Permission regarding ad orientem

Friends, perhaps this would be better in the “Liturgy and Sacraments” sub-forum, but I have become attached to the personalities of this sub-forum, so I wanted to ask my question here first! :slight_smile:

I believe I read somewhere (G.I.R.M.? Sacrosanctum Concilium?) that the altar ought to be moved forward from the wall so as to facilitate priests who wish to celebrate versus populum. If this is the reason for moving the altar forward, logically this also means that the freestanding altar can facilitate priests who wish to celebrate ad orientem. As the freestanding altar is to facilitate the former, it must include the latter too.

My question is: can a priest simply celebrate the Holy Mass on a regular day, before a regular parish, facing the apse (at appropriate moments in the liturgy) and not the nave? What are the permissions involved in celebrating the Holy Mass toward the apse, if any? Does the bishop have to give specific permission? I am not talking about the Extraordinary Form, but the Ordinary. My question is entirely and solely related to the position of the priest, not language or anything like that. Is permission required?

Some prior formation would be wise, but no permission is required. In fact, the rubrics of the Mass assume that the priest is facing ad orientem.

This is what the GIRM says for the US

  1. The altar should be built apart 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. The altar should, moreover, be so placed as to be truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns.116 The altar is usually fixed and is dedicated.

This somewhat contradicts to rule for the Tabernacle

  1. In accordance with the structure of each church and legitimate local customs, the Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is truly noble, prominent,** readily visible**, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.125

Excuse me for being flippant (I think), but how could this be possible? Literally every single Mass I’ve ever attended has been celebrated facing the nave and not the apse. Is every single priest in North America completely ignoring the rite of the Holy Catholic Church’s Mass? What is this? How could it be possible that the very men employed to a certain end are not using the approved means to approach that end? :eek:

To be fair, the rule regarding the Tabernacle isn’t necessarily voided by the freestanding altar. In the cathedral of this diocese, the altar is indeed up on the center of the sanctuary, but the Tabernacle is between the altar and the sacristy door (which is to the left side of the sanctuary), giving it an extremely prominent place. Baroque churches are better for this, since they have no columns blocking the view of the sanctuary from any angle. Compare this to a Gothic church, wherein even a Tabernacle prominently placed in the sanctuary might be obscured by the forest of columns in the nave!

It seems that altar and tabernacle placement are relative to the architectural style. A large, open church with no columns (such as the cathedral of Los Angeles) might place the Tabernacle anywhere. On the other hand, an old Gothic church with many columns would have to place the Tabernacle more centrally in the sanctuary so it could be seen from the back of the central aisle, following the G.I.R.M.

Thank you for the quote, though! It’s exactly what I was referring to.

Mass ad populum (toward the nave) is permitted by the rubrics, but not assumed. So ad populum worship isn’t a violation of the rubrics and does not constitute disobedience. It is, however, an “exception”, much in the same way that Communion on the hand is an exception—these things were envisioned as being utilized only in special circumstances. Instead they have become almost completely universal. The normal position is ad orientem (toward the apse); this is the immemorial custom of the Church and best captures the “dynamic” of Catholic worship. As such, no permission needs to be granted to say Mass in this way.

Why is it that ad populum worship has become nearly universal in North America (and most other places as well)? How is it that such a change to the liturgy came about without any actual mandate from the Vatican? I do not know. I think one would have to become some sort of scholar on the atmosphere after the Vatican II Council to answer those questions in a comprehensive way.

I would like to point out that this is a prime example of poor translation. The clause “which is desirable whenever possible” refers to “the altar should be built apart from the wall” not to “Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people”. This is clear in the Latin, but obfuscated in the English.

If the tabernacle is in a side chapel or at the back of the Church, that is not well visible. If it is behind the free standing altar, then the priest at least partially turns his back to tabernacle.

I agree that a free standing tabernacle on the left or right of the altar, or especially between the congregation and the altar may be an appropriate place, emphasizing that Jesus Christ is the Center and not anything else.

I believe that the best exegesis for Matt 18:20 (gather in my Name) refers to the presence of the Eucharist. Pilate made the judgment 'in the name of the Cesar ’ in the presence of the insignia of the Caesar. Jesus is God, His insignia is the perfect physical presence.

This is not really correct. Rather, the rubrics assume that the priest might be facing ad orientem. The rubrics themselves do not establish one orientation or the other as normative.

Actually, it is ambiguous in the Latin, and in any event the CDWDS has clarified that the phrase “refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum [detached from the wall] and to the celebration versus populum [toward the people].”

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