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There is Nothing Controversial About Ad Orientem Worship


It is integral to human nature: our focus is principally determined by what we are looking at. When we speak to others, we make eye contact. When we move from place to place, we point ourselves in that direction. Pilots face forward. Drivers too. Surgeons don’t stare at the back wall of an operating theater. I’ve yet to meet a cook who can make a meal with their back to the stove. Soldiers don’t march backwards. Writers stare at their screens (or if they’re old-school, their notepads.)

Taken to a deeper level, lovers gaze longingly at their beloved. When someone is in love, distractions disappear. Think of a bride and groom at a wedding. Gathered there are many of the most important people in the lives of the happy couple, and yet where is their attention focused? It is not a question of not loving those gathered to celebrate the wedding vows; it is a matter of prioritizing those who are making them. Their union, their sacrament…transcends. 

In all aspects of human existence, we keep the objects of our adoration, contemplation, love, and most importantly, our worship before us. This is who we are. This is what we do.

So when someone tells you that there’s a problem with ad orientem worship, if they say that facing God when worshiping God Him is a problem, that this practice serves as a distraction, is ahistorical, causes disunity, etc. they’re simply not telling you the truth.

An obvious question makes the situation clear: “Did Mary, Mary Magdalene, and St. John turn their backs on Our Lord on Calvary, as He suffered and died?”

Of course not. And yet every Mass places us at the foot of that self-same cross.

If you’re a bishop and you’re peddling excuses about why you “expect” your priests to offer Mass facing the people, instead of the God they’ve come to worship, you’re giving them stones instead of bread. If you resort to the claim that there’s a preference in the General Instruction for the Roman Missal for turning your back on the God you claim to worship (there isn’t; it’s a pernicious myth based on a mistranslation), you owe it to yourself, the priests who have vowed obedience to you, and the faithful of your diocese to tell the truth – the whole truth.

This entire opposition to ad orientem worship — the way the Church has worshiped since apostolic times, as more and more historical research has shown — is a made up controversy that demeans the True Sacrifice of the Altar. Some say it’s about power. Some about ecumenism. Some say it’s simple ignorance. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is. Bishops, have a moral duty to combat such error, not promote it. Further, bishops do not have the authority to forbid ad orientem worshipeven in their own dioceses.

Whom is it that you worship, your excellencies? If it is The Lord, then why do you turn your backs on Him

I suggest to all of you who would like to see your bishops permit reverent liturgy — liturgy in which the priest leads the faithful in worship of God, facing Him together in the same direction — that you first pray for their enlightenment, and if necessary, for their conversion to the fullness of our Catholic faith and due reverence to the Eucharist. Second, send them some version of the letter we provided asking for ad orientem worship.

If all else fails, I suggest that you immediately cease any financial support of any diocese guilty of aggravated assault against ad orientem worship, the TLM, or orthodoxy in general. I would suggest that you not only put a stop to your direct financial support through things like annual bishops’ appeals, but also any non-earmarked funds to your parish that might be confiscated by the diocese. (If you want to support your pastor, ask him if there’s a way you can do so that is not subject to diocesan confiscation.) It is imperative that you not merely abstain from contributing; you must put an explanatory note in your bishop’s annual appeal envelope (or send it directly to the chancery) giving the exact reason why you didn’t donate, and how much you would be willing to if they would merely nourish the faithful with all that the Church has to offer for the salvation of souls. A friend of mine suggested placing your weekly tithe into an interest-bearing account for a time, and sending a printout of the balance (once it has reached a sufficient size) along with your note.

There are also lots of other worthwhile places to contribute to the work of the Church that won’t fund the pet projects of bishops who despise the Church’s perennial liturgical wisdom.

Some will say that this is precipitous, that we should kill the bishops with kindness, that we should beg and plead for scraps from their tables. This is what people did during the bad old days of the TLM “indult,” and many, if not most, were treated like outcasts for their trouble. Even post-Summorum Pontificum, we have to fight for every inch of ground in most places, simply to worship as the Church always has. We’re not asking for something new and inappropriate; we’re asking for something ancient, venerable, and established. We shouldn’t be reduced to such measures, but we’re left with little choice.

We shouldn’t allow another dollar of ours to fall into the hands of bishops who defraud their flocks of true liturgy, good theology, or authentic Catholicism. Enough is enough. Defund bad bishops. Start today.

24 thoughts on “There is Nothing Controversial About Ad Orientem Worship”

  1. Not facing God is but one of many critical issues in the NO mass.

    Another solution…find a church that only offers the TLM and put your financial support there as well.

  2. Thank you Steve for yet another great article!

    I feel in my ‘spiritual bones’ Ad Orientem aids all of us in authentic worship of the One True God.
    Just a question please. When you say the priests have their back to Christ, is that because of the tabernacle? I only ask because I would say most churches here on Australia do not have a central tabernacle.

    • It’s not about what they have their backs to, it’s about what they are facing. The traditional orientation is toward the East. Not the altar, but the East, the rising sun. Historically Churches were build facing the East for this purpose. Because of geography, this changed to liturgical east, to face the altar. Upon the (high) altar is the crucifix. It is facing this that the offering is made, and it is away from the realities of heaven, so well depicted on the high altar, that is being turned away from. I hadn’t even really thought about the tabernacle in this case. Everything related to ad orientum is symbolic, so facing Jesus literally in the Eucharist isn’t specifically the case.

      Someone please correct me if I’m wrong anyone! (I’m pretty sure this is right though.)

  3. Sorry Steve, message misfired! Thank you. I have heard the reason for placing the tabernacle off to the side was because of this. It would seem even more reason to reorientate both the tabernacle and the priestly direction of worship/sacrifice.

    Also please. How do we counter the argument that the priest ‘persona Christi’ as at Calvary faced the people?
    Thank you.

    • The priest is only in persona Christi for the consecration. There is a whole lotta mass it makes more sense for the priest to be facing Jesus himself.

    • Also, when the priest is in persona Christi, and offering up the Body and Blood of Christ, the facing toward the east (or altar) is offering that sacrifice up to God the Father. The priest doesn’t stand in persona Christi as the sacrifice, but as the High Priest offering that sacrifice to God. The orientation isn’t about facing Jesus specifically, but about facing God in his entirety.

  4. Steve,
    Great post. So what do we say about a hierarchy that purposefully mistranslates the GIRM (as well as the pro multis for decades)? Latin is the language of the Church and was used for centuries to instruct seminarians in the Roman schools, yet we have a hierarchy that willfully mistranslates things. When the mistranslations are pointed out, nothing changes. Instead, we are told that the past 50 years constitutes a new tradition. Who cares what happened for 1900 years before that? What happens when the very leaders of your institution willfully participate in and perpetuate easily demonstrable falsehoods? Next, think of all the conservative Catholics who defend such nonsense. And all of a sudden the traditionalists are the problem? How Orwellian!
    I recently agreed to do some volunteer work with a Catholic institution. Because my work is dealing with children, I have to go through a sexual abuse training. What does that say? Two thirds of the US bishops by Phillip Lawler’s account reassigned sexual abusers, but now I am supposed to pay for that with my time and money? I have no criminal record, yet they punish me for their crimes. Again, something is very rotten here.
    I long ago stopped giving money to the bishops. I give it only to traditional religious orders or institutions.

    • I refuse to partake in the Virtus training. I hope that my standing on principle will be more meaningful to my children when they get older than the fact that I wasn’t there for board game day in kindergarten.

  5. There is a reason why the Tuy apparition occurred to Lucia of Fatima. It verifies what the mass is! Although we focus on the secrets of Fatima from July 2013 with great interest (especially the existence of hell as a real place), I believe the vision she had in 1929 explains for modern times that the mass is the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Of course we should face Him during mass (priest included).

    However, we as a society want all the attention so we must have the “presider” “entertain” us facing us always. Also, there is never silence in the new mass. God forbid there be a moment to silently reflect on what is truly happening there. I think if all Catholics took the vision of Tuy seriously then they would realize how awesome and amazing the mass and Eucharist is.

  6. The Committee on Divine Liturgy letter released on 7/12 (Rorate has a copy up) uses the following language:
    “…concerning the proper orientation of the priest celebrant in relation to the assembly…in respect to the assembly…nor is there a new mandate for the celebrant to face away from the assembly…the General Instruction of the Roman Missal does show a preference for the celebrant’s facing the people…there are rubrics in the Order of mass which reflect the real possibility that the celebrant might be facing away from the assembly…Although permitted, the decision whether or not to preside ad orientem should take into consideration the physical configuration of the altar and sanctuary space, and most especially, the pastoral welfare of the faith community being served…”

    Never once does the letter mention facing GOD. He’s utterly irrelevant. The assembly is all.

  7. As one born after V2, who until the last few years had known only the NO Mass, as well as being more liberal than conservative in my faith, I do not know why having the priest face East is even an issue. If it shows more reverence what is the problem. It is instances like this that really makes me wonder the motivation behind all this. As many have stated, could it really be about the “all about me” attitude? What is the fear behind having the priest face East, and what really annoys me is that those who are against this “change” can speak of tolerance and inclusivity. Yet what seems to be behind this obvious hatred, at something that is done to honor God/Jesus, is peoples personal wills to change anything remotely resembling pre-V2.

  8. The Masonic and Protestant offensive to destroy the Mystical Body of Christ continues. And the nuclear weapon they have used in this offensive has been versus populam.

  9. The pastor at my obscure little parish has been offering the Ordinary Form ad orientem for about 18 months now for every weekday Mass and for more than half the Sunday Masses. He explained he is simply following the Missal rubrics (“…and then the priest turns to the people and says…” etc.) Really, it’s the same Mass and its not all *that* different. (It’s part of his effort to offer the full range of what the Missal has to offer, so he also uses the variety of Penitential Rites, Prefaces, and Eucharistic Prayers.) But changing posture to ad orientem for the Offertory through to the distribution of communion adds a nice new “texture” to the Mass, highlighting the moment of consecration in a very good way. Most people seem to like it, or (at the very worst) are indifferent. So yes, it *CAN* be done in any ordinary run-of-the-mill parish.

  10. Parish by parish, this will only sow discord. While we can rightfully advocate this universally, this puts parish priests in difficult positions that will change frequently with assignments and confuse many laity.

    Ad orientem needs needs to be in a future edition of the Missal at the initiative of the Holy Father, but better yet advocated by a bishop in his diocese to lead by example: another reason I might pray that any reconciliation with the SSPX has their bishops as diocesan ordinaries (if not also at least one or two from FSSP consecrated, as well).

  11. I Myself am not against ad orientem.

    I’ve celebrated it.

    And when I face the people, it’s still ad orientem.

    I can say this because it’s My church.


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