Ad Orientem or Versus Populum?


Recently, I have been reading about the Tridentine mass and Pauline mass. I am 25 years old therefore have no memory of the Tridentine mass. For most people, I would assume one of the most noticeable differences in the Pauline mass from the Tridentine mass, aside from the vernacular, is the direction the priest (celebrant) faces. (phew long sentence or what!)

As I understand it, this is a change that was not [actually] "mandated" by Vatican II. Traditionally the congregation, and the priest all looked towards the altar or the [liturgical] east. This had the effect of having the priest "turn his back" to the people. Since the Council, it seems that almost everywhere, except Rome, the priest faces the people.

My parish church is built so that the main (and now the only altar) is at the west end of the church. In effect, here the liturgical east is in the west...As in most parishes these days, my parish priest faces the people. Thus, my pastor faces the east...or the liturgical west!!!

Recently, I read somewhere on the internet, that Cardinal Ratinger "advocates" the mass with the priest having his back to the people.

Still following...? My question: what direction "should" the priest be facing? Is there a difference between the east and liturgical east? Should there be? Does the liturgical east take precedence over the actual east?

I hope you can shed some light on this subject.




Dear Jean Claude,

Ad orientem has a lot to be said for it. If the priest and people were to face the same direction ("liturgical east") it would underscore that our prayer is directed to the Father. When the priest stands "versus populum" during the Eucharistic Prayer, it is easy for him to have a sense he is addressing the people, more than leading them in worship of God. I think Cardinal Ratzinger is calling our attention to something extemely important. Have you read any of his books? (New Song for the Lord, Spirit of the Liturgy) They are very worthwhile - not just to understand the controversy, but to gain a deeper appreciation of the Mass.

The parish church here was built on a north-south axis so the times I have celebrated "ad orientem" I was actually facing south. Evidently when Holy Family (1953) was erected, "ad orientem" was not a consideration. However, Seattle's Catedral and most older churches were built so that the priest would face toward true east when celebrating the Mass.

I have found that many younger priests and seminarians are deeply interested a reverential celebration of the liturgy. Might you be (or become) one of them?

God bless,

Fr. Bloom

Seattle Teenager on Tridentine Mass

Approved Traditional Latin Masses on the West Coast

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