Listers, Fr. Mark Kirby offers an excellent reflection on ad orientem.1 On his blog, Vultus Christi, Father Kirby reflects on five years of saying the Holy Mass ad orientem. He states, “after five years of offering Holy Mass ad orientem, I can say that I never want to have to return to the versus populum position.”
Ad Orientem is Latin for to the east and refers to the direction the priest faces during the mass. Catholic churches are traditionally built facing the East, because, as Cardinal Ratzinger taught, this direction reflects the “cosmic sign of the rising sun which symbolizes the universality of God.”2 The priest facing the altar is also referred to as Ad Deum, which is Latin for to God. First, this phrase sidesteps so-called problems that arise if the priest is facing the altar in a Church that has not been built facing the East. Second, it provides a strong contrast to the phrase Versus Populum, which is Latin for facing the people. While the ancient liturgies did speak of the priest turning and “facing the people” during certain parts of the mass, the concept of celebrating the entire mass versus populum is arguably an invention of the 1970’s, an invention that stands in direct contradistinction to the Church’s ancient traditions.
In celebrating five years of switching to ad orientem/ad deum from versus populum, Father Kirby submits “10 Advantages” to celebrating the mass facing the East.
10 Advantages of Ad Orientem
1. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is experienced as having a theocentric direction and focus.
2. The faithful are spared the tiresome clerocentrism that has so overtaken the celebration of Holy Mass in the past forty years.
3. It has once again become evident that the Canon of the Mass (Prex Eucharistica) is addressed to the Father, by the priest, in the name of all.
4. The sacrificial character of the Mass is wonderfully expressed and affirmed.
5. Almost imperceptibly one discovers the rightness of praying silently at certain moments, of reciting certain parts of the Mass softly, and of cantillating others.
6. It affords the priest celebrant the boon of a holy modesty.
7. I find myself more and more identified with Christ, Eternal High Priest and Hostia perpetua, in the liturgy of the heavenly sanctuary, beyond the veil, before the Face of the Father.
8. During the Canon of the Mass I am graced with a profound recollection.
9. The people have become more reverent in their demeanour.
10. The entire celebration of Holy Mass has gained in reverence, attention, and devotion.
In contrast, he also speaks of the disadvantage of occasionally having to celebrate versus populum. He laments, “I suffer from what I can only describe as a lack of sacred pudeur, or modesty in the face of the Holy Mysteries. When obliged to celebrate versus populum, I feel viscerally, as it were, that there is something very wrong — theologically, spiritually, and anthropologically — with offering the Holy Sacrifice turned toward the congregation.”3 Father Kirby is not the only advocate of ad orientem in the Tulsa Diocese. His Excellency Bishop Slattery celebrates mass ad Deum and has been a vocal critic of versus populum. In his own words, he states, “it was a serious rupture with the Church’s ancient tradition. Secondly, it can give the appearance that the priest and the people were engaged in a conversation about God, rather than the worship of God. Thirdly, it places an inordinate importance on the personality of the celebrant by placing him on a kind of liturgical stage.”4
Cardinal Ratzinger on the East: The Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Ad Solem, 2006 p. 64 ↩︎
Father Kirby: The good priest wrote this reflection in 2010 in a blog entitled, Five Years of Ad Orientem, h/t to the Rorate Caeli post Fr. Mark Kirby on Ad Orientem and the TLM for pointing us toward Father Kirby’s reflection. ↩︎
Bishop Slattery: The quote is taken from Oklahoma bishop explains return to ad orientem worship Catholic Culture, August 18, 2009. His Excellency has also penned an article for his diocesan news paper on Ad Orientem - PDF. He also written an article for the National Catholic Register on the liturgy, in which he proclaims “nothing was broken” in the pre-Vatican II liturgy. ↩︎