Let’s Talk Ad Orientem

I’m trying to figure out what the liberals know that we don’t, because the hysteria has been turned up a notch or two in the past couple of months. First the word “schismatic” has been batted around like a beach ball, and now they’re trying to whip people into a frenzy about bishops and priests going “ad orientem” for their Masses, which is very literally much ado about nothing (other than liturgical accuracy). 

I’ve had more than one church my area (the very liberal San Francisco Bay Area) go “ad orientem” and guess what? The churches are still standing, pews are still full, and nobody has died because the priests have chosen to face God when talking to him!  Nobody has left the church a blubbering mess, not even the occasional visitor. No nervous breakdowns have occurred. Now, maybe some of this happened to people who don’t even attend these churches, but honestly, what is the big stinking deal?

Personally, I think the Pew Research poll on the Real Presence backfired on them. People are starting to acknowledge that there is a real problem of belief, but we’re not supposed to know about it. It’s been the proverbial game of “hide the football.” They didn’t want anyone to notice that reality. We’re just supposed to look at all of the happy-clappy people in the pews who show up when they feel like it and call it good. Their fruit has been outed and it’s rotten to the core. They’ve managed to make a good percentage of the people in the pews protestant in belief, and the people who do believe but hadn’t a clue are starting to take notice. 

The lack of belief in the Real Presence is why priests and bishops are starting to take a look at what we can do to bring that belief back. Naturally, acting as God exists is a big start. That’s the point of things like “ad orientem,” kneeling to receive Our Lord, chant, silence, etc., etc., etc.

They’ve had plenty of great little visual aid cartoons lately on “ad orientem,” but the cries of “The priest is turning his back on us! Woe to us!” seem to work a little better.

Dear laity, they’re trying to con you. They think you have no brain and you can’t think this through, which just makes it extra annoying to me. Seriously. They all think you are so childish you can’t put two and two together. So, let me try explaining just one more time to someone who might be swayed by the old “Those mean old priests just want to turn their backs on us!” argument. Maybe you know someone swayed by this. If so, pass this along. Maybe my very dumbed down mind will work for them. It just doesn’t seem that hard.

Let’s say that you’re at dinner with your friends and Jack is on your left and Jill is on your right. When you address Jill do you look at Jack? That would be kind of weird, no?  (All while looking at Jack) “Hey Jill, what color lipstick is that? It looks great on you!”  Of course, you wouldn’t.

Now let’s say you had a present for Jill, and Jack and Jill are sitting with you. Would you hand that present to Jack and say “Here, Jill”?  Again, all things being equal, you would not. Now let’s apply this to the “ad orientem” posture for the Mass.

First of all, if you’ve never been to an “ad orientem” Mass, the priest is not facing away from you the entire Mass. I realize that this is an allusion that the liberals are trying to put forth because the truth hurts – them.  Just like when you’re having dinner with Jack and Jill, you look at Jill when you’re talking to her, and you look at Jack when you’re talking to him. There’s a natural back and forth, and so it is with an “ad orientem” Mass.  The priest switches back and forth looking at the person he is addressing at the time. Sometimes he is addressing us and sometimes he is addressing God. When he’s talking to us, he’s facing us. When he’s talking to God, he’s facing God. Does this sound like some horribly nefarious plot to exclude you from anything?  Geez.

Now where does my gift example come in? The Eucharist is sacrifice to God. Very good read from a very good Jesuit (See? I like some of them. May he rest in peace).  http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/link/e-litur.html Again, when I give a present to Jill, I don’t hand it to Jack and say, “This is for you, Jill!” Does that offend you for some strange reason? Same deal. It’s all about God at that point, not us. The priest faces the Tabernacle (you know, that place where Christ is physically) and the crucifix(which the smart people call Liturgical East), both of which should be front and center in a church (yeah, a whole other debate). He’s not offering a sacrifice to us, because, well, that would be wrong. Can we agree on that? Who is the priest addressing when he says:

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for through your goodness we have received
the wine we offer you:
fruit of the vine and work of human hands,
it will become our spiritual drink.

Is this addressed to the laity? Nope.

So, as you can see, “ad orientem” is just logical positioning between a priest and who he’s addressing or offering something to at a particular time in the Mass. And the big flippin’ deal is? Joke’s on you. There is none.

Just so you know, I attend the Ordinary Form almost every Mass. When I’m not there I’m at the Extraordinary Form. So, basically, 50ish Sundays out of the year, the Mass I’m attending is “ad orientem.” I’ve not spontaneously combusted yet, nor have I felt slighted by it.  In fact, I asked for it for many years. Why? Because I heard about it, looked into it, and after reading my little old missalette, it made perfect sense. Seriously, just look at the missal for the Ordinary Form. It’s not all addressed to me or you. I’ll make it easy for you, in case your parish has somehow crazily re-worded large parts of the Mass with gender neutral crud, etc., and doesn’t want you to see what’s approved: http://ibreviary.com/m/messale.php?s=ordinario&id=22

I’m not going to post links to all of the lame articles on why “ad orientem” is so offensive because, well, they’re really stupid and a big old lie. I will post the explanation from Bishop James Wall, Diocese of Gallup, since he’s the latest one who’s taking flack:


Please note, he’s not suggesting the Mass be in Latin or be “the old Mass.” This is what keeps the liberals up at night. Oh, the horror! Don’t fall for the scare tactics. Again, a whole other topic. I’m reasonably sure that most good-hearted people can do a little research and find that “ad orientem” isn’t the boogieman under your bed waiting to take all you love away from you. It’s probably going to make sense. The only thought the priests and bishops going “ad orientem” have is to make the Real Presence real again!




30 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Ad Orientem

  1. If Fairfield Ct. A traditional priest took.over a dying oarish. Six masses and a dwindling number of parishoners & financing there.. …. Psstor cancelled two Novis ordo masses in the eve.there. on Sat and Sun. On both days. He Replaced them with Tridentine latin masses. ..This Increased dramatically. The new parishoners snd finances. …….. Cino. Bpt.
    Diocese Caggiano alleged bishop there tried to.oust the proest from this dying parish and. His diovese.


  2. My brother is a Bay Area liberal who I thought was going to have a stroke as the veins in his neck bulged as he was talking about all the young and not so young priests he recently saw in Rome wearing cassocks. I seriously thought he was joking, he was getting so upset. His take was they were trying to return to pre vat 2. I don’t know how he’d handle this topic. But being the little sister I was sure to include the words cassock, biretta and images of priests in above as often as I could in all correspondence. Perhaps I’ll suggest we visit one of theses parishes for Mass next time I visit 🤨

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Star of the Sea in SF, St. Joseph the Worker in Berkeley, and St. Margaret Mary’s in Oakland, Our Lady of Grapes in Napa, are the ones I know about. My guess is that there are more I don’t.


  3. I’m not a fan of ad orientem, and I shall explain. Using liturgical east or the tabernacle as the reference point distracts from what is happening on the altar. You notice in every liturgy, the priests and deacons reverence the altar, right? As well the altar boys, they are not bowing to the priests, they bow to the altar. So it’s on the altar that the sacrifice is offered. and
    I also want to point out that the sacrifice is offered to the Father. It’s the eternal paschal sacrifice of Jesus, priest, victim, and altar. While those prayers are offered to the Father, they have a powerful meaning that it does well for us the congregation to hear and digest. In the Eucharistic prayer we hear the truths of our faith. From the aspect of father having his back turned, they have a tendency to mumble and speed through, in Latin or vernacular.
    Lastly, the mass is not a spectator sport. And I don’t mean in the liberal way. We, as baptized Catholics, are also anointed priest, prophet, and king. While the Priest offers the sacrifice, in persona Cristi, we as little p priests unite our sacrifice of faith with the paschal mystery. It’s in the Eucharistic prayer. To be able to offer and participate in that supernatural way, a focus on the altar is extremely beneficial. that was the whole purpose of the original liturgical document Sacrosanctum Concilium, to increase the ACTIVE participation in the sacrifice. I am biased, I know, from only knowing the versus populem.

    I tend to trust the Holy Spirit. The liberal bishops hijacked the implementation of the changes in liturgy, but those same liberal bishops were there with the old mass already. They just were allowed to self identify. this is my biggest concern, that we focus so much on an external position that lose the importance of the mass itself. it’s almost putting the position into greater importance than the sacrifice. and we are not muslim that we must face a direction to pray.
    A final point. Reverting to a different liturgical side will not increase or decrease the belief in the Real Presence, but the reverence and understanding of any mass will.


    1. It’s not about what we’re a fan of and some priests tendency is also not a determining factor. Heck, some I can’t understand when they’re standing in front of me. And, yes, proper postures can most definitely increase reverence in the Real Presence. I’ll disagree with you there. I think the external position makes it more real by far. It’s as simple as my conversation example. The priests is actually focusing on God. When I see our priest directing his prayers to Our Lord, it makes me more aware and present of what is happening and Our Lord’s presence of which I could probably us a constant reminder because, well, I’m me.. Have you read Cardinal Sarah’s writings on the issue? And Bishop Wall’s for that matter?

      Also, my intent was not to sell people on it. You can think what you like about it BUT the hysteria over it is ridiculous and, quite frankly, those that foment over it are more indicative to me that it’s probably the way to go. I think we can agree that the “The mean old priest is turning his back on me” is silly.


      1. I would agree with that. But I have to disagree with the rest. I dont believe that ad orientem or even the extraordinary form are the silver bullet and I am wary of those who try to make them so, yes even Cardinal Sarah. The reason is many many priests, bishops, and laity had left or lost the faith while those same liturgical norms were in place. If the external trappings were enough to make everyone believe, how can we explain the American church in the fifties and beyond, when the heretics were coming into their own? How can we explain the Jesuits? Holy cow, I don’t want to try.

        the media and liberal church attendees are symptomatic, they probably remember the tlm, and are afraid of any return. thus the protestations. My parish is blessedly orthodox.


    2. One problem with the Mass toward the people is that the priest automatically becomes a presenter/teacher. When he prays, he is telling us rather than God, and it is obvious in tone and manner. So many become like kindergarten teachers. And this is not even considering the psychological effect on the priest, where his facing the people ignites his public speaking or theatrical fears and talents and he has to put on a persona for the audience. Turning around to face the East simply means you are standing at the head of the people as their representative before God, and it would relieve priests mightily to do so. The only problems are those you mention. There was a brief shining moment in the 50’s with the Mass responses in Latin said by the people, and some chant done by the people, but I guess the wreckers couldn’t stand a real reformation of the old rite.


    3. “Using liturgical east or the tabernacle as the reference point distracts from what is happening on the altar.” We are speaking about God here. It is impossible for God to distract from God. In “Moulin Rouge,” Jose Ferrer says, “One should never meet a person whose work one admires; What they do is always so much better than what they are.” That is indeed true of us human beings, but it is not true of God. What he does and what he is are not only equal, they are inseparably one and the same. The God of the tabernacle cannot distract from the God of the altar. They are one and the same. God is what he does; he does what he is. To even suggest that the presence of Jesus distracts from the sacrifice of Jesus is to bring Christ down to the merely human level to the extent that his divinity is denigrated. On the other hand–is that the whole point of positing a dichotomy between the tabernacle and the altar? To make Christ so human that he becomes less divine?


      1. a good point, but you miss my point. By US focusing on the liturgical east or the tabernacle. We are in need of the sacrifice, that is why we attend mass. I am not denigrating his Divinity, but instead highlighting the rip in space and time that happens every mass.
        I’ve had more time to think about this, and I would say that the rubrics call for the priests and deacons to reverence the altar itself. There is a reason for this, as the same reason that in the mass, the altar servers, lectors, priests and deacons bow to the altar. So the focus of the mass is there.
        The mass is the complete paschal mystery, from holy Thursday to ascension Thursday. The reality in the mass is this, and although the True Presence is real in the tabernacle, if it were the same action, , wouldn’t any visit to a chapel or church fulfill the same as a mass?
        That is where my thoughts come from, not from any denigrating of the Divinity of Jesus. It’s just a liturgical focus that for me, keeps the focus on the paschal sacrifice. If the church changes the rubrics to only ad orientem, I will be fine with it.


        1. You are assuming that the tabernacle and the altar are in different places and/or when they are, they are somehow locationally (not a word but I’m using it) at odds with each other. Now, in many churches, this can be the case especially when the tabernacle is relegated to a back room. In many churches, there is still the high altar and this is what is usually used in an ad orientem Mass, however, i have seen regular altars you see in every church used just fine for ad orientem Masses. The priest simply stands on the other side of it offering his prayers facing God. Of course, I believe that Christ’s Body should be adored in His church. If you ask yourself why the “adoration chapel” came into being, you’d find that it was because the church became more of a social hall and less reverence was shown.

          We all know God is everywhere. Do you think we don’t? But our movements do have meaning and, quite frankly, make our thoughts more present and engaged to the action at hand.

          Have you been to an ad orientem Mass, Joe? I probably missed you saying that. I find most of the misconceptions about distractions, affronts, movements are usually because people have never seen it.


          1. I have been, yes, and I didn’t mind it. I would go to the Novus Ordo in Latin and ad orientem, without a high altar. (it was a rocket ship architecture church, yaay).. I also didn’t have the same understanding of the sacrifice as I do now, so it was full of distractions on my part.
            The one extraordinary form mass I went to was in a traditional shape church, and I couldn’t focus on the mass at all. The priest mumbled through the Latin, the choir did all the responses, and it was a beautiful liturgy but … I didn’t “feel” mass. I was removed from the sacrifice. I know mass isn’t about feeling, but it is the only way to describe it.

            I’ve been fairly open, I’m just a young man in the Novus Ordo, and I prefer it. I am aware that one priest will say I have an impoverished spirituality because I am aware or preferential to some things. If the church says go back, cool, I’m on board. but if you ask me what will re catechize Catholics, I would say public adoration and Benediction in the main church, often, not just during lent, before I would say ad orientem. But again, the church can decide for me and I will follow


        2. That’s fair. We all have preferences that are justifiable under the rubrics even though we may not all agree on them. I just think that Cardinal Sarah and Pope Benedict had a lot of good points on it. I’m actually not a fan of the silent canon but that’s because being a mom that struggled for years with toddlers, it’s much easier for me to follow the Mass when I can hear it if I can’t read or can’t watch but I do see the beauty in the silent canon too. And since my toddler years are behind me, I am fine with it now. Of course, Cardinal Sarah and Pope Benedict never had to hog tie a toddler so…

          My main point is that the general “The priest is turning his back on me” is lame and people get hysterical over little USUALLY without actually knowing about it or experiencing it. They’re also the ones usually just fine with a band or dancers. I will take a well said Mass according to the rubrics any day over that.


          1. Agree! The part that makes it harder for me is I’m in a wheelchair and can’t talk, so it’s all mental prayer, and if I can’t see or hear, I may as well not be at mass because everything is distracting!
            Just say no to anything not in the rubrics!

            Liked by 1 person

  4. “The priest is turning his back on us! Woe to us!”….too funny!

    Ad orientem at N.O. is a perfect blend, but very hard to find. Don’t know of any in Stockton Diocese.

    But we have a TLM at our parish in Modesto. It is one Mass of 8 over the weekend. There is a distinct difference I’ve seen. Those in the pews seem to more instinctively know they are in the presence of Our Lord. The music is more sacred. It is quiet before Mass. It is quiet during Mass. Even the children are quiet (o.k., at times a baby cries.) But there is a reverence Ad Orientem seems to encourage.

    Maybe folks are avoiding talking behind the priest’s back 😎


  5. Ad Orientem would at least be a good start. The problem with the N.O. Mass is not only that a ton was cut out of it, but the rubrics are literally all over the map. I served for a number of years on our ‘Liturgy Committee’ so I can attest to it. The priest can pretty much do whatever he wants and kind of ‘make it up as he goes along’. I’m in the Chicago Archdiocese so….we have our share of creative Catholicism, depending on who the big boss is…..Cupich (at the moment) so it’s anything goes. I’ve seen everything from gathering all the kids around the Altar to hold hands for the Consecration to Consecrating grocery store bread and grape juice, and priests had the gall to call the ‘Liturgy Committee’ the ‘Liturgy Nazis’. Thankfully when Cardinal George got wind of the craziness, he called a quick halt to it but now we’re back to the Cd. Bernadin era unfortunately. “Do what thou wilt will be the whole of the law” seems to be the Aleister Crowly motto in the N.O. Church. Some of these people who are ‘offended’ with Ad Orientem because the priest talks to God when appropriate are too used to entertainment hour with Fr.__________. So sad!


  6. Great article, thank you for posting.

    Regarding Joe’s comments, however, I do think he’s off base here, particularly on two points. FIrst, I believe this assertion is completely erroneous: “that we focus so much on an external position that [it] lose[s] the importance of the mass itself. it’s almost putting the position into greater importance than the sacrifice.” This is the exact opposite of what Pope Benedict XVI observed in his excellent work, “The Spirit of the Liturgy”:

    “[A] common turning to the East during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of accidentals, but of essentials. Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. It is not now a question of dialogue, but of common worship, of setting off towards the One who is to come.”

    As St. Basil the Great and St. John Damascene tell us. worshipping our Lord ad orientem is an Apostolic tradition. It is an essential part of the Mass, as Pope Benedict points out. Keep in mind as well that the only way most Eastern Catholics worship, especially Catholics of the Byzantine RIte, is ad orientem. “Reverting to a different liturgical side” will indeed increase reverence and understanding. This increase in understanding, in the way that we worship, will certainly help with the lack of belief in the Real Presence of the Eucharist we now see.

    Which leads me to Joe’s next point that I find odd:

    “The Mass is not a spectator sport… To be able to offer and participate in that supernatural way, a focus on the altar is extremely beneficial. that was the whole purpose of the original liturgical document Sacrosanctum Concilium, to increase the ACTIVE participation in the sacrifice. I am biased, I know, from only knowing the versus populem.”

    While it is good that his bias has been admitted, the implcation here is that worshipping our Lord ad orientem turns Mass into a “spectator sport” and that worshipping in such a way does not lead to an increase in “active participation”. This is simply false. Consider Pope Pius XII’s words in Mediator Dei:

    “It is, therefore, desirable, Venerable Brethren, that all the faithful should be aware that to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice is their chief duty and supreme dignity, and that not in an inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and day-dreaming, but with such earnestness and concentration that they may be united as closely as possible with the High Priest, according to the Apostle, ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.’…

    “Moreover, it means that they must assume to some extent the character of a victim, that they deny themselves as the Gospel commands, that freely and of their own accord they do penance and that each detests and satisfies for his sins. It means, in a word, that we must all undergo with Christ a mystical death on the cross so that we can apply to ourselves the words of St. Paul, “With Christ I am nailed to the cross.”

    THAT is how we actively participate. One can certainly be still and participate fully in the Mass. Perhaps to the naked eye, a person participating in the Mass in this way looks like a “spectator” at a game, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As St. John Paul II said, “Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert or passive. Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it.”

    An “active passivity” is certainly essential for participation. And keep in mind that SC’s exhortation for participation is not “active”, as is usually mistranslated, but “actual”. As Dom Alcuin Reid explains,

    “The Council called for participatio actuosa, which is primarily our internal connection with the liturgical action—with what Jesus Christ is doing in his Church in the liturgical rites. This participation is about where my mind and heart are. Our external actions in the liturgy serve and facilitate this. But participatio actuosa is not first and foremost external activity, or performing a particular liturgical ministry. That, unfortunately, has been a common misconception of the Council’s desire.”

    Not only that, but another misconception, of course, has been the erosion of ad orientem worship. Glad to see more bishops like Bishop Wall doing the right thing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great response. Of course mine was just addressing the neophyte hysteria. Honestly, the liberals are just trying to play people based on their lack of knowledge and experience. A deeper look is always needed. And, hey, how about you don’t knock it until u try it and/or look into it?


  7. I am all for it. For me though, it really doesn’t matter because I am not watching the priest anyway. My head is down and I am praying the Mass with the priest and offering myself along with Jesus. The only time I look up is when the priest is holding up Jesus and during the homily. It isn’t about the priest, period. I also sit up front so I don’t have to look at anyone’s sad interpretation of appropriate clothes for meeting God.


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