On the Mass Celebrated Ad Orientem (Versus Deum)


Peace and all Goodness!

I believe, based on my interpretation of the rubrics of the Roman Missal (in the Ordinary Form), the Mass of Pope Paul VI MUST be celebrated AD ORIENTEM (towards the East) or** VERSUS DEUM** (facing God, not the people).

The first rubric says:

"When the entrance chant is concluded, the priest and the faithful,standing, sign themselves with the sign of the Cross,while the priest** FACING THE PEOPLE**, says: ‘In the name of the Father…’ "

(It instructs the priest to Face the people in that part)

At the 23rd rubric (at the Liturgy of the Eucharist), it says: "

the priest, standing at the altar, takes the paten with the bread…


(It instructs the priest, at the Offertory to face the altar)

At the 29th rubric, it says: "

Standing at the middle of the altar, facing the people, extending and joining his hands…


(It instructs the priest, who from went to the side of the altar to wash his hands, to go to the middle of the altar and turn to face the people for the Orate fratres or the Pray, brethren part)

At the 127th rubric, it states: "

The Priest, TURNED towards the people, extending and then joining his hands, adds: ‘The Peace of the Lord be with you always’


(It instructs the priest to TURN from the altar to give the sign of peace to the people)

At the 132nd rubric, the rubric says:

"The priest genuflects, takes the host and holding it, slightly raised above the paten or above the chalice, WHILE FACING THE PEOPLE says aloud: 'Behold the Lamb of God…

’ " then after the people had answered the “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”, the rubric instructs the priest to

the priest, FACING THE ALTAR, says quietly: "May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life

So, in this part of the Holy Mass, the Missal clearly instructs the priest to turn to the people (after the Agnus Dei, the priest would genuflect) and take the host to show it to the people, then after the people had responded (Lord, I am not worthy), he would TURN BACK to the Altar to take holy Communion.

If he needs to turn to the altar, and turn and face the people, this clearly means that the altar must be facing GOD, and not the assembly directly.

Can anyone correct me if I am wrong with my interpretation? Thank you.


“Facing the people” and “facing the altar” don’t indicate any prior orientation.

Likewise, “turned towards the people” is a statement of present orientation not action. E.g., “I am turned towards the East,” doesn’t necessarily mean I was previously facing a different direction."

These choice of words were deliberate because versus populum is explicitly permitted by the rubrics.

GIRM 299:

The altar should be built separate from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.

It may also be worth noting that it isn’t any individual’s interpretation that matters, but the one with the authority with interpreting. The Congregation for Divine Worship says the rubrics permit vesus populum. Case closed.


Haven’t you noticed that the Church disagrees with that interpretation?


If you’re not going to listen to the Church and her Bishops, why should we think you’ll listen to us?


Generally agree – celebration versus populum is permitted, and the GIRM rubrics delineate the rules for celebrating ad orientem only because that is the “normative” stance and the one that actually requires description – but it should be noted that that translation of the passage you cite is a subject of much dispute among Latin scholars. Specifically it is contended that what is “desirable whenever possible” is not the celebration of Mass versus populum but the construction of free-standing altars.


The confusion IMO comes up because the Latin versus (or conversus) populum can mean “having turned toward the people.” (It’s a past participle as well.) When it was translated as “facing the people,” that interpretation stuck and most seem to be happy with it, to much dismay it appears. It could be that the ambiguity was intentional.


I’m not sure if “must” is the right word, but it certainly “ought” to be celebrated facing God. Just that one change (as we’ve had in a few parishes where I live) immediately begins to bring back a sense of the sacred into the Mass, a sense that we the people are not the focus of the Mass, but God the Father is. There is a great meme on this, check it out HERE.


I do not disagree with you that the GIRM permits the celebration of the Mass with either orientation.

This is just for general purposes of clarification. The GIRM entry that you quoted is not to be read that Mass is to be celebrated versus populum whenever possible. The Latin referes to the separation of the altar from the wall, NOT to the orientation of the priest

Here is the clarification from the CDWDS on GIRM 299

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in n. 299 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which the position of the priest *versus absidem *[facing the apse] is to be excluded.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature
reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:

Negatively, and in accordance with the following explanation.

The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account. First, the word expedit does not constitute a strict obligation but a suggestion that refers to the
construction of the altar a *pariete sejunctum *(detached from the wall). It does not require, for example, that existing altars be pulled away from the wall.

The phrase *ubi possibile sit *(where it is possible) refers to, for example, the topography of the place, artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc.,


The altar itself is east. It is where the son rises every morning.




If we get so hung up on form over function, we open the door to many dilemmas.

For instance, if to face God, we ourselves must face east, as the OP seemed to imply, that means that anyone who finds himself at the precise geographic North or South Pole, unable to face God, even if they wanted to (from the geographic NP, all directions would be South, and from the geographic SP, all directions would be North).

It is kind of like saying, because Jesus in Matthew 18:20 tells us, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” he is not with us when we are alone, or only in the company of non-believers.

I think some might be over thinking the whole situation.


In some of the newer churches the altars are now built more for the center, so that one can face in any direction they desire. One church I frequent was built in a cross-shaped manner.

P.S. I think you meant “sun,” seeing that you didn’t capitalize it.


I recommend the book, The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.


The EF and OF are equally valid.



Orientation really doesn’t have anything to do with the form.


I think you, rather, are underthinking the significance of the celebrant and faithful facing the same direction. That is really the traditionally emphasized part of “ad orientem,” rather than the literal geographic direction, though the early Church did in fact often “orient” their church buildings.

Good reading on this is then-Cardinal Ratzinger in “The Spirit of the Liturgy” (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000, pp 74-84).

Secondly, Lang, Uwe “Turning Towards the Lord” (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004).


I probably didn’t make myself clear enough, and I probably led you to misunderstand my intents. Actually, you are reiterating my point, which is that the OP (not me) was clinging too tightly to geographic direction. Of course facing the faithful, and not a compass point, is the intent…Again, I’m sorry I didn’t make myself clear enough.


It’s not really in dispute. The CDW says “desirable whenever possible” refers to the free-standing altar, not versus populum. But the reason it’s desirable whenever possible is, as stated in the same rubric, to allow for celebration versus populum.


GIRM 299 actually says that what is desirable, when possible, is that the altar be separated from the wall, not that Mass be versus populum.


Now you’re just being silly. “Facing East” refers to Liturgical East, not the geographical east.


That’s not what the OP was saying…but, now that you’ve brought it up, even Liturgical East doesn’t work out in churches where the altar is in the center, and the congregants surround the altar. In this case, all directions would be “liturgical east”, and as I stated in my first post, its a matter of form over function, so you are right about one thing…its silly!


Why would a parish be built with the congregation around the altar?

Do not I never mentioned the OP’s post, I quoted a response.

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