Facing East

I heard a Catholic Priest talk about how the priests face East at the altar with their backs turned to the people to look towards the East where the sun rises which is where the light of Christ is supposed to rise from as well.

The Priest didn’t say why he or Catholic priests face looking towards the people nowadays instead of looking towards the East.Does anyone know why this is so?

There are hundreds of threads on this subject a simple research will bring much answers, but I will give some explanation.

Facing liturgical “east” is a very old tradition and for most of the Church’s life the mass has been said facing the “east”. Now some Churches were not built so that the priest could literally face the east, so this is where we get the liturgical east. With this also comes the misconceptions that the priest has his back towards the people, this is a big error in thinking. He is leading the people and their prayers towards God and as one with the community we all face towards the Lord. Just as the sun comes from the East, so too will Jesus Christ come from the East in the end of times, this was always the belief of the early Christians hence why they faced the east for prayer. There are some “evidence” that some masses were said where the priest did it facing the people properly called versus populum, but this practice was not widely used. This practice did a resurgence after the council of Vatican II, even though the documents do not mention anything on this practice it became very popular in the early 70s, its origins after the council are still debatable, but it’s a practice that caught on very quickly and in my opinion very unfortunate. There are many pros for ad orientum (facing east) like, we are all facing the same direction as one, the priest does not have to worry about putting up a “performance”, the act alone shows more reverence, and more. You can google, youtube, and search this subject and there is a lot of good info. The Extra Ordinary Mass (Tridentine Mass) is done only in ad orientum. The Novus Ordo or Ordinary Form can be done in both manners.

Inter Oecumenici 1964 (Sacred Congregation of Rites)


ordered in 1964 as possibility the people facing altar, promoting the concept that the Mass is the affair of the priest and the faithful with God.

Unlike the change to vernacular or other changes promoting the active participation of the faithful the people facing free standing altar did not brought any positive result, it helped to lessen the reverence as side effect resulting in the removal of the tabernacle, and thus the actual presence of Jesus Christ from center of the attention.

No only did Priests and faithful face east in the Liturgy…but even in the early centuries…often did so during private prayer.

Still a good thing to do this privately at least at times…recalling the meanings etc given by the early Christians…

also to pray the Our Father three times during the day as was done in the early Church (see CCC)

Although the translation is one step into bringing reverence back to some English masses in the west in my opinion it will not be enough, I feel that the frist true step to a “restoration” is the wider if not permanent use of ad orientum. I’ve attended Spanish masses when I grew up and the translation is much closer to the Latin than the 1970 English translation, but the lack of reverence is there somtimes much worst than some English masses I’ve attended. Bringing back ad orientum is not “going back” or “turnning the clock back” to pre-Vat2, but instead recovering a tradition that was useuful and much better than what we have now.

to answer the question “why face the people”, these are the reasons I have heard (which my comments in parentheses)

-the Eucharist is a meal (they forget the Mass is a Sacrifice primarily)

-this is how the Last Supper was (I’m not so sure it was, but like the first point … the Mass is not just the last supper, the Mass is also Calvary)

-we are all one church together (we are a Church founded by God and should be directed to Him)

-the priest should not turn his back to us (the priest should not turn his back to the Tabernacle)

There is also the influence of the protestants their forms of worship.

Some priests actually want people to look at them and put their personality into the Mass.

At the most extreme, what good is clown makeup if the congregation can’t see it?

Another reason: some people would use any excuse to wreck churches and make changes, disregard the high altar, use new altars without relics, etc. etc. etc. To such people: old bad, new good.

There are some very nice videos of Novus Ordo Masses done facing east on Youtube.





I think one reason that has been used to justify the priest celebrating versus populum is that this happens in the papal basilicas in Rome. However, because of the actual orientation of these basilicas (the altar is at the west end) when celebrating Mass at the High Altar the celebrant is both versus populum and ad orientem.

Not to nit-pick, but the norm where I am is to see the Tabernacle in a side chapel, not behind the alter (in 1 case, the Tabernacle is at the back of the parish), so the point is not always valid.

I’ve yet to find one in English, but love them anyways!

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