Versus Populum / Ad Orientem


Verus Populum, the practice of the celebrant facing the people during the mass is a serious rupture in historical, traditional Catholic worship. In the last few decades, new liturgical modes were imposed and many churches were redesigned with this in mind High altars were either ripped out or abandoned, new churches had these omitted altogether. The new norm was for verus populum worship, where the priest faces the congregation during the mass. But this is a very serious rupture from historical Catholic practices and is comes with very serious theological implications

Here is what the Methodist church says on this issue: “In our churches, the Communion table is to be placed in such a way that the presider is able to stand behind it, facing the people, and the people can visually if not physically gather around it. While architectural integrity should be respected, it is important for churches to carefully adapt or renovate their worship spaces more fully to invite the people to participate in the Holy Meal. If altars are for all practical purposes immovable, then congregations should make provisions for creating a table suitable to the space so that the presiding minister may face the people and be closer to them.”


  • Verus Populum is a very protestant idea. It’s aim is to strip away the idea of the mass as a holy sacrifice and make it into a “meal”.
  • Rather than making a holy offering to God we are simply a family gathered around a “table”.
  • The Priest is not making an offering on behalf of the people, acting 'in persona Christi", rather he is a “presider”, leading a ceremony for the congregation.
  • Historical churches have been “wheck-tovated” to accommodate for this practice. New church design has been dramatic departures from traditional designs that supported and reflected Catholic theology.
  • AND verus populum contributes to clericalism because it puts at the center of the mass the personality of the celebrant, while Ad Orientem keeps the focus on worshiping God.

I believe strong that how we worship should reflect what we believe and likewise how we worship influences our beliefs. It should be no surprise that since versus populum has become the norm we have seen declined belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, dramatic increases in apostasy, and dramatic declines in vocations. We need to turn to God, we need to return to traditional and historic Catholic worship done Ad Orientem.


The early Christians shared in this mystery around a table? The apostles with Christ were they not at a meal and did Jesus not say do “this” in memory of me?

I don’t want to be objectional and can also clearly see the Exodus style of sacrifice as also a valid form of worship for the one true God.


Which direction did Jesus face when he established the Sacrament ?

Was it the protestant direction as you claim?

What direction did the Apostles face saying Mass in homes and hiding places out in caves, was it the protestant direction ?



The mass is not meant to be a perfect representation of what Jesus did at the Last Supper. We do a lot of things in mass that Jesus didn’t do that night.


But we do what Jesus intended when he instituted the Sacrament.

The fact is, the celebrant faced the people saying Mass for the first four hundred years before Constantine made Christianity legal.

Then, when he gave the Church public buildings many where senate members use to use for their debates, there was no table, but documents were placed on a shelf which hung on the wall at the head of the room. So, the Church began to use these selves as altars and the celebrant began facing the symbolic East, Ad Orientum.

For five hundred years after Trent, we celebrated Mass as if God was out in the Cosmos, rather among and within us.

The priest facing the people is in fact, facing God, because God is among us.



Anyway, this topic has been beaten to death time and time again.

I’m backing away from the debate.

In Christ Jesus


All of this because of the direction we are facing? No.


You are kidding, right?

Do you honestly think that if turning the priest around could cause all Catholics to believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, stop apostasy, and increase vocations–that the Catholic Church wouldn’t immediately turn the priest around within the next minute?

It’s that simple to fix all the ills in the Church? Really?

If only. Oh, God, if ONLY turning the priest around would fix all these ills in the Church and the world! If only, if only…

NickyMaz, I think that Holy Mother Church would have made this change by now if they thought, as you do, that it would fix everything. But they haven’t made that change.

None of us know more than Holy Mother Church.

In care you’re wondering, I don’t really care which way the priest faces, except when he is giving his homily–I would like to be able to see him while he is opening up the Word of God to us and explaining how the Scriptures apply to our lives. So I’m not posting this to protest your preference. I’m just trying to get you to see that the priest’s posture is not the answer to all the huge problems with Christians today.

Did you know that in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, the pastor faces the altar, not the people? And the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church is bleeding members. So sad.


I was at Mass this morning and the priest was facing the rest of those gathered in church .

It wasn’t Protestant .

The “meal” part of the Eucharist is part of the Sacrifice .

We were gathered round an altar and the offering of the sacrifice was made to God .

We were focussed on God , not the priest .


I know that it sounds silly, but if you dig around the internet you will find that a lot of research has been done in this topic. It’s certainly not the only or even the primary cause of the problems in the Church, but it’s not as easily dismissed as you might think.


are we to continually deny the second vatican council and its allowances to masses that people more easily identify with and understand.

Are we to continually discredit a Mass or way of doing mass because we do not like the way the church is now.

It is not a serious rupture. we must look to the early church and the fact our church and our faith floats on the river of the blood of the martyrs of the early centuries.

they gathered at homes, in secret, in the open, they worshipped celebrated and died .

lets not forget that. we are not Methodists, we are Catholic.


Do we know? Are you there? Beyond that, liturgical practice develope for a reason, just because something was done the first 100 years doesn’t make it right. Discard 1500 yeas of tradition for how you think the early church did it?

No, facing the people might be right, but let’s be honest: we copied Protestants, not the earlky church.


I’m not saying that Vatican II was all bad, but to deny that there have been some detrimental repercussions to the church due to V2 is ridiculous.
I can think of 4 or 5 parishes within 200 miles where it’s like attending a bad Protestant service. I know, I was one, and many of these churches seem to be trying harder and harder to be Protestant rather than catholic.
Vatican II had negative reproductions, it’s clear, doesn’t mean it’s all bad, doesn’t mean it’s all good either.
It seems like the harder people try to change churches to fit social norms of the times, the worse the churches do in the long run.


I tired of all of the threads about what was vs. what is.
All that matters is that we give glory to God.
It does not matter so much about how we do it.
Does it matter which direction the priest faces during Mass? Does it matter whether the Mass is said in Latin or in our native tongues?
The rituals and traditions are not as important as our glorifying and praising God!


We know how the early Church celebrated the Mass before Constantine’s Edict of Tolerance in 313 AD, We have the writings of the early Christians like Justin Martyr and the artwork on the walls of the Catacombs to know.

The protestant reformation didn’t take place until the 16th century and even then, they pretty much worshiped the way they did before the Reformation



Versus Populum is traditional in Catholic worship. Here’s proof:

1962 A.D. - The Missal of the Usus Antiquor - “If the Altar faces the people, the Celebrant does not turn his back to the Altar when saying Dominus vobiscum, Orate, fratres, Ite, missa est, or when giving the blessing, but having kissed the Altar in the middle, there extending and joining his hands, as above, facing the people, greets them and gives the blessing.” (Ritus Servandus Chapter 5 Paragraph 3)

1951 A.D. - Josef Andreas Jungmann - “On which side should [the celebrant] take his place – facing the people or facing away? History indicates that both practices were in use from the very start, at least in the vicinity of Rome. Even today they are both countenanced in the Missale Romanum [Footnote: Ritus serv., V, 3.]” This author also cites page 89 of Roetzer, W., O.S.B. Die heiligen Augustinus Schriften als liturgie-geschichtliche Quelle. Munich, 1930., as proof of versus populorum in St. Augustine’s time.

1911 A.D. - The Catholic Encyclopedia indicates that Masses facing the people are and always have been permissible. “[T]he fact [is] that in the fourth century the celebrant at Mass faced the people, and, therefore in a church with a western apse, [he] looked towards the East when officiating at the altar.” (Article: Orientation of Churches)

The same work also names several Roman churches where Masses facing the people are the norm because the Altar is on the Western side of the Church and prayer is typically made in them toward the East, where the people are gathered: “[T]he great Roman Basilicas of the Lateran, St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s (originally), St. Lorenzo’s, as well as the Basilica of the Resurrection in Jerusalem and the basilicas of Tyre and Antioch, reversed this rule [of having the high altar in the East] by placing the apse in the western extremity.” (ibid.)

1874 A.D. - The anti-Catholic author of “The Church and the World” writes that in his day the priests in Rome sometimes celebrated Mass facing the people. “The Church of St. Clement, the most ancient in Rome, is arranged in this manner…[with] a raised foot on each side, so that either the Eastern or Western side of the Altar may be used. Such is the case in St. John Lateran, St. Peter in Vinculo, St. Laurent, St. Agnes, St. Maria in Cosmedin, St. Clement, and St. Maria in Trantsevere. … The Altar in St. Peter’s is in the West, and the Pope celebrates from behind it, having the Cardinals, attendants, etc., behind him. He assumes the same position in other basilicas. Ordinary priests, however, usually say Mass on the East side of the altar.” (“The Church and the World, Volume 3” p. 51)

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1708 A.D. - Claud de Vert - “Suppose the end of the Church [is] East of the Altar. In this situation the Priest celebrating at the Altar with his face to the East, has his back to the people, who are in the West in the Nave, and turned like himself toward the East in praying. Necessarily then when he wishes to address them, he must turn and look at them. So that in Churches turned to the West, whose end is to the West of the Altar, the Priest saying Mass with his face to the East, consequently faces the people, who are placed in the Nave and praying toward the West (i.e. the Altar)…[In this case he] has no need to change his position to turn to them.” (Explication simple, littérale et historique des cérémonies de l’Église, in explanation of a place titled “Place du Celebrant a l’autel, regardant l’orient,” as translated in “The Church and the World, Volume 3” p. 49)

1570 A.D. - The Missale Romanum of Pope Pius V - “Si altare sit ad orientem versus populorum, celebrans versa facie ad populorum, non vertit humeros ad altare, cum dicturus est, Dominus vobiscum, Orate fratres, Ite Missa est, vel daturus benedictionem: sed osculas to altari in medio, ibi expansis & iunctis manibus, ut supza, salutat populum.” (Original page scan here.)

“If the altar faces East toward the people, the celebrant facing toward the people, he does not turn his back to the altar when saying Dominus vobiscum, Orate fratres, Ite missa est, or when giving the blessing, but having kissed the altar in the middle, there extending and joining his hands, as above, he salutes the people.”

1570 A.D. - “[The expression Versus Populum] was taken up in the Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae of the Missale Romanum that Pope Saint Pius V issued in 1570. The Ritus servandus deals with the case where the altar is directed to the east and, at the same time, towards the people (altare sit ad orientem, versus populum). [Footnote: Missale Romanum ex decreto Sacrosancti Concilii Tridentini restitutum Pii V Pont. Max. iussu editum, Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae, V, 3.]” (The Reform of the Liturgy and the Position of the Celebrant at the Altar | Uwe Michael Lang | From Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer (2nd edition))

1502 A.D. - The Ordo Missae of 1502 - “We must note [the rubrics for] if the altar is turned to the people, and on it the celebrant is facing toward the people.” Latin: “Advertendum quod si altare est versum ad populum: et in eo celebrans siat facie populo versa…” J.W. Legg, Tracts on the Mass, HBS 27 (London: Harrison, 1904), 142.

1200s A.D. - Durandus the Dominican implies that priest may face the people. “But in churches having doors in the eastern [part], such as Rome, it is not necessary in saluting [the people] to turn around, because the priest celebrating in those [churches] always stands [facing] toward the people.” (Durandus, Rationale divinorum officiorum V, II, 57:CChr.CM 140A, 42-43)


Very few of the people who favor the ad orientem posture are unaware that versus populum was found in the early church (though of course so was ad orientem). The argument for ad orientem as the preferred posture has more to do with its symbolic value indicating that the priest is facing “east”, leading the people in prayer as they together await the coming of Christ, as well as it’s practical value in making the priest less of a focal point. Also, though God is certainly omnipresent and among the people, He is also physically present in the tabernacle, so it makes sense for the priest to face Him.


Very few of the people who favor the ad orientem posture are unaware that versus populum was found in the early church

I’m glad to hear it. In light of that, I do wish I didn’t hear some people say that Versus Populum is a “new liturgical mode” or call it “a serious rupture in historical, traditional Catholic worship.” Because it’s not new, it’s not a rupture, and it is historical and traditional in Catholic worship.

And I also wish people didn’t say we “copied it from Protestants.” It was already in our own liturgy for ages and ages; never explain by reference to Protestants what can be perfectly well explained by reference to Catholic tradition.


The Catholic Church doesn’t agree with you… i’ll stick with the Church in this one

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