Friday, January 5, 2018


(My comments are embedded in red in Msgr. Pope's article)

José Benlliure y Gil (1855–1937), “Hearing Mass, Rocafort”
José Benlliure y Gil (1855–1937), “Hearing Mass, Rocafort”
Jan. 2, 2018
Here’s how to better acquaint God’s people with the beauty and naturalness of the ad orientem posture at Mass

I have written many times on the orientation of the priest for the Eucharistic Prayer. I strongly prefer an eastward (ad orientem) posture, in which the priest and God’s people all face in the same direction toward the Lord as the Eucharistic Prayer is prayed. Rather than restate all the reasons for my preference here, I direct you to what I have previously written (here , here , and here).

While I would like to see the eastward orientation restored, I am aware that many, even among doctrinally strong Catholics, are uneasy about the move. Further, many bishops remain unconvinced of its merits and see the push from individual priests as hostile to liturgical unity in their diocese. That a priest is permitted by the norms to say Mass ad orientem is beyond dispute, but bishops must often field complaints and do have an interest in ensuring that liturgical practice in their diocese not become divided by numerous idiosyncrasies. (Most laity and priests who suggest doing ad orientem to other priests do not realize that diocesan priests must show respect and obedience to their local bishop and his liturgical requests and yes, the bishop can limit certain options that are allowed in general norms.)

Traditionalists have legitimate concerns about a rather selective enforcement of liturgical norms. It seems that every possible abuse is permitted to flourish, but let a priest say Mass facing to the east and suddenly there is great scrutiny and pressure to conform to “norms.” I do understand their concern, even if it only about customs.

All that said, one can’t ask reality to be something other than what it is. The fact is, most people see the eastward orientation as a very big change. As such, it is bound to be controversial; simply presenting scholarly arguments isn’t going to be enough to warm many people up to the idea. Those of us who see value in this orientation are going to have to do a lot more to accustom people to the idea.

A further obstacle is that not all priests, even those open to the ad orientem posture, are willing to withstand the ire of their bishop in such a matter—and perhaps that is a good thing. (Yes obedience to one's bishop on liturgical issues can be a challenge and a cross, but mature priests do it and patiently and lovingly and uncomplainingly.In other words, priests are not in private practice but under the authority of their bishop!) Bishops do moderate the liturgy in their dioceses and priests should instinctively want to maintain unity with their bishop. There may be times when it is best for a priest to accept his bishop’s preference rather than insist upon his rights. This is less a question of law than one of prudence and respect. Upon ordination, every priest promises respect and obedience to his ordinary. Thus, if a bishop indicates that he does not want Mass to be celebrated ad orientem as a general practice, a priest should think long and hard before insisting upon his right to make that consistent change in his parish.

With all this in mind, I wonder if those of us who support the eastward orientation for the Eucharistic Prayer might consider some more subtle ways of acclimating the faithful to it. There are a number of points in the liturgy and in liturgical practice when the celebrant is addressing a prayer to God and can make this more obvious by “facing” God. In some of the examples that follow, I presume a traditional setup in the sanctuary, such that the crucifix is prominently displayed near the center and the celebrant’s chair is off to one side at an angle somewhat facing the people. With such a setup, some of the following suggestions can help us to “edge east” and accustom people to the fundamental norm that we ought to face toward God as we address Him. (None of the suggestions below should be called into question by any diocesan bishop. In fact when I am at my chair it is angled toward the altar and the central crucifix on it and thus I make a point of facing the altar for all prayer by looking at and turning toward the congregation seated on three sides of the altar when I speak to them to invite them to prayer.)
  • In the Eucharistic liturgy, the opening rites are most often conducted at the chair, which is often off to the side of the altar and angled toward the people in some fashion. Although the priest rightly faces the people to greet them liturgically and to summon them to the penitential rite, there is nothing to prevent him from turning toward the crucifix and/or tabernacle for the Confiteor and/or Kyrie, when he and the people are together beseeching God’s mercy.
  • For the Gloria, too, the priest can face the crucifix.
  • For the Opening Prayer, the priest can face the people and say, “Let us pray.” Then, after the silent pause directed by the rubric, he can shift noticeably to face the crucifix and/or tabernacle to offer the prayer.
  • At the recitation of the Creed, there is nothing to prevent the priest from doing something similar.
  • At the Prayer of the Faithful, the priest can face toward the people to introduce the prayer and then turn to face the crucifix and/or tabernacle while he reads the prayers (or the prayers are read by others).
  • The Prayer after Communion can be conducted in a similar fashion.
The point in all of these examples is to reacquaint God’s people (in small ways) with the suitability of facing God together when we pray to Him. This can pave the way to a better understanding of the appropriateness of doing so in the Eucharistic prayers. The Eucharistic Prayer is not a re-enactment of the Last Supper; the words of the prayer are wholly directed to God the Father. This is true even of the words of consecration, which are directed to the Father, not announced to the people as if the priest were reenacting what Jesus did at the Last Supper.

There are also many opportunities to adopt this posture outside of Mass:
  • When a priest enters a classroom of children, he usually leads them in a prayer. When doing so, he can face the crucifix and invite the children to join him in doing so as well.
  • The same can be done at most parish meetings. Hopefully most parish rooms have a crucifix prominently displayed. Rather than merely bowing his head toward the people, the priest can face the crucifix.
  • Teachers and leaders can and should be encouraged to do this at meetings and gatherings as well.
  • Eucharistic Benediction can and should always be conducted with the priest and the people facing the monstrance together. The priest can give the benediction from the people’s side of the altar rather than moving behind the altar to do give the blessing.
  • Litanies, rosaries, and other prayers can always be done facing the crucifix, the altar, or an image of the Lord or the saints.
In some cases, the priest may need rearrange the sanctuary a bit to ensure that it is clear when he is facing toward the Lord. Is a crucifix prominent and central in the sanctuary? Ideally the crucifix and tabernacle are located near each other. Is the celebrant’s chair at an angle that permits him to face in different directions? If a microphone is needed, perhaps a clip-on can be worn to permit greater flexibility of movement.

In meeting rooms and classrooms, is a crucifix (or other image of God or the saints) prominently displayed so as to provide a clear focus for a prayer? Ideally all such rooms should have a crucifix displayed front and center.

In ways such as this we can “edge to the east” and introduce a fairly simple insight: that we should face the Lord or an image of Him as we pray to Him. For many, the idea of turning the altar is disconcerting, but perhaps after some steady training in these other, smaller ways the concept will seem less jarring and more of a natural thing to do.

Edge East! It may take time, but patient teaching and diligent example may win the day, whereas introducing abrupt, striking change may incite fear and opposition.

(My final comment: Unfortunately Msgr. Pope doesn't make the recommendation that Pope Benedict re-instituted and Pope Francis continues and that is the so-called "Benedictine altar arrangement." I have had this arrangement for many years  and instituted it almost immediately when I started my new assignment. Thus my focus when praying the Eucharistic Prayer is the crucifix before me and i think it is obvious to the congregation that I am not praying to them in any fashion whatsoever but by bodily posture and where my eyes are fixed my liturgical prayer and theirs is offered to God the Father, through the crucified and Risen Lord and by the power of the Holy Spirit. 


rcg said...

Why is there concern for going BACK to ad orientem when there was no hesitation to turn versus populum? The same bishops who are concerned that turning back is a shock for the most part have memories of ad orientem while there was no living memory of facing the congregation. The hesitation is that people will naturally ask about what is going on and why we turned this way to begin with. The answer would not improve the reputation of many of our bishops.

ByzRC said...

I'm not sure what else can be said on this topic other the tone is set at the top. Though Pope Francis and others have modeled ad orientem in the past, it is only done intermittently or, the totally wrong tone has been set by assuming this position only during a penitential season such as Lent. Experiencing this posture several times per week, I struggle to see how such a change would be as traumatic for all involved as some would lead us to believe. When the priest addresses the faithful, he faces the faithful. When the priest addresses our Lord, he turns to face the New Jerusalem. It is so simple and makes such perfect sense.

The Benedictine Arrangement, though a laudable interim step, probably by now has been employed by those inclined to do so or, interested priest(s) are waiting to be transferred to better circumstances where they then can employ.

Joseph Johnson said...

I am a 7th grade PRE teacher at my parish. It has long been my practice to explain to the students that the Crucifix is an external artistic representation (likeness, like a statue or picture) of the Second Person of the Triune God (Jesus) and that we should face the Crucifix as we pray, with the internal focus and intention of directing our prayers to the omnipresent Triune God. We start and end each class session with prayers facing the Crucifix on the classroom wall.

Mark Thomas said...

What a bunch of nonsense and drama in regard to the traditional practice that is ad orientem worship.

No wonder Catholics who wish to connect to God via traditional practices turn to the TLM.

A priest associated with a TLM community adheres to ad orientem posture. There isn't any drama involved...he faces eastward...that is it...he faces eastward.

That is it. He need not jump through hoops in regard to his bishop and congregation to face eastward during Mass.


Mark Thomas

Fr Martin Fox said...


Here's what we've been doing in my parish the past three years.

Building on my admirable predecessor, who cultivated reverent liturgy and more fervent faith in many ways, I began talking about ad orientem about 2-1/2 years ago in homilies, daily and Sunday, and in the bulletin.

Meanwhile, from my first day here, I was doing many of the things Father Pope talks about: turning toward the tabernacle at various points.

After talking about ad orientem awhile, I began doing it at one daily Mass (in the OF; we were already doing the EF 1x a week and 1x a month). After gauging reaction (two or three mild disapprovals; many enthusiastic approvals), I added a second daily Mass offered at the high altar -- i.e., ad orientem. When that didn't cause any problems, I most recently started offering the biggest Mass for holy days ad orientem. I might mention, this was already a "high Mass" -- i.e., we have a team of altar boys who handle incense, use torces during the Eucharistic Prayer, and this Mass has a lot of chanting. So adding ad orientem was seemless. I offered Midnight Mass on Christmas ad orientem this past year, with no objections and much rejoicing. The altar boys really loved it.

So, in 2018, we will continue this, and I am looking at the Triduum.

Occasionally a couple will ask for their wedding to be ad orientem, including a couple being married as I write this (my predecessor came back for that). I expect, at this rate, to add a Sunday Mass before long.

Will we end up with 100% Masses ad orientem? I cannot foresee that. I am not unmindful of those who prefer the priest facing the people, and that would be a needless battle. Thus far, everything is going so well.

Joseph Johnson said...

Regarding the issue of bishops' preferences being the primary hindrance to the restoration of ad orientem, it is my gut feeling that we will not see any significant changes on this front until the current older baby-boom generation of bishops (generally speaking, those born before 1960) is retired and replaced by a younger episcopate.

TJM said...

Father Fox, you are wise in moving your congregation to ad orientem gradually. You must also have a good and holy bishop

Henry said...

A local pastor started introducing ad orientem celebrating gradually this past Advent, without any big fanfare. No big deal, no 10-part series explaining a bunch of history and theology that no one cared about. Just started doing it the first Sunday of Advent. Just some low-key mention the two preceding weeks, nothing to make it sound traumatic or the greatest thing since sliced bread.

His strategy was to select one of the three OF Masses each Sunday at random, not the same one twice in a row, for ad orientem celebration, without comment or prior announcement. Just do it. Not having made it seem earth-shaking, no parish trauma occurred. Generally positive reaction, but no jumping up and down either way. On Jan. 1 (Solemnity of Mother of God) I attended a Mass there that turned out to be ad orientem, the first hint that it would be, being the altar crucifix and Benedictine candles set up on the back rather than the front of the altar. Everyone acted as though it was perfectly normal.

My guess is that (with some exceptions) most bishops are not so focused on liturgy as to care much how their priests celebrate Mass. So long as everything's going smoothly, everyone's happy and attendance and collections are up--as they are at the parish mentioned--if the folks are happy, then the bishop is happy too. Am I right?

TJM said...


Ah, you just described the bishop manager instead of a bishop shepherd!

ByzRC said...

Fr. Fox -

You are to be commended for your efforts. It is a shame, however, that to this end, a mass schedule similar to Protestant traditional/contemporary style worship results. That said, those who find verses populum to be enriching should be tended to the way those attached to tradition were not 50+ years ago as nothing is to be gained/nothing would be more distructive than a 'see how you like it' approach of all or nothing.