OF mass Ad orientem

Can someone explain to me how a OF Mass said Ad Orientem is celebrated?

I ask because I would like to know what differences are observed between the Mass said Versus Populum VS Ad Orientem.

The differences would occur during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. During the Introductory Rites, Liturgy of the Word, and Concluding Rites the priest is not at the altar.

The difference would be the priest would face the altar with his back to the people* (ad orientem) as opposed to facing the people over the altar (versus populum). When celebrating ad orientem there are a number of occasions when he turns to face the people.

*Sometimes, these days, with his back to the people is given negative overtones. The priest isn’t ‘ignoring’ the people, he’s facing the same direction they face leading them in worship.

If you attend an Episcopalian Holy Communion service at a side altar (often the case at Episcopal cathedrals and other larger churches during the week), you’ll see exactly what our contemporary Mass would look like celebrated ad orientem. The text will be somewhat different, of course, but, as I say, it would “look” the same.

The Episcopalians seem to be very comfortable with ad orientam celebrations, in fact. I find it interesting that when an Episcopalian pastor encounters an altar that’s against a wall, he just uses it as it was intended to be used. A Catholic pastor, on the other hand, encountering an altar against a wall, resolves to spend 5-6 figures to redesign the floor and erect a table in front of it rather than simply use it. So odd.

At any rate, if you can’t or choose not to observe an Episcopal liturgy thus celebrated, then just imagine you typical Sunday Mass, but with your priest walking to the front of the new altar instead of behind it, to celebrate Mass facing forward, instead of facing you. He will turn around and face you briefly to say “The Lord be with you,” or at the Ecce Agnus Dei (“Behold the Lamb of God”) at the Last Blessing and so forth.

In other words, it’s all the same apart from the priest’s posture when he is at the altar.

“Ad orientem” is Latin for “to the East”. It does not mean “his back to the people”. This is a common misconception.

The priest offers Mass facing the same direction as the people, because he and the people together are offering worship and sacrifice to God. He is not turning his back on the people to exclude them. Rather, as a Christian community, are all facing ad orientem (i.e. toward the east) waiting in joyful expectation for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ who will return to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire (Rite of Baptism, 1962).

What in the early Church determined the position of the altar was that it faced Eastward. To quote St. Augustine: “When we rise to pray, we turn East, where heaven begins. And we do this not because God is there, as if He had moved away from the other directions on earth…, but rather to help us remember to turn our mind towards a higher order, that is, to God.”

This quotation shows that the Christians of those early days, after listening to the homily, would rise for the prayer which followed, and turn towards the East. St. Augustine always refers to this turning to the East in prayer at the end of his homilies, using a set formula, Conversi ad Dominum (“turn to face the Lord”).

The priest faces east (to the Lord) because he is offering the Mass in Christ’s name and in His Person, in persona Christi, to God the Father and is leading his people in adoration and worship. He is facing east, the rising sun, which is symbolic of the ‘New Jerusalem’ and he is leading his flock as the Good Shepherd does.

My parish only has a high altar, and all Masses are offered ad orientem. The opening prayers, liturgy of the word, and closing prayers are not done at the high altar. They are done at the ambo or the reading stand while facing the people.

“Ad orientem” is Latin for “to the East”. It does not mean “his back to the people”. This is a common misconception.

Yes, well worth remembering. After all, at the high altars in the major basilicas of Rome (including St. Peter’s), Mass is celebrated at once ad orientem and versus populum.

My parish only has a high altar, and all Masses are offered ad orientem.

How rare. Lucky you.

If you took the time to read my entire post rather than taking a single sentence out of context then you would realise THAT is what I said.

I think he was simply expounding upon that point in an effort to expand the dialogue. I don’t think his post was meant to be corrective of yours.

I might be inclined to agree with you if not for two things: 1. he cited my post; 2. I’ve seen this happen all too often on here where posters take another’s response out of context and nitpick holes in it.

(Btw I’ve read your response to my thread on ‘Bishops’ - it’ll take me a while to get round to responding.)

Very well; an interesting question, by the way, about the precedence of prelates.

But back to this topic, I envy that your parish has simply done away with their “new” altar, altogether, in favor of the original altar.

I belong to one of the largest and most magnificent churches in my diocese, and it has just the most spectacular gothic altar. To me it is such a shame that it goes unused in favor of the portable wooden table that stands in front of it. Even if the Church is by now addicted to the habit of Mass celebrated versus populum, can there not at least be exceptions at significant churches of prominence having magnificent high altars?

It occurred to me that if a trend ever develops wherein priests become more and more inclined to celebrate ad-orientem, most sanctuaries are going to end up being unfriendly to that because of the duplication of altars in most churches that were built before Vatican II. In most such churches, the original altar remains and a new altar has been placed in front of it.

I suppose, when a priest wants to celebrate ad-orientem, he would do so at the original altar, rather than at the new altar. In cases of new altars that are easily removable, no problem of course: just wheel it into the sacristy. But what about new altars that are every bit as permanent as the original altars? A pastor couldn’t very well tear the new altar down, because what if his successor (or the other priests on staff) wish to celebrate versus populum?

Leaving it, however, presents a really awkward visual scenario: an altar in front of the altar, unused, avoided, processed around, unadorned. It would be bizarre. I suppose the priest could use the new altar, instead, but then it would become instantly redundant.

I predict that this back and forth between ad orientem and vs. populum is really going to cause alot of confusion in the sanctuaries of many parishes in the years to come.

From what I’ve seen, it’s somewhat rare to have a High Altar and a fixed (i.e. immovable) free-standing altar. In such a case, the High Altar is usually relegated to being a repository for the tabernacle. In any case, that arrangement should actually not present a serious problem with using the free-standing altar ad orientem. Whether the High Altar remains, was moved forward (thus becoming the fix free-standing altar), or was destroyed, one thing that sometimes happens is that the free-standing altar sits on the edge of a step, but even that is fairly easily remedied by a movable platform of the same height as the step. I’ve seen that done a few times, and it seems to work. It may not be the usual 3 steps, but it is serviceable.

Good point. Thankfully, that’s why my pastor had the front altar removed and placed into storage (he said, “I’d throw it out, but it belongs to the church”…wouldn’t it be nice if all of those post-Vatican II priests who tore out the altar rails, statues, religious art, high altars, confessionals, etc. had the same value for things that didn’t belong to them?

Every priest who has celebrated Mass in our church absolutely loves the ad orientem position (many are from outside of our parish, but come to offer weekday Masses). They all say it makes the Mass so much more prayerful for them, and enables them to concentrate on Who it is they are praying to.

You know, when I was a kid, I never actually realized that the original altar was actually an altar; I didn’t know what it was: to me it was just that “thing” behind the altar. I just assumed it was some decorative design element created to, as you say, surround the tabernacle. When I later learned that it was actually an altar, and that Mass was celebrated on it, and that the table altar wasn’t there at all in former times, I was astounded.

In the diocese in which I live, there are many churches with two permanent stone or marble altars. They’ve kept the old, and have erected and consecrated a new. To use the newer altar for an ad orientem celebration is possible, of course, but it does, as I say, tend to render it redundant since there is already an altar there for that purpose. It also makes things awkward because the altar stone is on the side opposite the side that would be used if a “new” altar were to be used for ad orientem celebration.

In my opinion, the presence of two main altars in any given sanctuary constitutes a liturgical monster. But it also presents practical issues, now, with changing liturgical perspectives.

I don’t disagree, of course, but as the olde saying goes: one does what one can with what one has. No, using the free-standing altar where a High Altar still exists is not optimal, but it does work. To me, better that ad orientem, than the *versus populum * “table” effect.

Look at this wonderful high altar and the tiny four-legged table with black mensa in front of it at which the Mass is offered. I think it’s a terrible shame in this beautiful 18th century church. The church is known locally as the “Hidden Gem”.

I’m always amazed when I read a post by someone who belongs to a (non-traditionalist) parish at which the “new” altars have been removed and at which the “ordinary form” of Mass is celebrated at the old altar ad orientem. It’s unheard of in my diocese. There are two parishes in the diocese at which the old Tridentine Rite is celebrated, sponsored by Una Voce, or something, but no church at which the standard Mass is celebrated ad orientem. And it’s something I have yet to actually see, anywhere. I’m glad to hear that this is the norm for some churches, though.

The attached picture shows my Parish Priest celebrating Mass ad orientem at a new freestanding altar.

There is no uniform practice.

Usually the priest sits while the lector(s) read the readings, and walks to the ambo to read the Gospel and for the homily.

Also usually (except the Mass of Catechumens) he turns toward people like in the Extraordinary Form (for Dominus vobiscum, Orate fratres,).

It is not regulated where is the priest for

  • the initial greeting and penitential rite, Gloria (altar or ambo)
  • creed and prayers of the faithful

The offertory process (faithful bring the host and wine, the priest receives at the foot of the altar?) is optional

Also some priest sit for a while after the homily and the communion

I like the form where the priest sit only for the reading and there is no offertory process.

There are 3 or 4 times that the priest is required to face the congregation during mass.The
priest can face the high altar, or if there is none, the direction that the high altar would be located if there was a high altar. Last month a priest celebrated mass at our chapel with only the high altar available. He celebrates mass facing the people at his parish masses.
In the many masses that I have attended of his, this one was the most reverant, in my opinion. I remarked to him on how natural and special this position was, not only to those who remember this , but also those to whom this was a new experience.
I try to promote this ad orientum to all that celebrate mass at our chapel.

That’s great that you have this going on at your parish. I just think that’s amazing; I;ve never seen it before.

That having been said, my point, again, about sanctuary design confusion is illustrated by the image: it looks so awkward that the altar is at the bottom of the stairs rather than at the top, where logic dictates it would be. Granted, there aren’t two altars–either the original was moved to the bottom of the stairs or it was removed–which is good, but the stairs to nowhere cause just as much visual confusion.

I’m just afraid that this is the sort of thing that Catholic churches are going to become known for in the future: chancels and sanctuaries that look like they were designed by a madman.

Incidentally, here are a couple of shots of my own parish church:



Drives me mad that that beautiful altar is forsaken in favor of the table on wheels in front of it. So senseless.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.