EWTN's bishop says priests must face the people?


I know this story is from November 19, 1999 but I was wondering what the status of this is now if we fast forward?

I was recently at the EWTN chapel and the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament. I attended mass at both places. I never felt so much awe at the way the mass was celebrated in the extraordinary form in the shrine. Is this still an issue with bishops in the United States or has the current Pope set the matter straight for celebrating the mass in the ordinary/extraordinary form? Looking back was this bishop wrong for this statement in 1999? Can the mass be televised in the extra ordinary form or is it still dividing Catholics as the bishop stated back then?:confused:

Hello dfp42,

That decree was…withdrawn, you might say, within a couple years, after the Bishop had some communication with the Congregation for Divine Worship. Now, however, the USCCB has regulations that say any televised Mass is to be celebrated “versus populum.” However, this does not apply to the extraordinary form. I have seen several such Masses on EWTN and they were certainly celebrated “ad orientem” and no one raised any objection. I guess the rationale is that everyone can see that the EF is a different form of the Mass so no one would confuse that with the typical OF and wonder why the priest is facing that way.


any sources for this? I can’t believe after all this time it was simply withdrawn. Why make a fuss about this in the first place? I been looking into Mother Angelica’s story with EWTN and the Shrine and it’s interesting to see how much trouble she went through. I wonder if it’s true that she if stepped down from ewtn and sold it to lay people out of fear of the bishops taking over the network? Also, is it true that EWTN edited some of Mother Angelica’s tapes due to being incorrect teachings?

Actually, there have been instances when a televised Mass showing the celebrant using the ad orientem posture has been broadcast on EWTN:


Regarding the “confusion”, the GIRM never indicated that a priest could not celebrate ad orientem; in fact, it assumes such posture during certain parts of the Mass.

Hello benedictgal,

Thanks for the picture. I guess the Pope didn’t get the USCCB directive. :slight_smile: Anyway, yes, the freedom/expectation in the Missal itself is a reason why Bishop Foley’s original decree was basically invalid. I also think that freedom/expectation puts the USCCB directive regarding televised Masses on thin ice. But, it’s been approved so that’s the way it is. …

Actually, now that I check the USCCB site, I see no such decree from the time period I am thinking of (2002 or so). Maybe it was only the Bishop of Birmingham, AL, that promulgated particular law regarding televised Masses, not the USCCB. If so, I apologize for the error. Perhaps someone more well-connected will have the documentation.


I’ve seen documentation somewhere but can’t find it now. And, as I admit in my other post, I’m somewhat confused about who said what. I’ll keep looking…

Regarding the other questions you have, I have no idea and no speculation.


Hello again,

If you click on the link, you’ll be taken to Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s site. Go down to the 8th comment and you’ll see a private reply from the CDWDS. I haven’t seen this reply published anywhere but I see no reason to doubt its authenticity.


Here is a link to the norms for televised Masses which are, indeed, from Bishop Foley and not the USCCB: ewtn.com/library/BISHOPS/TVMASBHM.HTM


This is an excerpt from a response by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to Bishop Foley in February of 2008 (Prot. N. 2321/99/I):
As regards the position of the celebrating priest at the altar during Holy Mass, it is true - as Your Excellency indicates - that the rubrics of the Roman Missal, and in particular the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, foresee that the priest will face the body of people in the nave while leaving open the possibility of his celebrating toward the apse. These two options carry with them no theological or disciplinary stigma of any kind. It is therefore incorrect and indeed quite unacceptable that anyone affirm, as Your Excellency sums up this view, that to celebrate toward the apse “is a theologically preferable or more orthodox choice for a priest who wishes to be true to the church’s authentic tradition.”


This congregation is grateful to Your Excellency for raising in such a focused manner these serious questions and for offering the occasion to formulate and make known an appropriate answer. According to your pastoral judgment, Your Excellency is free to refer publicly to the content of this letter or to publish it in whatever form seems appropriate.

With every good wish and kind regard, I am sincerely yours in Christ.

Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez and Archbishop Francesco Pio Tamburrino
This is the question of Bishop Foley’s that they were answering:
The first question regards the orientation of the priest celebrant when he is at the altar celebrating Mass. Certain individuals and groups have maintained that of the two positions which are permitted to the celebrant by current liturgical law - facing the people (versus populum) or facing the apse, away from the people (ad orientem), the second (ad orientem) is a theologically preferable or a more orthodox choice for a priest who wishes to be true to the church’s authentic tradition. I disagree with the arguments advanced in support of this stance, which has been thrust upon my diocese.
The answer from the CDWDS in 2000 says quite plainly that “the rubrics of the Roman Missal, and in particular the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, foresee that the priest will face the body of people in the nave while leaving open the possibility of his celebrating toward the apse.”

This is actually the opposite of what I had consider the rubrics to say. I (and many others) interpret(ed) the rubrics to expect that the priest would be facing the altar, since rubrics are provided for when the priest should turn to face the people. But the CDWDS said in 2000 that the default expectation is Mass facing the people, and therefore (I am inferring this) that the specific rubrics about facing the altar and facing the people are there in case the priest celebrates ad orientem

Every Sunday I attend (mostly Ordinary Form) Masses, where the priest faces the tabernacle (toward South) turns his back to the people. On that church there is a mass every weekend where the priest faces the people behind a big cross which is on the freestanding altar

In the in line rubrics there is mentioned 6 times that for certain parts the priest shall face the people (introductory words, Orate Fratres, Ecce Agnus Dei: Domine non sum dignus before communion, final blessing, Ite Missa est). Except for the introductory words this is so for the older form too.

It is mentioned only once that the priest should face the altar (himself taking the communion)


The GIRM only requires:

  1. The main altar should be freestanding **to allow **the ministers to walk around it easily and Mass to be celebrated facing the people. It should be so placed as to be a focal point on which the attention of the whole congregation centers naturally.[81] The main altar should ordinarily be a fixed, consecrated altar.

it do not excludes the celebration turning back to the people, only requires the possibility to face the people…

With all due respect, I find it a mischaracterization to say that the “celebran is turning his back to the people.” This has never been the case at all. In fact, both Pope Benedict XVI and Fr. Uwe Michael Lang offer compelling explanations.

Rather than saying “turning back to the people” as that has negative connotations it is better to say “face the same way as the people”. After all he is leading them in prayer but he is also in prayer.

Sometimes I get the impression that when he faces the people that some of the laity and some of the priests think they are giving a performance.

Former Bishop Foley’s order cites a 1996 document:

The following norms are based upon guidelines for televising the liturgy which were approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 1996

[quote=dfp42]any sources for this? I can’t believe after all this time it was simply withdrawn.

Three things have happened since that time.

First, EWTN does not have quite the conservative bent it once had. Not having cable, I haven’t watched in awhile so I can’t quote you specific examples, but I have read conservatives complaining about it and I don’t hear liberals whining about EWTN as much as they once did.

Second, the Holy Father released Summorum Pontificum which came down firmly in favor of permitting and encouraging the TLM, which is celebrated ad orientam. it also assuaged some of the sentiment against ad populum by giving those devoted to ad orientam the sense that the conservative approach was on the rise, and by giving them many more masses where they could attend, rather than fearing that EWTN was their last battleground.

Third, shortly after Summorum Pontificum was implemented a new bishop was named to replace Foley. As I recall, current Bishop Baker already had ties to EWTN as he had co-written a book with one of the EWTN hosts.

The end result is that the heat has been turned down, the acceptance of ad orientam has been normalized somewhat both nationwide and I assume in Birmingham (even if rarely seen outside of the extraordinary form), and a new Bishop of Birmingham is on good terms with an EWTN less inclined to push ad orientam. I doubt that the decree was withdrawn, since it codifies a number of points that the bishop might want to keep control over (e.g. political messages during the homily), but I suspect EWTN gets a sympathetic and cooperative ear whenever it requests some deviation from the guidelines.

[quote=dfp42]Also, is it true that EWTN edited some of Mother Angelica’s tapes due to being incorrect teachings?

Yes, in fact that was the topic of one of the complaints by conservatives I spoke of. Naturally some of what Mother Angelica said in say 1992 is no longer accurate as changes have taken place in liturgical rules, new mysteries of the rosary have been added, etc. Also, a lot of the content of the show was just Mother mouthing off, sharing her opinion. This was one of her charms. At the same time, some of those opinions may be a bit questionable today in light of actions or writings by the pope, bishops conferences, dicasteries, etc. in years since. EWTN had to face the issue of deleting at least parts of the tapes to reflect solid, current, Catholic truth. The question of exactly how much and what to delete is a trickier matter, and some apparently felt they used a chainsaw for a job that could have been done with a penknife.

Thanks for all the info. The Shrine was pretty amazing! It was neat to see the people who are on TV live in person. Deacon Bill Steltemeier issued communion to me and my wife, it was a humble experience because we never knelt at the alter rail before and had a good minute to reflect on everything. It so really nice to see the nuns through the grate singing and praying the rosary. Confession was amazing as well. I have to be honest it’s sweat to be a Catholic and see all the beauty involved and the reverence of the mass there it was like nothing I ever experienced.

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