Thoughts on ad orientem
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    A few threads and/or posts recently have re-sparked my "vigor" about this subject. I've suppressed it in my own mind for awhile now, for "pastoral reasons." Now that I'm all riled up again, there are two things I'd like to say ... then I'll shut up. This is just to let off some steam ...

    We need to re-frame the debate. Those "against" ad orientem worship have given us the options of:
    -The priest facing the people
    -The priest facing away from the people

    This is a terrible misunderstanding! (as we all know). We should all patiently and pastorally do our part to re-define the two options as:
    -The priest leading the people toward the Lord
    -The community celebrating in a closed circle
    (Spirit of the Liturgy, and all that jazz...)

    2. frogman noel jones recently posted a thread about choir concerts, and performing with backs to the tabernacle. What should our liturgical understanding be of priests celebrating the mass with their backs to the tabernacle?

    I ask this only rhetorically, with all respect due to our priests, men of the Lord, and their many years of seminary studies ... but if we are to question how CHOIRS are oriented to/from the tabernacle, what about the MASS itself? Should the "celebrant" be oriented with his back toward the tabernacle? Eek...
    Thanked by 1Chris Allen
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,269
    The limitation on this approach is that, during the liturgy (very much unlike in a concert), the focus is on the united sign of the Real Action/Real Presence in the Eucharistic sacrifice. This is why, after Vatican II, the Missal was revised to provide that the tabernacle not be located on the altar of sacrifice.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    What does that real "action" or "presence" have to do with the congregation?

    What is the spiritual significance of the priest's orientation toward the people, rather than the tabernacle?

    Should we face eachother, or the Lord?
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640

    I suppose that my above post is asking you to address point #1.

    I am not familiar with any conciliar documents that require the tabernacle be moved (I politely ask that you cite where the Vatican made it the norm that the tabernacle not reside on the altar).

    Also, perhaps more importantly (to this issue), can you cite the requirement that the priest pray toward the people, rather than toward the high altar ... the tabernacle ... the crucifix, in a manner of leading the congregation toward "liturgical east."

    Is there anything that the Vatican has said (mandated) which requires the "closed circle" liturgy, or the relocation of the tabernacle? Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger may have been heretical in his publication Spirit of the Liturgy if these things have been required. He made a very strong case for the opposite.

    You are far more knowledgable about these things than I, so please do cite sources if they exist. I'd like to know why:

    -The priest can turn his back to the tabernacle
    -The tabernacle should not be the center, focal point, upon the altar
    -The priest should face the people, rather than the Lord

    I'm asking out of genuine curiosity, so please do not read this response in a harsh or confrontational tone. I am (too often) naive and under-educated about these matters, so if you have answers to the questions above, I would be very grateful to read them.
  • E_A_FulhorstE_A_Fulhorst
    Posts: 381
    I am (too often) naive and under-educated about these matters, so if you have answers to the questions above, I would be very grateful to read them.

    As am I.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,269
    When we all face the the altar - we face the Lord. That's also true if we surround the altar.

    In response to your question, here is the relevant passage from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:

    299. The altar should be built separate from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. Moreover, the altar should occupy a place where it is truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns*. The altar should usually be fixed and dedicated.

    315. It is more appropriate as a sign that on an altar on which Mass is celebrated there not be a tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved **
    Consequently, it is preferable that the tabernacle be located, according to the judgment of the Diocesan Bishop:
    a) either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration, in a appropriate form and place, not excluding its being positioned on an old altar no longer used for celebration (cf. no. 303);
    b) or even in some chapel suitable for the private adoration and prayer of the faithful and organically connected to the church and readily noticeable by the Christian faithful.

    * Citing the following passage from Inter Oecumenici (1964): “The main altar should preferably be freestanding, to permit walking around it and celebration facing the people. Its location in the place of worship should be truly central so that the attention of the whole congregation naturally focuses there.”

    ** Citing the following important passage from Eucharisticum mysterium (1967), which draws on Pope Paul VI's preceding encyclical on the presences of Christ, among other things: “In the celebration of Mass the principal modes of worship by which Christ is present to His Church are gradually revealed. First of all, Christ is seen to be present among the faithful gathered in His name; then in his Word, as the Scriptures are read and explained; in the person of the minister; finally and in a unique way (modo singular) under the species of the Eucharist. Consequently, because of the sign, it is more in keeping with the nature of the celebration that the Eucharistic presence of Christ, which is the fruit of the consecration and should be seen as such, should not be on the altar from the very beginning of Mass through the reservation of the sacred species in the tabernacle.”
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    Thanks, Liam. Very interesting.
  • MarkThompson
    Posts: 768
    The problem with a tabernacle-centric view of what ad orientem is all about is that the tabernacle has not only never been the center of worship at Mass, it has never even been an element of worship. Indeed, the very idea of a centrally-located, pigeonhole-type tabernacle is actually a comparatively late, most baroque, innovation; it is a convenience for the priest, who does not have to walk away to retrieve or repose the ciborium. But the Mass lacks absolutely nothing when it is celebrated in the absence of a tabernacle (e.g., in a side chapel, crypt chapel, school chapel, hospital chapel, the high altar of St. Peter's, or any other place where the Sacrament is not habitually reserved), even if to hear the way some people talk about it you'd think the tabernacle was the linchpin element. If that were the case, I'm sure we wouldn't allow the tabernacle to spend most of the Mass serving as a mere prop for the altar card!

    Incidentally, it was never required for tabernacles to be front-and-center in churches, although the law before Vatican II recommended it for parishes and recommended against it for cathedral.
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
    I heartily concur with Mark's assessment.

    Although having one's back to the tabernacle is part of it, the main point that I see in the discussion is being talked to vs prayed with/for. When facing the people, there is a strong tenancy to begin a dialog, and in ad orientem, it is more clear that we are being lead in prayer.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen francis
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    Point # 1
  • Ted
    Posts: 186
    The main problem as I see it when priest faces the people is that he naturally becomes a performer, an actor in front of a TV camera or live audience. He becomes the centre stage because he becomes that amiable MC of the Price is Right. When the priest faces the east, not only is he facing the abode of the Lord, but all those Saints enjoying the beatific vision there. Of course the east is a symbol, but it is a powerful one. When people on earth gather around an altar, they have formed a closed group, directing away all those who have passed before us in Faith. Clearly the latter is a product of the 60's, where everybody got together to have a jam session on the campus lawns, or warm campfire singalongs, while the traditional stance focuses totally upon the heavenly, that place which Christians aim for and which the Mass used to direct us visually and symbolically.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,000
    As an eastern Catholic, I think the whole unraveling of the fabric began with the construct of "liturgical east." East is east, the direction from which Christ is supposed to return. People and priest should face east, as they do in the eastern churches, and did originally in the west.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • E_A_FulhorstE_A_Fulhorst
    Posts: 381
    Still, regarding the placement of the tabernacle, a balance must be struck. "Out of sight, out of mind."

    A parish church is not merely a place to celebrate Mass. it is also a place for prayer. Therefore, isn't it appropriate that the tabernacle be located in a prominent position? Note the qualifier in the "less pious" option:

    "b) or even in some chapel suitable for the private adoration and prayer of the faithful and organically connected to the church and readily noticeable by the Christian faithful."

    As I'm sure has been noted to death, in neither option were either of the following mentioned:

    1. The requirement that Mass only be said fully facing a different direction than those assembled;
    2. That it's inappropriate for the tabernacle to have a central position, for it only mentions that the tabernacle should not be on the altar and that the altar should be central.

    Reading it with a hermeneutic of continuity seems to suggest a parish church organized something like the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento:

  • E_A_FulhorstE_A_Fulhorst
    Posts: 381
    ... and remember, the original question was something closer to this:

    If we're so careful regarding the Blessed Sacrament and tabernacle in the event of a choir concert in a parish church, why would we be relatively lax in the context of Mass?
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,269
    The image of the unfolding circle is also an image of heaven (consult, just for example, Dante), and the Eucharistic sacrifice is a foretaste of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in the new creation, et cet. So, it too has eschatological significance, and thus the closed-circle-as-negative argument also has its limits.

    Mind you, I don't have much of a dog in this fight; I find the typical arguments over orientation tend to be more shibboleth than substantial in quality. I am just illustrating that there are no magical silver bullets to seal the deal when arguing this stuff.
  • mwa
    Posts: 22
    re GIRM 299, N.B.: there is an argument made by some, including Fr. Zuhlsdorf (formerly of the PCED) that there is a fault in the English translation, and the clause "which is desirable wherever possible. " relates to the position of the altar, and not the celebration of the Mass facing the people. "Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit." The relative pronoun "quod" is neuter, which would not refer to the feminine noun celebratio, but rather to the neuter noun altare. This is further supported by the fact that the rubrics of the Ordinary Form missal have always used the celebrant's facing ad orientem as the default, as can be seen by their inclusion of instructions for times when he is to turn and face the people.

  • Liam
    Posts: 4,269

    I am aware of that quibbling. However, the translation is the more recent one according the dictates of Liturgicam Authenticam, for what that's worth. More importantly, there is a larger and longer context for the development, as previously noted above, and even if the translation were rendered as Fr Z et al. prefer, that would not negate that context. It's not a silver bullet, either.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640

    What about the last line of mwa's comment, re: OF rubrics and the priest turning around to face the people?

    Doesn't that give a heavy lean toward the Fr. Z school of thought/translation?
  • hartleymartin
    Posts: 1,447
    It is desirable that the altar and the tabernacle be separated in order that one can walk the whole way around it (incensing the altar). The Eastern Churches all celebrate mass ad orientam, and usually with an iconoclast obscuring the view of the congregation... I don't know of any Eastern Catholics who object to this.

    And the GIRM did not call for mass to be said versus populum. Nor did Sacrosanctum Concilium or any other VII documents that I have read thus far.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,530
    I know that was a typo for 'iconostasis', hartleymartin, but it was apt. We in the Latin Church have our own iconoclasts obscuring things! :-)
  • Moi?
  • ClemensRomanusClemensRomanus
    Posts: 1,008
    mwa, the CDWDS actually responded in Prot. No. 2036/00/L that "the word expedit does not constitute a strict obligation but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum (detached from the wall). It does not require, for example, that existing altars be pulled away from the wall. The phrase ubi possibile sit (where it is possible) refers to, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc."
    Thanked by 1E_A_Fulhorst
  • E_A_FulhorstE_A_Fulhorst
    Posts: 381
    Doesn't this validate NWA's "quibbling"?
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,269
    It's still quibbling, and not a silver bullet. Because it was a year 2000 dubium about excluding versus apsidem; I don't think anyone here is arguing that versus apsidem is excluded (at least I am not). My point is that surrounding the altar can be seen as gathering with a common focus on the Lord, and that such an orientation likewise has eschatological iconography to it, et cet.
  • rich_enough
    Posts: 837
    But Liam . . .

    GIRM #299 is used as a silver bullet by those who wish to exclude ad orientem altogether. So it seems important to understand it correctly. (not to quibble or anything . . . )

    And given that the mass has been celebrated for a very long time ad orientem, "turning the altar around" was much more of an ideological than a theological statement (and turning them back is seen in much the same light by those who oppose it, unfortunately). The attempts to justify it on a theological basis largely after the fact strike me as a bit tendentious, to say the least.
    Thanked by 1ryand
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114

    Those who are using GIRM no. 299 in that manner should read Prot. No. 2036/00/L. Let's not forget that in the same way the church always gives us the correct interpretation of scripture for us, Rome also is the official interpreter of the rubrics of the Liturgy.
    Thanked by 1ryand
  • The difference between Mass vs. concert re: facing of the priest/choir is important in this discussion. In a concert, the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle and must be accorded every due respect, especially since the focus of the event is the choir, not Body and Blood.

    The focus of the Mass is the Body and Blood, but more specifically the sacrifice on the altar. This is why Eucharistic adoration must be suspended when the Mass is being celebrated. This is why the priest can "get away with" turning his back on the tabernacle. Furthermore, the Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered to God the Father (note that every single Eucharistic Prayer, with the exception of on Corpus Christi, is addressed to the Father).

    All that said, I am still in favor of ad orientem worship since it makes clear the relationship between priest and laity, and the complete theology of their roles at Mass. It also takes away from the distracting "conversational" tone that can take place at Mass. The orientation, however, is not related at all to the placement of the tabernacle.
    Thanked by 2ryand MarkThompson
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,530
    If you can't offer reasons against an argument, just call it "quibbling". This allows you to overlook its content and to dismiss it with the suggestion that it's motivated by negative emotions.
  • benedictgal
    Posts: 798
    Brace yourselves. This is a long piece that I wrote in my own blog about the topic at hand:

    The subject of Ad Orientem seems to hit the blogosphere and different liturgical forums every January, especially when the Holy Father employs this posture when celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Sistine Chapel. This time around, there's a twist. Evidently, a forum member from a Catholic website expressed concern that a priest at a parish he visited used this particular posture.

    "My family and I went to a different parish this weekend...When we walked in, I noticed that the Altar was set up 'backward'. The priest 'said' Mass with his back to us. When I say that the priest 'said Mass', I mean he literally said it. No emotion. No inflection. Very matter of fact. He walked in from the Sacristy and walked out through the Sacristy. He used no Altar servers. No extraordinary Eucharistic ministers (Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion). He did not even offer the Cup to us. The whole thing felt not like a prayer or a celebration, but more like a performance. And not only a performance, but a performance from which we were all deliberately and explicity excluded. It was quite jarring and cold...

    ...(W)hy such a drastic (and may I say rigid) change? ...Are such changes authorized?"
    Having read the post, I shuddered. Subsequent replies appeared to me to not have an understanding of the actual rubric and the role of the bishop in all of this. Here is an example:

    "Of course a bishop may direct the priest how to celebrate the Liturgy since the Liturgy in the diocese is under the authority of the bishop."

    Still others wondered why this posture even exists in this day and age, as they seem to think that it is a "throwback" to preconciliar days. "Vatican II changed all of that" appears to be the consensus among these folks. However, a reading of the documents, namely the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the actual rubrics do not indicate this to be so.

    Unfortunately, for better or for worse, the Second Vatican Council is blamed/credited for a lot of what has transpired insofar as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is concerned. Did Vatican II really say that we could no longer kneel in order to receive Holy Communion? Did the Council Fathers mean for the Mass to be stripped of Latin? Is it a liturgical abuse for a priest to "turn his back" on the people? The answer to these questions is a resounding "NO".

    Over a year ago, I wrote on the subject, quoting both Pope Benedict XVI and Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, OP, author of the excellent book Turning Towards the Lord. Both the Holy Father (who, incidentally, wrote the foreword to Fr. Lang's book) and Fr. Lang point out that Ad Orientem is completely legitimate. Furthermore, the rubrics assume that this would be the posture taken by the celebrant, especially during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. If versus populum (facing the people) were the set mode, then why would there be specific references in the rubrics indicating when the celebrant is to face the people?

    Even the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments weighed in on the matter. In 2002, the CDWDS wrote that:

    "Prot. No 2036/00/L

    The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in no. 299 of the Instituto Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which, during the Eucharistic liturgy, the position of the priest versus absidem [facing towards the apse] is to be excluded.

    The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:

    Negative, and in accordance with the following explanation.

    The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account.

    It is in the first place to be borne in mind that the word expedit does not constitute an obligation, but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum [detached from the wall] and to the celebration versus populum [toward the people]. The clause ubi possibile sit [where it is possible] refers to different elements, as, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc. It reaffirms that the position toward the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier (Cf. the editorial in Notitiae 29 [1993] 245-249), without excluding, however, the other possibility.

    However, whatever may be the position of the celebrating priest, it is clear that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered to the one and triune God, and that the principal, eternal, and high priest is Jesus Christ, who acts through the ministry of the priest who visibly presides as His instrument. The liturgical assembly participates in the celebration in virtue of the common priesthood of the faithful which requires the ministry of the ordained priest to be exercised in the Eucharistic Synaxis. The physical position, especially with respect to the communication among the various members of the assembly, must be distinguished from the interior spiritual orientation of all. It would be a grave error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is [toward] the community. If the priest celebrates versus populum, which is a legitimate and often advisable, his spiritual attitude ought always to be versus Deum per Jesus Christum [toward God through Jesus Christ], as representative of the entire Church. The Church as well, which takes concrete form in the assembly which participates, is entirely turned versus Deum [towards God] as its first spiritual movement.

    It appears that the ancient tradition, though not without exception, was that the celebrant and the praying community were turned versus orientem [toward the East], the direction from which the Light which is Christ comes. It is not unusual for ancient churches to be "oriented" so that the priest and the people were turned versus orientem during public prayer.

    It may be that when there were problems of space, or of some other kind, the apse represented the East symbolically. Today the expression versus orientem often means versus apsidem, and in speaking of versus populum it is not the west but rather the community present that is meant.

    In the ancient architecture of churches, the place of the Bishop or the celebrating priest was in the center of the apse where, seated and turned toward the community, the proclamation of the readings was listened to. Now this presidential place was not ascribed to the human person of the bishop or the priest, nor to his intellectual gifts and not even to his personal holiness, but to his role as an instrument of the invisible Pontiff, who is the Lord Jesus.

    When it is a question of ancient churches, or of great artistic value, it is appropriate, moreover, to keep in mind civil legislation regarding changes or renovations. Adding another altar may not always be a worthy solution.

    There is no need to give excessive importance to elements that have changed throughout the centuries. What always remains is the event celebrated in the liturgy: this is manifested through rites, signs, symbols and words that express various aspects of the mystery without, however, exhausting it, because it transcends them. Taking a rigid position and absolutizing it could become a rejection of some aspect of the truth which merits respect and acceptance."

    Thus, as we can see, there is no liturgical abuse if the priest chooses to celebrate Mass Ad Orientem. When the question was brought up at a liturgical conference concerning whether or not a bishop could put a stop to Ad Orientem, the response was in the negative.

    Thanked by 1Mark M.
  • benedictgal
    Posts: 798
    Here is the rest of what I wrote:

    The basis for the response was the aforementioned document of the CDWDS. Thus, the celebrant is in his right to use this very legitimate option.

    Now, regarding the matter of the Holy Father celebrating Mass versus populum at St. Peter's and in other locations, a point that was raised by a member of a liturgical forum, the pope places the focus of the liturgy not on himself, but on Christ, and, hence, he chooses to use an altar crucifix. As Pope Benedict XVI, in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, wrote:

    "Facing toward the East, as we heard, was linked with the 'sign of the Son of Man', with the Cross, which announces Our Lord's Second Coming. That is why, very early on, the East was linked with the sign of the cross. Where a direct common turning toward the East is not possible, the cross can serve as the interior 'East' of faith. It should stand in the middle of the altar and be the common point of focus for both priest and praying community."

    This explains why, whenever he celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at St. Peter's or at any other church or venue (field, stadium, or square), there is a crucifix (most of the time, a large one) in the middle of the altar. It should be noted that St. Peter's layout actually faces East. Furthermore, the way the Altar of the Confession (the altar reserved for the Holy Father) is situated, it is virtually in the round, so, at some point, the Holy Father would, if we subscribed to the forum poster's original statement, be "giving his back" to the faithful located in the area behind him.

    Regarding the original statement about the Mass being more of a "performance" than a celebration, these remarks stand in stark contrast to those made by now-Cardinal Ranjith when he was the Secretary to the CDWDS:

    "Facing the people increases chances of dis-attention and distraction from what we do at the altar, and the temptation for showmanship. In a beautiful article written by a German author, the following comments were made on the subject:

    While in the past, the priest functioned as the anonymous go-between, the first among the faithful, facing God and not the people, representative of all and together with them offering the sacrifice … today he is a distinct person, with personal characteristics, his personal life style, his face turned towards the people. For many priests this change is a temptation they cannot handle … to them, the level of success in their performance is a measure of their personal power and thus the indicator of their feeling of personal security and self assurance.
    (K.G. Rey, Pubertaetserscheinungen in der Katholischen Kirche [Signs of Puberty in the Catholic Church] Kritische Texte, Benzinger, Vol 4, p. 25)."

    The priest here, as we can see, becomes the main actor playing out a drama with other actors on a platform- like place, and the more creative and dramatic they become, the more they feel a sense of ego satisfaction. But, where can Christ be in all of this?

    As I have written on a few occasions, I have had the privilege of assisting at Masses where the priest has celebrated Ad Orientem. When he celebrates in this manner, the celebrant is no longer the focus of the Mass; Christ is. As St. John the Baptist said, "He must increase, while I must decrease."

    When the priest celebrates ad orientem, he is leading us towards the Lord, in the same manner that Moses led Ancient Israel towards the face of God.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Mark M.