Mass - Ad Orientem

Bible Christian Society


Mass - Ad Orientem



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General Comments

Hey folks,

Have the election results settled in?  I believe (hope and pray), that we are beginning a new era in politics in this country.  I am hoping that the power of the elites in both parties, and on Wall Street, and in the media has suffered a serious setback from which it won't soon, if ever, recover.  And, for those of you who were fervently praying before the election, please keep on praying.  Our President-Elect needs our continued prayers.  Pray that he will act in a just manner in all that he does.  Pray also for Hillary Clinton.  As much abuse and vitriol as folks on the right heaped upon her, I have to say that I often felt sorry for her.  Many of her policy positions and a number of the things she has done, or allowed to be done, are absolutely shameful.  However, she is a human being, loved by God, and she seems, at least to me, to be so completely lost.  So, pray for conversion - for Mr. Trump and for Mrs. Clinton - and pray that a Trump presidency will protect life and liberty.  If it doesn't, I think there will be an even bigger revolt at the ballot box in 2 years...



     A few years ago I wrote a series of articles for my diocesan paper on the use of Latin in the Mass.  I combined all of those articles into one of my newsletters, which you can read here: 

     Recently, in going back through some of the articles I've written for that diocesan newspaper - in an attempt to organize them into something that a publisher might want to make into a book - I found a couple of follow-up articles that I had written to that series.  They are centered mainly on the issue of Mass being said "ad orientem" - facing east.  In other words, with the priest facing the tabernacle rather than facing the people.  I am seeing and hearing a great deal more interest from people on ad orientem - and not just for the Extraordinatry Form, or Latin, Mass, but for the Ordinary Form, or Novus Ordo, Mass as well.  So I thought I would print those articles here and I hope they are of interest.  Just remember, that these were originally written a few years ago, so that is why you see references to "Pope Benedict."



Q:     In one of your recent articles, you stated, “…nowhere does the Council [Vatican Council II] call for the priest to turn around and face the people rather than face God.”  God is everywhere, so no matter in which direction the priest faces, he is facing God.
A:    God is indeed everywhere but, according to the Church, He is present in a “unique” way in the tabernacles of the churches around the world.  That is why, when we enter the church, we genuflect while facing the tabernacle.  That is why, when we go to receive Communion, we genuflect or bow in the direction of the Body and the Blood. Could we say that since God is everywhere, it would be okay to genuflect while facing the parking lot before we enter the church?  Would it be okay, since God is everywhere, to turn and genuflect, or bow, to the rear wall when we go up to receive Communion?  No, neither of those actions would make any sense.

       I had a friend tell me once that he didn’t need to go to church because he could  experience God while out hunting in the woods early on Sunday mornings.  He said he was closer to God in the peace and tranquility of being out amongst nature early in the morning, than he was when at church.  Is that true, since God is everywhere?  No, it is not.  He can indeed experience the presence of God out in the woods, but not in the same way that he can experience the presence of God in the church.  God is physically present – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity - in the tabernacle, He is not physically present in the woods.  

       This idea that God is everywhere, is true in one sense, but it is also true that God is nowhere present on this earth in the way that He is present in the tabernacle.  That is why we do not genuflect when we enter a Wal-Mart, even though God is everywhere.  That is why we do not genuflect when we enter Taco Bell, even though God is everywhere.  That is why we do not genuflect when we enter Bryant-Denny Stadium (although there may be some people who think we should), even though God is everywhere.  

       Jesus is physically present in the tabernacle of the church.  He is not physically present in the pews.  He is not physically present in the narthex.  He is not physically present in the sacristy.  He is physically present in the tabernacle, and only in the tabernacle (except, of course, from the moment of the consecration until the time the Blessed Sacrament is again reposed in the tabernacle).  Given that fact, it can rightly be said that the priest can indeed “face the people rather than face God,” when the context is the physical presence of God vs. the physical presence of the people, which is the context within which I was writing.  So, the fact of the matter is, the priest is facing the people rather than facing God for most of the Mass.  

        And, to be honest, that simple fact puzzled me more and more as I learned more about what the Mass is after coming back into the Church some years ago.  The Mass is our principal act of worship.  It is an act that takes place between the people and their God, not between the people and their priest.  The people are led in this act of worship of their God by the priest.  So it puzzles me as to why - if the priest is leading the people in the worship of God – why is he facing the people instead of facing God?  Again, as I said in a previous article, I realize this is a hot button issue for many, but it is just something that puzzles me and it is something that I don’t think is properly understood by many Catholics .  Now, I will gratefully attend Mass no matter which way the priest is facing, but I have to admit that I do not understand the liturgical reasoning behind turning the altars toward the people instead of towards the One Who is being worshipped. 

       Now, there are those who say that in the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) the priest celebrated “with his back to the people.”  But, if the priest is leading the worship, and not the object of the worship, then doesn’t it make more sense that he face the object of worship rather than face those doing the worshipping? When the priest was facing the tabernacle, he no more had his “back to the people” than the person in the pew in front of you has his back to you.  All, priest and people alike, were facing God, the object of the worship.  So, it seems to be a bit misleading to say that in the TLM the priest had his back to the people.  He was, rather, simply facing in the same direction as the people, so as to lead the people in the worship of God.

       Some will argue that having the priest face the people emphasizes the communal aspect of “the meal” we are celebrating.  I understand that as far as it goes, but the fact of the matter is, the Mass is first and foremost a sacrifice, not a meal.  That’s why we have an altar, not a dining room table.  And, as Cardinal Ratzinger once wrote, before becoming Pope, “the Eucharist that Christians celebrate really cannot adequately be described by the term 'meal'.”  

       The point of all of this?  There are aspects to the liturgy that Catholics are generally oblivious to, but which we need to know about, and consider, in order to fully appreciate what exactly it is we are participating in whenever we attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


Q:     You seem to be saying in your last few articles that the Church got it wrong when it turned the altars around to face the people.  I do not, however, wish to make an unwarranted assumption and so I’ll just ask: Do you believe the Church was wrong to turn the altars to face the people and are you advocating for a return to the old way with the altar facing the tabernacle?
A:    Not trying to be elusive here, but those are the wrong questions.  The main point of these articles has not been what I believe or what I would or would not like to see.  The whole reason for these articles was because of the question I received from someone who was feeling a bit put out by the use of Latin in the liturgy and the new life given to the Traditional Latin Mass.  Her question seemed to indicate a fear of, and even anger towards, anything Latin.  I have to be honest and say that I am always somewhat stunned when I see that kind of visceral reaction directed towards the liturgy – any authentic liturgy - whether it be directed toward the Traditional Latin liturgy, or it be directed to the new liturgy (the Novus Ordo).  So, what I attempted to do with my articles was to educate folks as to why we are seeing and hearing more about Latin and the Latin Mass these days.  

       And, the reason why we are seeing and hearing more about Latin and the Latin Mass, is because Pope Benedict is making a deliberate attempt to bring about what he believes is a much needed reconciliation between the pre- and post-Vatican II liturgies.  As he said in a letter to the Bishops regarding his reasoning for wanting the Traditional Latin Mass to be more available, “I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio…It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church.”

       The reason we are in need of a liturgical reconciliation, according to Pope Benedict, is that there was a bit of a disconnect between the intent of Vatican II and the implementation of Vatican II, “Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear.”

       These deformations of the liturgy that the Pope speaks of, caused great wounds within the Church.  The Pope is trying to heal those wounds by slowly bringing the liturgy back to what he believes was intended after Vatican II.  He is moving slowly, it seems, in order to first educate the faithful and to allow for reasoned dialogue on these matters.  Too often in the past, discussion of all things liturgical has resulted in passionate and sometimes heated exchanges, with each side putting labels on the other, that tended to deepen the wounds rather than heal them.  

       Our Holy Father is calling for a new paradigm for the discussion of such matters: “The Congregation's response should thus make for a new, more relaxed discussion, in which we can search for the best ways of putting into practice the mystery of salvation. The quest is to be achieved, not by condemning one another, but by carefully listening to each other and, even more importantly, listening to the internal guidance of the liturgy itself. The labelling of positions as 'preconciliar', 'reactionary', and 'conservative', or as 'progressive' and 'alien to the faith' achieves nothing; what is needed is a new mutual openness in the search for the best realization of the memorial of Christ."

       So, my last few articles have, I hope in at least some small way, served to educate the faithful as to what is going on in regards to the liturgy of late, and why. I also hope that they will help to stimulate more discussion, in a reasoned and respectful manner, regarding the liturgy, so that the reconciliation Pope Benedict desires can continue to progress.  The more educated we are on the liturgy, which is the source and summit of all that we are as Catholics, the better it will be for each of us individually, for our parishes, and for the Church as a whole.  

       Am I advocating for the altar to be turned back around to face the tabernacle rather than the people?  Let’s just say that I am advocating for what Pope Benedict is advocating for – interior reconciliation within the heart of the Church.


Closing Comments

I don't know if I have mentioned this before, but I have been a life-long Cubs fan.  I saw my first Cubs game in Wrigley Field in 1964 when I was 6-years old.  The Cubs lost 5-3 to the San Francisco Giants.  Have rooted for them ever since.  So, I want to take a moment to say: Truly, all things are possible with God!   GO CUBS!



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Apologetics for the Masses