Ad Orientem in Ordinary Form of Mass


“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.’”

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger


The priest is facing The Lord because he’s literally looking at the Tabernacle when doing Ad Orientem. That’s literally why. Because, yes while God is spiritually present everywhere, He is physically present in the tabernacle when their are consecrated hosts in there.


It’s not “facing God” but “facing East.”

East not because it is God’s location, but the direction from which Christ is to return. That is why churches are built facing that way, why the people face that way, and why the priest (used to) faces that way.

There are ancient churches run Rome itself where the priest has always faced the people because the only place to put the altar in these converted buildings was in the west. During Mass at these churches, the people turn (away from the altar) to face east three (iirc) times over the course of the Mass.

And this is nothing new; it predates Trent.



But the Sacrifice if the Mass is not offered to the Real Presence, The Sacrifice is of Jesus to the Father.


You have a very linear concept of the theology of liturgy. Ad populem has not been the primary direction of the liturgy in the past, but was present in the liturgy more than you realize.

As i noted, the theology of the liturgy was not that narrowly set out.

And by the way, you appear almost to have a veiled implication that ad populem might not be the work of the Holy Spirit. I am sure you don’t really mean that challenge, but that is how it comes across.

As noted in Sacrosanctum Concilium, there were elements which over time were added and should be removed, and there were elements over time which were lost, which needed to be brought back. and when the dust settled and the negotiating back and forth ended, 2,147 bishops of the world voted in favor, and 4 voted against. I strongly suspect the holy Spirit was present then, and as Catholic school students we certainly prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church in its deliberations.


And that was part of the reason that so many liturgists wanted to go back to when the tabernacles were first introduced into churches; they were not front and center. They were off to the side, often in a chapel like setting or on a side altar. Then (as before they were put into churches) the focus had been on what was occurring on the altar - the Consecration.


I believe in the Old Testament sacrifices were offered facing the people. Sacrifices were also offered completely hidden from them (in the Holy of Holies). I’ll leave it to the theologians to determine which posture is more pleasing to God.


Many Roman Catholic churches built in the last couple hundred years don’t face East or face West, but are on a north-south axis. So the priest is going to be facing either north or south and there’s no ad orientem possible.


When I was a Lutheran (some time ago, granted), the pastor would face the way the congregation was facing during prayers, as we were all praying together. Flash by a few decades, and I became a Catholic, which I love. But I was surprised at the priest facing us during prayers. I asked a few people if it wasn’t as if the priest was praying to us. And of course, they looked at me as if I had lost my mind!

I’m used to it now, and I think it is good to see the priest’s face and see what he is doing, and also to not make him lift the chalice above his head if he’s and older guy. I’m in favor of orienting the priest toward the congregation.


Um, at the consecration, and until the unconsumed hosts are returned to the tabernacle, the Lord is present on the altar so no matter which way the priest faces, he is facing the Lord. So your argument doesn’t wash.

Exactly! And if that were not the case, my 1935 ceremonial would not include rubrics on this. In fact it was the case in any church with a choir where the altar, usually free-standing, was between the choir and the nave, which occurred in many cathedrals and monastic churches. In that layout, invariably the Mass was either towards the people in the choir, or those in the nave, but never ad orientem to both at the same time. In these cases the tabernacle was not on the altar.

That’s because the same ceremonial makes it plain that the tabernacle on the altar is not the preferred location when the altar is in a space that is used for choral purposes outside the Mass (i.e. the Divine Office). This is the case in cathedral and conventual churches and some college churches. In these cases it is preferred to have the tabernacle at another suitable and noble altar!

Indeed, the liturgy cannot be narrowed down to a parish Mass on Sundays in the 1950s in a church with a high altar backed up against the apse or wall.

So where Spes_Nostra says:

The practices within the liturgy, guarded by the Church for centuries, have the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and are beneficial for the salvation of souls, the mission and supreme law of the Church.

(s)he has a point. The problem though is that (s)he seems to reduce this to a very exact set of circumstances that have never been absolute in the Church. To the extent that the Church prescribes the proper way to celebrate each configuration (s)he’s correct, but to the extent that (s)he reduces this to only one particular configuration and point in time, she is dreadfully wrong, not only because the Church has always accepted other configurations, but because the Church through the Magisterium and the Holy Father have the supreme authority to regulate, and yes change, the liturgy.


That’s not what I’m arguing. I’m simply saying some people think it’s better symbolism for the priest not to have his back to Jesus.

I could be wrong, but I think that MIGHT be one of the reasons why priests started moving the tabernacle after Vatican II in the first place. I can imagine a pious priest or bishop not liking the idea of having his back to Jesus so he decides to move the tabernacle to another part of the Church.

Just a theory.

God bless


I wasn’t referring to that part of the mass. Of course, at the consecration and until after communion the Lord is on the altar.

Look, I don’t have a personal preference. The good priests, who are focused on what they are praying do not bother me one way or another.

However, I do get a distracted by the few priests who overtly act out the prayers as if it was a play. Those are the priests I wish would face away.


His back is not to Jesus. Jesus is present in the people gathered and in the scripture and in the priest himself. Also after the consecration Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist on the altar.


Look, I’m not looking to argue this. I personally don’t have a preference, though I do appreciate the symbolism of the Ad Orientem. I’m simply arguing that the other side has some merit.

All I’m saying is that until the consecration, Jesus is physically present in the tabernacle only. So for SOME, they don’t like the idea of the priest having his back to Jesus.

For example: I know a Deacon who used to bow to the tabernacle when crossing the Altar during Mass. But since he’s supposed to bow towards to Altar, he now tries to walk in front of the Altar so he bows to both the Altar and tabernacle. But when he does walk behind the Altar, he still will bow to the tabernacle while the priest bows to the Altar.

So there are some (even among clergy) who would prefer not to have their back to the tabernacle.

Now, what would be better? Moving the tabernacle to a side altar again, or doing ad orientem? I’m not sure…


I would want to go to an Ad Orientem Mass (if it was offered). That is primarily since the priest is the foremost of all the servants. He should be faced towards the altar instead of towards the people. Not all priests are so comfortable with Ad Populo because of the fact that people will end up looking at the priest for a big part of the Mass.


It is if the crucifix is behind him.

The more sensible architecture would be to have the crucifix raised above the altar.


The Crucifix isn’t Jesus, but an image to remind us what Jesus did.



But nowadays, children learn differently than they did during a time when illiteracy was the norm, and there were no movies, videos, computers, books, etc.

The meaning of the Mass should be taught to children from a very early age by their parents, and as they grow older, the children should learn in a formal setting such as Religious Education classes and/or Catholic schools. There are also lots of online resources that can be used to teach children, as well as the old-fashioned “books.”

I think that most people, at least in the U.S., who know nothing about the Mass would not “get it” from watching the priest face either front or back. That kind of symbolism would need to be explained to modern people, many of which have a very pronounced skepticism of anything that isn’t tangible to the senses, e.g., God.


That’s true but in the Missal of 1962 there is certainly a lot of bowing directed at the crucifix which I believe is a requirement to have. Just sayin’.


Yeah, in that format

The Mass and spirituality of the Church has evolved where we understand that God dwells within, and not out in the cosmos only

When speaking of God dwelling within, many Catholics view it as being New Age. :smiley:


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