The 5 Defenses of Ad Orientem

OK, so there are probably more than 5, but these are the ones that I am aware of.

Ad Orientem is preferred over vs. populem because:

  1. At Mass, we gather as one body at the foot of the cross, united in prayer. Since the priest (in persona Christi) is the head, he stands as the head, united to the body. He is not turning his back on the congregation, but rather standing with them, leading them, not putting on a show to entertain.

  2. The priest leads the people towards the tabernacle, not the door. They will follow his lead. He must lead them in the proper direction.

  3. The church building is shaped like a cross, and the church people arranged as a body on it. As the head (as was stated in #1), the priest stands in the sanctuary, but he is still united to the body, on the same side of the altar. This defense has been advocated by Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa. As a postscript, I would add that the vs. populem position decapitates the church in a certain sense.

  4. Ad Orientem puts the peoples attention on God, as opposed to the priest in the vs. populem position. We need a bit of Psychology to understand this one, since this is how the human brain naturally processes information. We see the same phenomenon in the classroom. When a teacher is facing the students presenting the material to be studied, the student’s attention in on both the teacher and material, but the primary focus of the student’s attention is by their nature on the teacher. If the teacher faces the board to present something, the attention is still on both, but the primary focus of the student’s attention is by their nature now on the material presented, since the teacher’s physical orientation transfers the students attention to the board. The same is true at Mass for presenting the Lord. Mental orientation toward the Lord is not enough, since we are human we must have both mental and physical orientation. Inculturation says that we must reach the people on their level, therefore Mass is to be Ad Orientem, even in the ordinary form.

  5. It is a sign of humility on the part of the priest as while he is in persona Christi, he is not actually Christ, he is only a detached instrument. The common analogy to explain that term is someone writing something. God is the person, Christ is the hand (part of the person) and the priest is the pen (not part of the person). The pen acts in the person of the hand, but is not the hand. The priest is still only human and is still a part of the church, so he stands on the church’s side of the altar. When priests started to face the people, some didn’t want to turn their backs on God, so instead of moving, they made God move, as if God is not as important as them! Many priests have usurped God’s throne.

LOL there is no reason to defend this. This is the way it always was.

It seems to me the way the church was set up pre-Vatican II made more sense. The sanctuary as holy ground, separated by the communion rail, then on the altar the tabernacle representing the Holy of Holies where Christ resides. The people with the priest at the head all faced the tabernacle and Jesus.

Now we turned the priest around so that his back is to the altar, or where it used to be in some cases, so the tabernacle has to be moved off to the side out of the way so the priests back is not to it. So we no longer pray to Jesus but toward the priest. :confused: The whole thing is out of whack all because of versus populem.

Indeed. Most Catholics are poorly catechised when it comes to liturgy (and most things actually), so things loose their meaning and they loose interest. Most Catholics (and probably most priests too) need to have the old way, with that “Holy of Holies” environment, explained to them so they can see what the Mass truly is.

Apparently “always” doesn’t include most of the time since Vatican II.

Good thread :thumbsup:

Ad Orientem is the best and most reverent.

“versus populum”

FWIW, I can agree with points 1, 3, and 4 pretty much as stated.

As for item 2, this one I would change just a bit: The priest leads the people towards the altar. He must lead them in the proper direction. As I said in a [thread=405584]thread[/thread] in another forum here, facing the tabernacle has nothing to do with it. Our collective focus is the altar upon which the Real Presence becomes manifest. Another poster in that same thread put it this way:

The priest is directing most of his actions towards God. That is the proper orientation.

Personally I find item 5 a little “iffy” for a variety of reasons, one being that it seems to throw the onus on the individual priest rather than on those “in power” whose agenda it was that gave rise to the versus populum business in the first place.

Just my :twocents:

I actually agree with this now that you mention it.

Indeed, there is something to be said for the priest facing ad orientem. If for no other reason, you aren’t distracted by his hands or watching what he’s doing; you’re looking where he is looking and praying in the same direction he is.

To say nothing of the fact that Jesus Christ is present inside the tabernacle and to stand with the back directly to Him cannot be seen as nearly as reverent and proper as facing Him whilst officiating. That alone is the best reason for ad orientem.

Some say that the priest may seem less a part of the congregation when he faces towards the tabernacle; I think he is more a part of the congregation since when he faces ad orientem he faces the same way we do and prays in the same direction. It’s much more uniform and tidy.

A 42 year old priest friend of mine told me that few people see the priests perspective when it comes to the ad oritem position. My friend who is attempting to introduce it in his “ordinary form” (mass paul VI) parish has had people upset when he attempted it.

My friend says that its actually much harder to concentrate when you have all these people staring at you and a little child picking his nose while you’re having this miracle take place before you. It really does have that television audience cooking show type of feeling. When you can look away from the people at that most sacred moment it helps the priest fulfill his role better.

Thats the irony … the majority of priests would prefer ad orientem once they actually tried it, as long they should have the backbone or courage to hear peoples complaints and educate them they will usually prefer it.

One thing I did not see mentioned is that ad orientem is based upon the long held idea that Christ will return in the sky over the east, and that is where we need to be looking in worship.

This is why in the early church graves were oriented (there’s that word again!), or aligned eastward. It was such a universally accepted principle that in English we use the term “oriented” to mean aligned.

Churches were almost always (or usually) aligned eastward (oriented) physically, and the altar therefore was true east. Christians took this very seriously for many centuries. Sometime before the twentieth century (well before Vat II) this principle of physically orienting church structures (and altars) seems to have been abandoned, now they might face in any old direction.

I guess we are just too sophisticated these days to take an old tradition like that very seriously, but if we had, versus populum would never have been considered seriously by anyone.

I’m going to just say a few things in this old thread.

If it feels like the priest isn’t a part of the congregation because he is facing the same direction as them, is the person sitting right in front of someone else not a part of the congregation because they’re facing the same way?

Some say that the priest may seem less a part of the congregation when he faces towards the tabernacle…

That is because the priest is not part of the congregation.

He is a priest, not a lay person.

That is exactly how it is supposed to seem. The eucharist is the not ment to too closely resemble a Julia Child’s cooking show. It is more of a fulfillment of the sacrifices previously offered withinthe jewish temple in Jerusalem.

In some cases, ad orientem and versus populum happen to be the same direction. Including at St. Peters in the Vatican.

Which kind of makes some of the arguments of the OP very weak indeed.

When the versus popolum altar faces the East. :smiley:

St. Peter’s is the exception, not the rule, as is well known and documented. And it’s become a hackneyed point of contention for those who oppose.

Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) gives a thoughtful endorsement for ad orientem in his book Spirit of the Liturgy.

What do you mean by same direction? I thought it just meant they’re both facing East (2 different churches, though)

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