for why they should change. There has been no church in the entire Latin Church where there exists a versus populum altar, where versus populum has been prohibited. Since 1965 (Yes, versus populum came into use in many places with the very first reforms, to the Old Missal). The reality is that it has been almost impossible to find ad orientem in the Novus ordo since it’s inception, even though nothing explicitly requires versus populum. Those who preferred the Church’s traditional worship were subjected not only to turning the altars around, but the destruction of church interiors, the abandonment of the Church’s musical patrimony, and many other indignities. I know that church music was not good generally in the old days, but it was not allowed to be revived, except for in secular concert settings. In no diocese in the world has any facet of the revolution been put under threat. Yet, the current regime doesn’t like the fact that simple priests have been allowed to pray using the old liturgical books. The fact is, many young priests availed themselves of the opportunity, and many more would have, but were too afraid to offend members of their presbyterates. Abp. Ganswein’s memoir, in addressing Pope Benedict’s reaction to Traditionis custodes, said that His Holiness believed it was important not to give these small, embattled communities, an enemy to fight against. Those who wish to prevent traditional Catholic worship to those who wish it are making themselves into enemies of people who have absolutely no sway with the reigning power in the Church. It is very sad.

    • Yes, I was asked once why I went to the Tridentine Mass rather than just going to a Novus Ordo with chant and ad orientem, if I liked them so much. I said something about the TLM being about an hour away, and the closest NO that I knew of with such things being more than 6 hours away. I’ve heard of two others, more than 12 hours away. I have plenty of other reasons to love the TLM, but it seems like those with power in the NO side cannot abide even small concessions to tradition, in one parish of a high-population area.

      Do they think traditional Catholic worship is contagious or something?

  20. Why is ad orientem controversial? Because it is authentically Catholic, and every such practice is frowned upon by our secular, modernist, agnostic Church leaders today.

  21. Always and for ever … Ad Orientum. Never , never is the Most Holy Sacrifice of The Mass to be Celebrated facing the Congregation. Always , always… the Mass is be Celebrated facing God. The Sacrifice of the Mass is the Offering of Our Lord to His Eternal Father. The Priest is there In Persona Christi. In the Novus Ordo , the Priest is turning his back on God. What a terrible insult to God.

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