Lutherans & ad orientem

For you Lutherans out there, or anyone else who knows Lutheran history:

I’m curious to know when Lutherans starting worshipping with the priest versus populum (facing the people). Was it right away with Luther? Were there pockets of Lutherans who resisted and kept the tradition of facing liturgical East?

Some time ago I saw a photo of a Lutheran service and the minister was presiding ad orientem. I am not surprised if there are “traditionalist Lutherans” here and there, but is this just a modern phenomenon, or does it have a long history?

Please note: This is not a debate thread over which liturgical orientation is better. I’m just interested in the history. Thanks.

From here:

I found this:

Brother Weedon said once: Finally, about those free-standing altars. Luther early on expressed a preference for them and for the pastor facing the people from behind them. But the Lutheran Church largely ignored his preference and until the 20th century most Lutheran altars were against the east wall and the pastors faced them whenever a “sacrificial” part of the service took place.

Architecturally, from the Lutheran churches I’ve seen, the change was in the 1920’s or so. Though I have seen churches built in the 1990’s reflect an ad-orientem disposition.

One of the larger differences you’ll see in some Lutheran churches is that some pastors do elevations, genuflections, and the epiclesis similar to the Catholic Mass as a way of showing reverence to the presence of God, and some pastors will remain motionless as a way of showing that God is doing everything.

Interesting! So the change took place about 40 years before the (unofficial, de facto) change in the Roman rite.

What parts of the service would be considered “sacrificial”?

That seems right, though you’ll probably see it more in the Scandinavian Lutherans and less in us grumpy German Lutherans who don’t deal well with change.

What parts of the service would be considered “sacrificial”?

At the start of the Service of the Sacrament - from the Preface and Sanctus through Distribution.

It gets weirder for us Lutherans - some of our churches still have rood screens (lettner) , and my church is thinking about installing a rood beam above the alter rails.

I have to admit that the older forms make me more content!

I love my Lutheran brothers. I also love Presbyterians and Methodists and the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, were last year I spent a wonderfully spiritual month, ministering to Aids victims and refitting knackered gen-sets. I was invited by a friend from a local Presbyterian church. When the Lord returns he wont care a jot what way you were facing during a service. :rolleyes:

Vatican II had a huge impact on Lutherans to the point that John 23 has a holy day on our church calendar. My childhood parish went from east-facing traditional to building a new church in the round with the altar the central focal point directly below a prominent hanging crucifix. In the old days we adored our Lord at the elevation but otherwise had no idea what was going on at the altar. Being a good acolyte, I had first hand perspective of the signing of the holy cross over the paten and chalice; the pastor bending down deeply over the altar while chanting the Verba. But once we moved to free-standing altar, the entire Mass became visual and more reverential, for me.

In Germany and Scandanavia most Lutherans still celebrate ad orientem. Interestingly this is not limited to just the Eucharistic Prayer, but whenever the priest is addressing God, so also during confession, Kyrie, Collect, Creed, intercessions. It really is most moving.

I wasn’t aware LCMS Lutherans did this. I was raised in the LCMS church and the pastor always faced the other way. Perhaps we were an unusual case.

On a somewhat tangential note; most of the service was pretty traditional looking. In fact, it looks more catholic than the ultramodern looking Mass that I attend every week. Makes me wish there was some way lutherans had the same opportunity that anglicans have to come into the Church and keep their liturgy. But thats a topic for another thread.

I think the reverse: there were pockets of Lutherans who didn’t keep the tradition of facing liturgical East.

It is still a mixed bag in Lutheranism. As recently as 7 years ago, we had a pastor who kept the tradition. And even though our altar is now away from the wall, allowing the pastor to face the congregation from behind the altar, we have had guest pastors who did not avail themselves of that opportunity.


For ‘modern chruches’ - I really do like a reverent churches in the round - with Christ in the center. It works well, for Christ is never away from view and everybody is facing to the cross.

Really! What branch of Lutherans has this?


The ELCA, though I understand it to be more a festival or commemoration, not a Holy Day.


The ELCA - this calendar is mostly complete from what I can see:

John XXIII, Bishop of Rome, 1963 (Commemoration) is June 3rd on the saints days. Of-course Pope John 23rd is not a saint yet but the color is white for non-martyred saints and white is the color of Popes’ non-liturgical dress. His feast day is October 11th on the Catholic Ordo

A commemoration is not a high holy day or day of obligation but we honor Blessed John 23rd with the collect:

**“Heavenly Father, shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servant, John XXIII, who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock, and we pray that, his example and teaching of his holy life, we may by your grace grow into the full stature of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen” **

Looking back to the days of the Reformation, Lutheran churches, esp cathedrals had altars in the middle of the nave; the high altar was further back.

A smaller chapel in the middle of Nidaros cathedral [burial place of St Olaf] breaks the nave up into more intimate numbers. The other photo is St Dionys church in Stuttgart Germany.

What were the functions of these two altars during the Lutheran service?

Very nice Rood Screen in the cathedral. :slight_smile:

All the Lutheran churches that I ever attended bith ELCA and LC-MS, the pastors always faced the altar after corporate confession. Personally, I think that Vatican II ruined both the Catholic and Lutheran Churches. On example is the passing of the peace. This gets carried away with everyone running around. Our church does not do it.

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