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Friday, August 27, 2010



I'd like to see the "Prayers of the Faithful" replaced by something very much like the Great Litany from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. That would do a much better job of making sure no important petitions are omitted while at the same time not adding political enthusiasms to the liturgy (e.g., "That state and federal authorities work to end the death penalty, let us pray to the Lord" and "That all immigrants, documented and undocumented, be welcomed and accepted, let us pray to the Lord").

Ed Peters

Wow. Thx so much. One of Rutler's all-time best. Too many brilliant quotables to get started, so, just, wow.


...a far more important reform would be the return of the ad orientem position of the celebrant as normative.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

If I were Pope for a day, and I could make just one change to the liturgy in the ordinary form, it would be this: mandatory celebration ad orientem, at least during the Canon. From this one change, an entire shift in mindset follows - and in turn, over time, would follow other needed corrections.

Another fine piece from Fr. Rutler.


when I do, on occasion, go to Mass at a Western rite parish, it is versus populum that is most disconcerting. It's hard to describe, but there is a sense of claustrophobia—not a physical sensation, but a constant, jarring pull to focus, focus, focus on the priest, almost to the exclusion of anything else.

That is because it is YOU who has the problem, not the orientation of the priest. If you had any understanding, you would know that the priest and people are all facing the same way, they all face the altar, not each other. God is at the center of worship, and not over there somewhere off in the distance. The priest is an alter Christus, acting in persona Christi, and not merely a representative of the people, as in the manner of ancient Jewish worship.

If your focus is on the person of the priest, rather than on Christ, then it is you who needs to correct his orientation.

Mark Brumley

It seems to me that "versus populum" is important for the Liturgy of the Word and "ad orientem" is valuable for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the former, God's Word is addressed to us; in the latter, we direct our prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit through and with the ministerial priest.

Having an orientation that is truly with the priest, not toward him, and therefore having a symbolic orientation together toward something (Someone) that (who) is not the congregation itself, and nor readily misunderstood as the congregation itself (as when the priest "faces" the altar from one side and the people "face" the altar from the other), tends to reinforce the awareness that we are "turning toward the Lord", not talking to ourselves or to God as if he were ourselves.

(The argument that the priest and the people are both facing the altar rather than facing each other is hard to reconcile with the real experience of most people in most celebrations. The priest is looking at the congregation during most of the prayers and the people are looking at him, not the altar.)

Of course, one can still have the proper awareness when the Liturgy of the Eucharist is celebrated "versus populum"; it's just more difficult and open to a wider range of misunderstandings.

Carl, you mention the sense of things. I know exactly what you mean about the sense of praying together, led by but not replaced by, the priest on the one hand ("ad orientem") and the sense of enclosure and focus on the priest (and congregation on itself) on the other ("versus populum").

BTW, I do notice a subtle difference in "versus populum" celebrations, when, as Joseph Ratzinger recommends in The Spirit of the Liturgy, there is a crucifix on the altar to which a measure of common focus can be directed. In theory, this is the case "versus populum", when priest and people supposedly face the altar, though from different directions. But, as I said above, I think in fact the so-called "common orientation" toward the altar is all but lost in practice.

Having a crucifix as a focus is not as plain as "ad orientem" celebration, but it is somewhat clearer than the usual "versus populum".

You folks who participate in eastern rite liturgies often have a better sense of the above because of a general greater continuity in your liturgical tradition. I don't expect to see a universal switch back to "ad orientem" in the Roman Rite. But I do think we will see more celebrations "ad orientem", including in the vernacular or in largely vernacular celebrations in parishes. It will require a deepening of the awareness of the Liturgy as foremost the worship of God by the community, led by the priest offering the Sacrifice for and with the people, rather than as a celebration of community or a celebration of the community's faith. Otherwise, it will be represent to people as the priest turning his back to them in order for him to do something that doesn't really concern them.

Carl E. Olson

That is because it is YOU who has the problem, not the orientation of the priest.

Ah, of course! Why didn't I think of that?? Oh, I know: because I'm an idiot! And, of course, all those Catholics who prefer ad orientem are not just stupid, but are ungrateful, spiritual sloths. Duh. I'm so embarrassed by my crass idiocy.

If you had any understanding, you would know that the priest and people are all facing the same way, they all face the altar, not each other.

Really?? Wow. To think I spent all that time getting a Masters degree in theology and we never discussed this! I'm demanding my money back. And, of course, I shouldn't pay attention to this sort of nonsense:

The Innsbruck liturgist Josef Andreas Jungmann, one of the architects of the Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, was from the, very beginning resolutely opposed to the polemical catchphrase that previously the priest celebrated 'with his back to the people'; he emphasised that what was at issue was not the priest turning away from the people, but, on the contrary, his facing the same direction as the people. The Liturgy of the Word has the character of proclamation and dialogue, to which address and response can rightly belong. But in the Liturgy of the Eucharist the priest leads the people in prayer and is turned, together with the people, towards the Lord. For this reason, Jungmann argued, the common direction of priest and people is intrinsically fitting and proper to the liturgical action. Louis Bouyer (like Jungmann, one of the Council's leading liturgists) and Klaus Gamber have each in his own way taken up the same question. Despite their great reputations, they were unable to make their voices heard at first, so strong was the tendency to stress the communality of the liturgical celebration and to regard therefore the face-to-face position of priest and people as absolutely necessary.

That from another clueless liturgical dolt, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. What the heck would he know about this stuff? As for this statement, " in the manner of ancient Jewish worship," you might want to read Chapter 2 of Father Lang's book, which debunks this common fallacy.

Carl E. Olson

Well said, Mark, as usual.

It seems to me that "versus populum" is important for the Liturgy of the Word...

I should clarify (as my post doesn't make it evident) that in the Divine Liturgy the priest, of course, faces the people during the Epistle reading and the Gospel reading.

Mark Brumley

Bender, I appreciate the point you're trying to make. I think Carl is very well aware of the fact that the altar lies between the priest and the people in a "versus populum" celebration. Whether in fact both the congregation and the priest are truly "facing" the altar is another matter. In any case, he was expressing his sense of the experience, not his lack of understanding of what is claimed for a "versus popolum" celebration.

Although Carl understands what the claim is, I doubt that most people would understand the priest as "facing" the altar as opposed to standing behind it facing them. I doubt that most people would understand themselves as "facing the altar" as opposed to facing the priest who is standing behind the altar facing them. One can say that they ought to see themselves as, along with the priest, mutually "facing the altar", though from different directions. But I think in fact it requires far more effort for most people to see it that way. In fact, it requires an effort even if you know what is supposed to be understood by the positioning.

To say that God is the center of worship can mean different things. One of those things, if this is an argument for "versus populum", it seems to me, is to substitute a proper emphasis on transcendence in the Eucharistic Liturgy for an excessive emphasis on immanence. Obviously, both transcendence and immanence are important realities in the Eucharistic Liturgy, but there is an order regarding these things. What's more, there is a Trinitarian movement. Both the proper ordering of transcendence and immanence in the Eucharistic liturgy, and the Trniatrian movement, seem better expressed in the "ad orientem" structure.

The priest is an alter Christus, acting in persona Christi, and not merely a representative of the people, as in the manner of ancient Jewish worship.

Of course Carl didn't say nor did his comments imply that the priest is "merely a representative of the people". Nor does "ad orientem". The priest acts in the person of the Church by virtue of his ministerial priestly conformity to Christ the head of the Church. Christ's priestly representation of his people is better reflected in the "ad orientem" posture of the priest because he better represents Christ "facing the Father" and offering the sacrifice of himself to the Father for his people. When he "faces the people" or, faces the altar from the opposite direction as the people, that sacrificial structure and Trinitarian movement are obscured. Not entirely, of course. It's just harder to appreciate them from the priest's orientation.

In "versusm populum" it at least appears as if the priest is assuming the relation of Christ addressing his Church, rather than of Christ addressing the Father and offering himself for his Church and the Church offering herself in union with Christ. Yet the structure of Eucharistic prayer is a prayer addressed by the priest to the Father, offering the sacrifice of Christ. Even the words of institution are quoted and directed to the Father, not primarily as in a renactment of the Last Supper where the priest plays Christ and the congregation his disciples.

If your focus is on the person of the priest, rather than on Christ, then it is you who needs to correct his orientation.

The point is, I think, that "versus populum" lends itself to this kind of misdirection. Which is not to say that it is impossible to overcome, but that it takes more of an effort and that "ad orientem" tends to make clearer the structure of the Eucharistic action.

Ed Peters

I find (most of) the arguments for and against EACH direction interesting, but I have never found any set of arguments for EITHER direction compelling, let alone conclusive.

Mark Brumley

Does that mean, Ed, you find the whole discussion disorienting :)?

Ed Peters

Let's just say, I've lost my sense of direction.

Boris Bruton

This change of orientation occurred as an effort to bring more participation into the liturgy from the lay people. The arguments pro and contra this or that orientation are both persuasive and have a point, I think. The same could be said of the "kiss of peace" -- I don't know what the right term for this moment in the mass is. But have they worked? I don't think so. And the change of music has not been helpful. Unfortunately I live in a diocese that is particularly barren, liturgically at least. Sunday mass is a difficult time for me, a matter of choosing the least off-putting. But that's another matter.

Mark Brumley

The second reading at Mass today (Heb 12:18-19, 22-24A) brought to mind this orientation discussion. Pardon the use of the NAB:

"Brothers and sisters: You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them. No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel."

There are so many levels to consider it’s hard to discuss it in a comment box. There is the sacramental “making present” of the reality above and there is the eschatological “not yet” dimension. The “making present” of heavenly worship has an immanent dimension, but that “making present” is incomplete. It is a “making present” of something that is beyond the congregation—from outside, not from within. “Ad orientem” underscores the incomplete aspect of it and that the worshipping community is directed toward God, not directed toward itself. The reality above comes to be within the community because the community is open to the outside, not closed within itself. "Ad orientem" does a better job of expressing this.

There is the orientation to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. Here, the Son leads his people in the Spirit to the Father. The Son acts through the person of the ministerial priest and through him offers the Eucharistic sacrifice and leads the congregation to the Father, which is why the prayers of the priest are generally directed to the Father, not to the Son. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is a participation in the Son’s gift of himself to the Father, not foremost the Son’s dialogue with his people. Hence the “ad orientem”, which has the people and the priest-Christ together dialoguing with the Father. “Versus populum” tends to convey the notion of a dialogue between Christ and his people, which is not what the Eucharistic liturgy is mainly about.

There is the orientation of the Church as bridegroom toward her presently-unseen eschatological bride who is to come “from the east”. The Eucharist proclaims the Lord’s sacrifice until he comes “from the East”, so offering the sacrifice “ad orientem” underscores the provisional, anticipatory nature of the Eucharistic sacrifice and the people’s orientation toward the fullness of Trinitarian life to come when the Bridegroom comes to receive his Bride and to celebrate his eschatological supper.

One more point: it doesn't seem correct to say that in "versus populum" the people and the priest face the same way--toward the altar. They don't face the same way, even if they face the same thing--the altar. They face the same thing from different directions. There orientations are different.

In "ad orientem" priest and people face the same way and face the same thing--the altar.

Of course we shouldn't make more of this than is necessary. The "versus populum" Mass in which I participated today worshipped God, not the congregation. It is a question of which physical orientation better captures the central elements of Eucharistic worship as the Church has come to understand it. Having put such an emphasis on the communal dimension of worship, it seems that the dimension that stresses that the community should be oriented toward God in worship has been lost sight of in many instances. "Ad orientem", which is the form in which the Church's worship has been offered in the vast majority of her existence, seems an important way of recovering and underscoring a neglected element.

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