Monday, January 16, 2012


The great basilicas of Rome like Saint Joseph Church in Macon have the celebrant of Mass facing the geographical east which means that the altar faces the nave of the Church and the people who are gathered there so that the Mass is both Ad Orientem and Ad Populum (facing east and facing the people) at the very same time.

At Saint Joseph Church the reform of the Mass after Vatican II allowed the parish to revert to the early tradition of facing the geographical east or ad orientem and at the same time face the people.

In the pre-Vatican II missal, the Mass at Saint Joseph Church was not facing the geographical east but the west and thus Mass had to be celebrated with the priest's back to the people what would be called "ad occidens." Fortunately after Vatican II we were able to recover ad orientem worship at St. Joseph Church in Macon.

Mass at Saint Joseph Church in Macon facing the geographical west (ad occidens) away from God! (Currently this unusual way of facing away from God who will return from the east, only occurs during the EF Mass at St. Joseph)
Mass at Saint Joseph facing God who will return from the geographical East, this form currently is celebrated only with the Ordinary Form of the Mass at St. Joseph Church in Macon!

I am personally grateful that we are able to celebrate Mass at Saint Joseph Church towards the East for the Ordinary Form of the Mass. Maybe one day I will find the courage to celebrate the EF Mass at St. Joseph Church Ad Orientem too! Time will tell!


Joseph Johnson said...

The thought occurred to me on my earlier comment that maybe I should have been more accurate in my wording (as if my blog comments were more like legal work rather than conversational talk!). I guess from now on my "broken phonograph record" comments on this subject will use the terminology "versus apsidem" rather than "ad orientem."

Those of us who use the term "ad orientem" mean to the liturgical east or "versus apsidem" for prayers directed to God. I'm sure that the builders of St. Joseph, Macon, for practical, real estate related reasons, had to build the present church oriented as it is even though the priest would have been celebrating the prevalent liturgical form of that time facing the geographical west.

As I commented earlier, I doubt God really cares which way the priest faces. The phenomena of the "pivoting priest" in front of the altar is for the benefit of the people in the pews. It makes a clear visual distinction as to whether the priest is praying to God or addressing the people ("The Lord be with you," "Pray, brethren," "This is the Lamb of God . .," etc.).

Gene said...

You know, Joseph, God may indeed care which way the Priest faces. If we recall, the rubrics and rituals for worship in the Old Testament were quite specific and woe to those who disobeyed. There are numerous instances where God gave quite specific instructions as to how things were to be done and expressed extreme displeasure if His demands were not met.
Now, we know that Christ's sacrifice did away with the blood rituals and sacrifices, but it did not do away with obedience, which is still embodied in our worship traditions. If we understand that Catholic worship and liturgy evolved in continuity with Jewish and early Christian worship and that a living God has guided the Church and its Popes, then the forms and rubrics of Catholic liturgy are not to be toyed with or taken lightly. We cannot be sure, of course, that God cares which way the Priest faces; however, if we take liturgical history and practice seriously it is better to be safe than sorry. At any rate, in light of Christ's sacrifice and the OT promise, obedience should be viewed in relation to how truly we worship and embody His truths in the liturgy. (ps: I think he probably cares.)

Templar said...

Father, if you meant the post as tongue in cheek I do not see the humor. Despite the literal truth you have written, your Blog post only serves to sow confusion among poorly Catechized laity. You know very well that V2 restored nothing of the sort at St Joseph and that prior to it the congregation faced in the same direction, which was towards the altar, and called ad orientum, meaning liturgical east and not the literal east.

Besides, I will have to bring my compass but if memory serves St Joseph is built on a north-south axis.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The point that I am making is that there is a nearly 1600 year tradition of the priest facing the geographical east for the celebration of the Mass even if that means facing the people as make abundantly clear by the major basilicas of Rome where the direction of the Mass never changed prior or after Vatican II at their altars. So we are in continuity at St. Joseph with this tradition although the priest chair is angled for a truer ad orientem prayer.

Templar said...

Respectfully I believe you are mistaken. The Church's 1600 year history is not one of people turning this way and that to face geographical east. True the earliest churches were built that way, but it is well established that as churches came to be built facing other than east, the congregation would still face "liturgical east" by facing the tabernacle built into the altar. The fact that the Roman Basilicas altars face the people has as much to do with the big hole in the floor in front of the altars as it does with anything else, and the fact that their altars lacked tabernacles. But of the 1000's of Churches constructed in Christendom the Roman Basilicas were clearly not the norm, and not the basis of the Tradition of Ad Orientum "liturgical east".

Joseph Johnson said...


Your observations are well taken. Maybe God cares more than we think about which way the priest faces, etc.

My main point has always been that there is a very simple and obvious catechetical reason for versus apsidem prayer at Mass: It is far more important to know when the priest is leading us in prayer directed to God (as opposed to when he is addressing us) than it is to see his every gesture and action while he is at the altar offering the Mass.

Pope Benedict XVI has written that versus populum (facing the people) offering of the Mass has led to a closed circle or "turned inward towards ourselves" mentality (rather than all "turning towards the Lord").
While it may have been originally intended to give people a better view of what priests actually do while offering the Mass, it has fostered an unhealthy psychology of the Mass being "all about us here assembled" (Gather US In).

The Sacrifice and the Grace which flows from the Mass is what saves us--not the fact that it happens to look, in some respects, like a communal meal. The vertical dimension (the God part) has suffered because of a greater emphasis on the horizontal (communal part). The way the Mass is offered has a lot to do with the way people view it and, therefore, what they believe it is. Lex orandi, lex Credendi.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Templar that the orientation is 'liturgical east'. The Idea of Light rising, etc. We can't seek a link that misguides us, ala creationism, into missing the real glory of God. We have toyed, the last fifty years, with the ideas that inappropriately elevate people. The piece of wood or stone carved into an image of Christ on the Cross is not Christ, but an image to help us focus our minds and souls in prayer. The priest, it seems should strive to emphasise facing God. Certainly after the bread and wine are consecrated he is facing God, but until then he should be working to lead us, inculcate, through his actions.

The Mass is a Long Form Thought. It is a delicate syllogism and lesson. I think even the smallest thing matters and should be done with great deliberation and intent.


Marc said...

Yes, the idea is the liturgical East. The symbolism of the priest as the leader of the people who face the East to meet the Risen Lord is present when the priest faces away from the people.

I think there is some evidence that in the great basilicas we are discussing, the people would turn and face the same direction as the priest (i.e. with their backs to the priest) so everyone was facing the East.

So, again, the idea that the Roman Basilicas provide a basis for versus populum liturgy is not exactly historically accurate or at least it fails to present the entire story.

Moreover, even if it is true that there was versus populum liturgical celebrations in the Roman Basilicas, "... it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform...." Ven. Pius XII, Mediator Dei 62 (1947).

Anonymous said...

Maybe you can change the name of the blog to 'Ad Australis'.


Anonymous said...

I'm getting my compass out...


Anonymous said...

I did get my compass out. Actually northeast. :-)

Templar said...

LOL, Squeek what's facing NE? The Chair of the Axis of the Building.

I can't believe you actually did that.

Gene said...

Might God possibly be laughing this morning...LOL! "Hey, ya'll, come look at what they are doing down at St. Jo's today...!"