Sunday, August 7, 2011


Pope Benedict XVI celebrating Mass ad orientem (Photo: Vatican Photo Service)

An excerpt of a longer article on Louis Bouyer and Church Architecture
Resourcing Benedict XVI's The Spirit of the Liturgy from
"The Institute of Sacred Architecture."

by Uwe Michael Lang,

The Liturgical Movement and Mass “facing the people”

Drawing on his own experience, Bouyer relates that the pioneers of the Liturgical Movement in the twentieth century had two chief motives for promoting the celebration of Mass versus populum. First, they wanted the Word of God to be proclaimed towards the people. According to the rubrics for Low Mass, the priest had to read the Epistle and the Gospel from the book resting on the altar. Thus the only option was to celebrate the whole Mass “facing the people,” as was provided for by the Missal of St Pius V to cover the particular arrangement of the major Roman basilicas. The instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Rites Inter Oecumenici of September 26, 1964 allowed the reading of the Epistle and Gospel from a pulpit or ambo, so that the first incentive for Mass facing the people was met. There was, however, another reason motivating many exponents of the Liturgical Movement to press for this change, namely, the intention to reclaim the perception of the Holy Eucharist as a sacred banquet, which was deemed to be eclipsed by the strong emphasis on its sacrificial character. The celebration of Mass facing the people was seen as an adequate way of recovering this loss.

Bouyer notes in retrospect a tendency to conceive of the Eucharist as a meal in contrast to a sacrifice, which he calls a fabricated dualism that has no warrant in the liturgical tradition. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood,” and these two aspects cannot be isolated from each other. According to Bouyer, our situation today is very different from that of the first half of the twentieth century, since the meal aspect of the Eucharist has become common property, and it is its sacrificial character that needs to be recovered.

Pastoral experience confirms this analysis, because the understanding of the Mass as both the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Church has diminished considerably, if not faded away among the faithful. Therefore it is a legitimate question to ask whether the stress on the meal aspect of the Eucharist that complemented the celebrant priest’s turning towards the people has been overdone and has failed to proclaim the Eucharist as “a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands)." The sacrificial character of the Eucharist must find an adequate expression in the actual rite. Since the third century, the Eucharist has been named “prosphora,” “anaphora,” and “oblation,” terms that articulate the idea of “bringing to,” “presenting,” and thus of a movement towards God.


Bouyer painted with a broad brush and his interpretation of historical data is sometimes questionable or even untenable. Moreover, he was inclined to express his theological positions sharply, and his taste for polemics made him at times overstate the good case he had. Like other important theologians of the years before the Second Vatican Council, he had an ambiguous relationship to post-Tridentine Catholicism and was not entirely free of an iconoclastic attitude. Later, he deplored some post-conciliar developments especially in the liturgy and in religious life, and again expressed this in the strongest possible terms.

Needless to say, Benedict XVI does not share Bouyer’s attitude, as is evident from his appreciation of sound and legitimate developments in post-Tridentine liturgy, sacred architecture, art, and music. It should also be noted that Joseph Ratzinger does not take up the later, more experimental chapters of Liturgy and Architecture, where new schematic models of church buildings are presented. Despite its limitations, however, Bouyer’s book remains an important work, and it is perhaps its greatest merit that it introduced a wider audience to the significance of early Syrian church architecture. Louis Bouyer was one of the first to raise questions that seemed deeply outmoded then, but have now become matters of intense liturgical and theological debate.


Rood Screen said...

I've been thinking of an annual "Turning Towards the Lord Day". This would give us priests the courage to make the change knowing others were doing the same on the same day. If a few priests "went ad orientem" each year, we could see a snowball effect rather quickly. A website could list the priests preparing to do it, brochures could explain and encourage it, and other benefits would surely arise.
But I think the project as a whole would have to be a lay initiative.

Anonymous said...

Father, I like this excerpt, but what book of Father Bouyer's is being referred to here?


James I. McAuley

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

James, the complete article can be found here:

Anonymous said...

Father, Does the U.S. Bishops' conference or does our local Bishop have in place a rule against ad orientem in the Novus Ordo? If not then why do we not see more priests using this option which is being modeled by the Pope?

Marc said...

Fr. Shelton, why would something of the sort you describe have to be a lay initiative? It seems to me a priest could simply give a homily discussing the theological and historical rationale of the Mass ad orientem and then go to the altar and celebrate the Mass in that manner.

We lay people are not quite as dense as liturgists would have you believe we are. If you explain it to us, we just might surprise you by understanding it!

It simply takes a priest with the patience to deal with questions and objections from the laity. Frankly, priests should stop being afraid of the laity and do things the way they are supposed to be done while being pastoral enough to explain to the people the reason for the return to tradition.

It would appear to me that too many priests are more afraid of the laity than they are of leading the laity in their charge (and therefore themselves) into Hell by teaching a watered-down version of the Faith.

If priests proclaim the Truth boldly, many people will likely walk away from the Church (just like they did when our Blessed Lord proclaimed the Truth). But here's the thing, by failing to proclaim the Truth to anyone, the same priests are leading the laity in their charge, as well as themselves, away from Truth and toward Hell anyway.

This really doesn't seem that complicated or like a very difficult decision - I don't understand all the hesitancy on the part of those in the clerical state.

Gene said...

Yes, indeed. I wish Priests would remember that the laity's liturgical theology and faith is being formed, not consulted.

Anonymous said...

Father, I am the second "Anonymous" but I am really Joseph Johnson of Waycross. I forgot my Google password long ago hence the "anonymous" post--sorry I forgot to leave my name last time.
I have heard your comments in the past about obedience to the Bishop regarding the ad orientem question and this prompted my question about whether there is a rule in place against it in the Savannah Diocese or from the U.S. Bishops' conference. A clear answer to this question would be a great help to lay people like myself who would dearly love to see ad orientem become more commonplace. It would help because it would make it more clear when we lay people should rightfully and respectfully advocate for these things and when we need to "back off." Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Joseph, as far as I can tell there is no liturgical law forbidding ad orientem. However after Vatican II and even prior the old Mass was celebrated facing the laity. This has become the norm. Can a priest or parish celebrate the OF Mass ad orientem? Yes but they risk the ire of their bishop and would appear as congregationalists perhaps sowing disunity in the diocese. I think out of respect for the bishop one should seek his permission, the bishop is the primary liturgist of the diocese and can very well legislate liturgically within universal norms.With that said A priest could celebrate the EF facing the people. How would you feel about that?

Anonymous said...

In our diocese there are Latin Mass parishes that are established with the permission of the Archbishop. It seems like a similar process could be used to get permission to pick a time and conduct a mass ad orientem. This would be good to advertise to the congregations so they could attend by choice, perhaps out of curiosity, and educate them extensively on what is happening and why. People don't like surprises, especially when they show up to mass.

I recommend much more than a notice in the bulletin about it. It would be best if it was at an unusual time so the people that attend are doing so to celebrate the mass ad orientem. You would not want some elderly lady showing up and getting upset. That would change the point of the exercise forcing the parish to address someone being upset rather than focusing on the mass and what is going on there.


Anonymous said...

Rcg, that's the way it should be done and the only way I would do it and then after cathecesis.

Anonymous said...

Maybe more priests are not using the ad orientam posture because they think it is neither helpful nor necessary. In 98% of the papal masses, the Holy Father faces the people. In that regard, they are following his example.

ghp said...

Anonymous (8 Aug, 7:44am) said, "...With that said A priest could celebrate the EF facing the people. How would you feel about that?"

NOT if he follows the rubrics!


Rood Screen said...

In his wisdom, the example the Holy Father provides is not a drastic change from one arrangement to another, but of placing a large cross in the center of the altar to serve as an ad orientem marker. Despite its origin, the term ad orientem has less to do with points on a compass than with an evident "turning towards the Lord" during the Eucharistic Prayer. So, "going ad orientem" could be as simple as placing a large cross and six candles upon the altar.
That said, it would be dangerous in most parishes/dioceses to do so with popular demand and episcopal encouragement.

Anonymous said...

Respectfully, and in all sincerity, I would just like to offer one further thought on this subject. The use of Latin and Greek in our typical parish liturgies has also not been the "norm" (at least 99% of the time)for most the last 40 or so years--yet it has always been an option (at least theoretically) for the Universal Church.

Some may see this as a flawed argument but I fail to see the use of the ad orientem posture any differently. It is a theoretically possible liturgical option (as evidenced in the wording of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal in the Universal Church) that is not (expressly) prohibited.

I have occasionally, in recent years and in different parishes, seen the use of Latin and Greek in the Novus Ordo. I truly doubt that the local Bishop was consulted before this was done.

Why does the clergy seem to view some liturgical options that have not been the recent historical "norm" as do-able without prior episcopal permission while the ad orientem option is, apparently, seen as "a bridge too far" (that is, without prior express episcopal permission)?

I certainly see the need for a lot of catechesis on these matters (the sooner the better) but if they are legitimate liturgical options in the Universal Church how can their actual use in a parish be questioned as being "congregational" or not Catholic (Universal)?

I find it frustrating that, as to many on these liturgical questions, it seems to be a case of the exception (or, sometimes, the indult, in the case of Communion in the hand) becoming the rule (or perceived norm--at least in America) and the universal default (which is usually more in continuity with the past)way of doing things becoming an almost unknown exception which most average modern American Catholics know little or nothing about.

Joseph Johnson

Gene said...

This walking on eggs with regard to the TLM, the new translation, and ad orientum is getting a bit tedious. How can Priests and Bishops with no stones possibly be guilty of any kind of sexual misconduct? There is a huge hoax here somewhere...

Anonymous said...

Fr Shelton, certainly the best use of 'orient' in this case is in its root, to rise, or situate properly in the world. Very appropriate.


Sasha Nidalag said...

I am new to this site, and am wondering:

How does going "ad orientem" elicit a sense of sacrifice? Just because a priest has his back to people it is sacrificial? How?

And if it is, does any contemporary Christian understand sacrifice in this context--the simulation of killing animals on an altar? What is your point exactly?

If you feel a need to do catechesis, perhaps you should not jump to blame it on the stupidity of the laity.

Anonymous said...

I am not a proponent of the extraordinary form of the mass becoming the ordinary but I would like to have an opportunity to experience the beauty of our traditional expression of faith quarterly or at least yearly.

Dan said...

It takes a fair amount of chutzpah to come out criticizing Louis Bouyer. My breath was taken away for a moment reading these criticisms. I would encourage the author of said article to develop, perhaps, a tad more humility, and, at the very least, a broader historical perspective.

And if Bouyer taxes the author's delicate soul too much he could read Adrian Fortescue and Dom Gueranger. But, of course, they say basically the same things Bouyer does.

By their fruits you shall know them. The fruits of the liturgical reform are there for all to see, as are, sadly, the many fruits who celebrate this decidedly inferior concoction of Vatican 2.

Marc said...

To add to the excellent point made by Joseph Johnson above: I'm certain many of the same priests who maintain they need prior episcopal approval to do things totally acceptable (or even the stated norm) according to the GIRM will include in their Masses some liturgical aberration on the more liberal side of the spectrum without a second thought about first obtaining episcopal approval.

In the 1962 Missal, today is the Feast of St. John Vianney. Let's all stop and ask his intercession for all priests in their difficult task of pastoring souls.

Gene said...

Nidalag, Most Catholic and Protestant laity I know understand the concept of sacrifice, especially those who appreciate the TLM...oh, and other things like the worship of Israel, Abraham and Isaac, the Old Testament as the cradle for the New...and, oh yeah, there was the Crucifixion and Christ's words at the Last Supper, yeah, then Paul's words on the much catechesis do you need? So, the Priest turns to bless the Sacrifice and to lead in worship...just like the High Priest in the Old know, when they slaughtered a lamb or, at times, a bull. Yeah, that is how ad orientum reminds me of a sacrifice. Of course, there is the blood of the Cross and all that stuff about the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world...I should think any "contemporary" Christian could wrap their feeble brain around that.

Have you ever paid attention to the hymns in Protestant hymnals: "Are You Washed in the Blood?" "There is a Fountain (...filled with blood flowing from Emanuel's veins);" " Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, Oh, Lamb of God, I come;"I'll Wash My Garments in the Blood of Calvary's Lamb."
Indeed, from Prot hymnals, you would surmise that they understand and celebrate sacrifice more passionately than "contemporary Catholics." Give me a break!

Anonymous said...

Sasha, To say that someone knows little or nothing about a subject is not to call them stupid--it is simply observing that they lack knowledge (which is readily available) on a particular subject.

I certainly will be the first to say that my knowledge is limited in the area of liturgy but I do feel comfortable in saying that I know more (on this subject)than most of the good people I attend Mass with.

Further, ad orientem matters because (from a teaching or catechetical standpoint) the "externals" of the Mass matter. With the best use of church art, music, and rubrics the Mass becomes more "intuitive"--more obvious on its face as to what it's really all about (even in situations when it's not in your own personal vernacular).

In the early 1990's, (I was in my early 30's, at that time)while in law school in Arkansas, I attended my first (since early childhood) Tridentine (EF) Mass. Through attending those Masses regularly for two years I feel I gained a much better understanding of the structure and true meaning of the Mass (I was afforded the opportunity to focus more on the actions and parts rather than the words). The actions and posture of the priest make it very clear that it is our worship of the Other--God Himself. It is the unbloody renewal of the same Sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary presented for us to partake in under the appearance of food and drink.

Ad orientem (priest and people facing toward the Cross--not necessarily the actual geographical East) in a plain, obvious, and powerful way makes it clear (through this external action) that we are directing our worship and sacrifice outward to Someone beyond and outside of ourselves--to God Himself. While we do the very same thing in a Mass with the priest facing the people, the true meaning is (in my personal judgment)obscured by the confusing external of a priest who looks like he's reading prayers to us. With ad orientem, he only faces us when he addresses us in the prayers or when he reads and preaches to us from the pulpit.

I'm a small-town lawyer. I am somewhat more educated than most of the people I work around but certainly not nearly as educated as many priests and bishops. I can readily understand classic nineteenth-century stained glass windows with straighforward graphic depictions of Our Lord and the Saints (I can't say the same for some of the post-Conciliar era church art). Such things as these windows (with the realistic artwork)are good externals which teach and catechize young and old, educated and illiterate (as they did for a much less educated populace in past times). The same is true with ad orientem celebration of the Mass.

We all should know that the mission of the Church is to save souls. Sometimes the Church needs to be reminded that the way it physically manifests itself in this world can be a much more powerful teacher for the laity than mere words.

Joseph Johnson