Ad Orientem vs. Versus Populum
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I am creating this thread in order to discuss the relative importance of ad orientem worship in the liturgical "reform of the reform," and what its place is/should be. This thread contains a very nice catechetical tool to use with congregations.

    When discussing the liturgical "problems" of the post-Vatican II American liturgy, me and Catholic friends of mine are often first to decry the move to versus populum worship, before pretty much anything else. Orthodox friends of mine, however, while they do not think versus populum is a good thing, don't think it's such a big deal compared to other things, such as layperson EMCs, modern iconoclasm, loss of reverence, etc. However, my personal opinion is that of any one major change that happened in the wake of Vatican II, versus populum celebration of the Mass best symbolizes the attitude of the reform (the unofficial reform that we're all fighting here) and everything that's wrong with it.

    An Orthodox friend of mine once attended a Catholic Mass where behind the celebrant, where the tabernacle usually stands, the congregation had installed mirrors. Mirrors, so they could see one another during Mass. The turned the Mass from something about God into something about them. Versus populum, making the priest face you so you can see each other and "talk to" each other, makes you forget that you rarely talk to the priest during Mass--just "et cum spiritu tuo" sometimes--but rather you're all talking to God together.

    Because versus populum seems to represent the idea that "the Mass is about us": about our preferences, liturgically and musically, about our community, etc.--that's why I think it's "such a big deal."

    Now, I can understand why the proponents of versus populum support it. I have talked to older ladies who lived through V2, and I listened to what they had to say about it. In their experience as laypeople, the Mass was something the priest did without them. They prayed their rosary or did something else while the priest went about his business; then he gave them communion and they went back to non-participation again. They couldn't hear what he was saying, most of the time, and even if they could hear him, they couldn't understand it, anyway. They were even explicitly told that they were merely bystanders, spectators, and not actually part of the Mass. When the priest turned around to face them, and spoke out loud in English to them, they felt like they were actually part of the Mass all of a sudden. They could participate, they could pray with the priest and with each other, together! However, I think this same effect could have been achieved by merely translating the Canon and other parts of the Mass into vernacular and making them audible, keeping the priest facing east so that the people could "join in" on the prayer while keeping the focus on God--represented by the tabernacle, altar, and liturgical east--instead of turning the priest around in order for them to focus more on the priest's personality as a celebrant.

    V2 original reform thought the same thing, because the rubrics still assume ad orientem.

    Anyway, while I understand how these women feel, they were ill-instructed in the faith is the problem, and versus populum actually swung the pendulum in the opposite direction--instead of correcting the problem of Masses irrelevant to laypeople, it overcorrected into something even worse: Masses meant to entertain the laypeople. At least the silent, incomprehensible Latin Mass evoked a sense of the sacred transcendence of God. Entertainment-oriented Masses don't teach very much about God at all (in their text, perhaps they do; but in their attitude/atmosphere, not so much).

    However, I believe my generation (20-somethings) isn't as entrenched in support of versus populum as people think. A Catholic friend of mine, liturgically minded like we are here, was once talking to a group of praise-and-worship Catholics: the kind who are extremely pious in that they will attend daily Mass and pray often, but misdirected in their piety by playing electric guitars at Mass and passing out communion as EMCs. He was talking about ad orientem and they didn't know what he was talking about; they had never heard of it before. He explained it very simply: ad orientem is when the priest stands on the same side of the altar as everyone else, and leads them in prayer to God by facing the tabernacle/liturgical east. He told them that that was how the early church did it through the ages, and only recently was it changed. The p&w crowd's response? "Awesome! Why don't we do that anymore?!"

    Just wondering how you guys rate this particular liturgical innovation in importance. I personally put it in the top five, at least.
  • Jam, I don't recall whether you've stated you attended colloquium this year or not. For my wife and I, a new ideal for the OF/versus populum was edified through the posture and reverence of my old friend, Fr. Jeff Keyes. In concert with the Benedictine altar arrangement, his absolute locus centered upon the altar crucifix that effected as much symmetry in movement that is more immediately accessed in the EF. That irrefutably presents "alter Christus," particularly during the EP through to Fraction.
    Why cannot so many priests of his/my generation not GET THAT? Unfortunately, I think the answer to that is already embedded. I suppose that if some the gathered apostles at the Last Supper didn't get passed the Lord's "cult of personality" at first blush, it's understandable that many laity and clerics are resistant to "let go" of the familiar and tangible, and that which represents rather than re-creates.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 5,596
    Jam, I think a key difference is that in the east, we treasure liturgy. It's a gift from God that is to be treasured and safeguarded. In the west, however, it's something else that seemingly needs to be tinkered with and improved. There's a real difference in mindset at work. The Latin Church leadership has never understood the concept of anything being perfect, and that any of their efforts to improve it will be inadequate and inferior.

    It is not a matter of facing the altar or facing the people. For example, the whole idea of "tabernacle/liturgical east" is an artificial construct and most easterners would say it is hogwash. Tradition is that the priest and people face actual east, period. There are sound theological reasons for that.

    It also seems to me, that after Vatican II, the focus on the altar as a table rather than an altar of sacrifice has been overemphasized. While the altar was always both a table and an altar of sacrifice, the change in emphasis has created its own theology in practice - not to mention all those horrid "table" songs.

    Tradition is a gift from the Holy Spirit passed through the apostles and the Church Fathers to us. That concept, too, has been largely lost in the west. As Fr. Vasiliy would say, "is outrage!"
  • WGS
    Posts: 143
    I have found it useful to refer to the ad populum celebration of the Mass as "disoriented" and point out that in such an arrangement the Mass is celebrated with the "celebrant and congregation facing in opposite directions".

    It's a matter of focus. - for both the celebrant and for the congregation
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,732
    Brilliant Jam. I often say of all the problems with post-Vatican II liturgics, the worst is "versus populum". Can you imagine translating the Mass into "conversational" English if the priest were facing with the people? Can you imagine a priest facing the altar while the Mass of Glory Sanctus is sung? And doesn't it seem likely that the change in posture for reception of communion would have been harder to force if the priest hadn't changed positions? I really have no problems with lay lectors and such (and don't know why people get so uptight over that), although having more EMHCs than people is just absurd.

    Most of the changes of post-V2 could have, I suspect, been implemented better in any other time. Introduction of the new Missal, option for vernacular, lay leadership, etc. But I frankly can't see any good coming from Mass facing the congregation.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 973
    I think the change to "ad orientem" would be the major step in re-enchanting the Novus Ordo by removing the "conversational" and/or "cheerleading" quality that has overtaken most celebrations of that form of the Latin Rite.

    Another thought occurs to me - turn the cantor/song leader sideways, so the singer is at a 90 degree angle with the altar. S/he can still gesture, if needed, but won't be singing "at" the congregation anymore.

    Neither of these changes involves major architectural reconstruction and neither cuts anyone out of their role. Both would re-orient and re-focus the rite.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 5,596
    Mjballou, I agree. That surely wouldn't hurt a thing and could only be an improvement. I resolved the cantor issue by keeping them in the balcony with me. There, they have no need to gesture.
  • The distinction between addressing God and addressing the People is blurred in the minds of many officiants. Ceremonial articulation of this distinction does much to clarify it.

    Although the Church is, indeed, the Body of Christ, and the Eucharist is the action of the whole Christ, Head and members, this action is directed toward God the Father. In celebrating it the worshippers must look BEYOND themselves, lifting up their hearts to him. Forty years' experience has proved that versus populum celebration discourages both priest and people from doing so.

    After the Restoration in England, at the Savoy Conference, the Puritans demanded that the officiant should face the people throughout the liturgy. In reply the bishops said, "When he speaks to them, as in Lessons, Absolution, and Benedictions, it is convenient that he turn to them. When he speaks for them to God, it is fit that they should all turn another way, as the ancient Church ever did; the reasons of which you may see [in] Augustine, lib. 2, de Ser. Dom. in Monte."

    How rational!
  • P.S. The cantor who sings the psalm IS addressing the congregation. The psalm in the Liturgy of the Word is in origin a lesson. Even when the text is a prayer, in the context of the psalm it is a quoted prayer, not the immediate prayer of the hearers. (If it were a prayer offered by the assembled congregation, the officiant would recite it.)
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,799
    Could you tell me what this is?
    "Augustine, lib. 2, de Ser. Dom. in Monte"

    I'd like to read it. Thanks.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 5,088
    St Augustine, commentary on the Lord's Sermon on the Mount, book 2.
  • Blaise
    Posts: 349
    Jam,

    I go to a church where the church and consequently the priest and people are facing actual east. The only time Father turns to the people is actually at the dialogues, chanted. As far as EMHC, the only time they are used is at school Masses, and only by a vested altar server.

    Now, I understand the need or "need" for them: the distribution of Holy Communion would be too delayed, but it sure does look ridiculous when there are more deacons on the parish bullentin then there are EMHC's at the Mass (at another church I went to), and there are at most four Masses a weekend and only one deacon assisting at Mass.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,799
    Thanks, chonak. I'm reading it.
  • If the tabernacle is located centrally, to the liturgical east of the altar, then the priest is turning his back on Jesus when celebrating 'versus populum'--which is certainly a reasonable understanding of the spurious 'Spirit of V2', as opposed to its actual content!
  • Both ad orientem and versus populum posture can easily be misinterpreted and need solid catechesis. Ad orientem can be misinterepreted as being a posture in which the priest is separated from the congregation and indiferent to it and versus populum can equally be misinterpreted as being about the cult of personality or of the priest talking to the congregation rather than to God. As posture is symbolic expression, the symbols--either way--must be explained, both what is being sympbolized and what is not. We all have preconceptions about what body-language communicates, and with either ad orientem or versus populum, our preconceptions are likely to let us down the wrong path of interpretation. I don't think that one posture is clearer about what it intends to convey than the other.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    "I don't think that one posture is clearer about what it intends to convey than the other."

    But one posture is clearly the tradition of the church for 2,000 years, and the current practice of both Orthodoxy and Eastern-Rite Catholicism... the other posture only came into use in the last fifty years. That alone should give someone pause about it.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    "When a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed." 2 Cor. 3:16
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,799
    Is the Bible qoute above about the direction of the priest or the heart of the man?
  • Jam wrote, "...the other posture only came into use in the last fifty years."
    Clearly not so. I certainly believe that versus populum posture was less prevalent in the early church than was commonly believed in the 1960's, but both in Italy and North Africa, versus populum was clearly practiced in the early church, and at least in the Lateran and Vatican basilicas, through the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,799
    I was thinking about the Bible quote again.
    Since the external gesture is important as well as internal (as many explained in the posts above in different ways), and the priest is the leader, it makes sense to me that he shows the example of turning toward our Lord when we pray during Mass. As someonme says, if you are talking to someone it's natural to face him and talk.
    But since we cannot change that right now, at least in our parish, the best thing is looking at the crucifix as our Pope told us.

    In our parish, inspite of all the architectual deficiancies, we have a big crucifix above the altar. I tried to focus on the crucifix during Mass, instead of staring at the priest (I used to), especially during Gospel reading, and Eucharist. It makes a whole lot difference, and see the connection from crucifix to the Word and the Host. (unfortunately the priest cannot see it though. During readings our pastor looks toward ambo or close his eyes. Some parishioner sadly complained about that. He says that the pastor should open his eyes and look at us. It's very sad that some people act like spoiled kids, when they get something what they want, they want more.)

    Our former associate priest one time told us after the Mass that before the consecration, he saw this reflection of the crucifix on the paten and the host on top of it by the sunlight through the window behind the crucifix. He was so happy to see that beautiful sign.
    One can say that it was just a simple scientific reflection, but some can think of it beyond as a simple science.
    I love in Ef mass when the priest and congregation praying together in the same direction, but when I can not have that, I have to find a way or an object to fix my heart toward our Lord. (I'm not as strong as others and get distracted easily.)
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    Clearly not so. I certainly believe that versus populum posture was less prevalent in the early church than was commonly believed in the 1960's, but both in Italy and North Africa, versus populum was clearly practiced in the early church, and at least in the Lateran and Vatican basilicas, through the Middle Ages and Renaissance.


    I would like for you to provide sources for this: not because I doubt you, but because I want to know more about it.

    I have read somewhere, though, that at St. Peter's basilica, the priest would celebrate facing East, as he should, but the church was built backwards, so that facing East meant facing the people. However, the people weren't in the nave but were lined up in the aisles, and faced east with the priest at certain points of the liturgy. So, while the priest might have been facing the people, the people were facing in the same direction as he was!

    The way Catholics do it now is not any ancient practice I've ever heard of.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 5,596
    According to Monsignor Klaus Gamber, in "The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background," the center nave was used for processions and the liturgy "Was celebrated from behind the altar in order to face east when offering the sacrifice. But this did not imply "versus populum' since the faithful were facing east in prayer as well."
    He goes on to say that, "During Mass, the faithful men separated from women, were assembled in the two side naves, with curtains normally hanging between the columns."

    He also mentions Tertullian, as early as 197 speaking about the Christians, "Praying in the direction of the rising sun." He also states that "Martin Luther was the fist person to demand that the priest at the altar face the people." He mentions that Luther did not himself follow his own advice. Gamber states that, "The practice of celebrating Mass facing the people came to us as part of the 'Jugendbewegung,' during the 1920s, when it was popular to celebrate the Eucharist in small groups. The liturgical movement, with Pius Parsch leading the charge, also promoted this practice." (Gamber, pp. 79-82). He states several times that priest facing the people during mass was never done in the east, which is still true today.
  • For the past couple of weekends I have had the joy of singing and playing at Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, a parish of the Anglican Use. This is perhaps a more "traditional" AU parish than some others (e.g. St. Mary the Virgin in Arlington, TX); they use Rite One (thees and thous) exclusively, their altar is built into the far wall of the sanctuary, and they have (and use) a communion rail. Naturally, the altar's being built into the wall necessitates ad orientem celebration.

    What is different here from the pre-V2 status quo, however, is the use of amplification. Even when the priest faces with the assembly, his voice is clearly audible--partly, of course, because Walsingham is a resonant space.

    I think many people will think what they want to think about the direction the priest faces; for myself, I don't feel "disconnected" when the priest faces "away from me"; I can still hear his voice, and the nature of the texts is communal, inviting my own identity with them as they are recited, even on my behalf.

    I personally think the Anglican Use is a "light under a bushel". If it were better-known, I think rank-and-file Catholics would "convert" en masse.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 5,596
    Felipe I am in complete agreement with you. However, Anglican Use is not available here, which is unfortunate.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I HATE microphones with a sincere passion. At my Antiochian parish, the space is built so beautifully you can hear a whisper in the sanctuary clearly in the back. In fact, they had to build Western-style confessionals because confession before the icons is impossible to do privately in that space!
    And even if your architecture is working against you, it's not that hard to project one's voice to be heard clearly, even in a large space. There was a priest at a my college's Catholic church who had a special microphone setting (off) because his voice was so boomingly loud. But I guess they don't teach that in seminary either.