I came across an interesting article that neatly sums up my thoughts about ad orientem worship in the Catholic Mass.  What does ad orientem mean?  It’s the opposite of versus populum.

There are three variations of the Mass in the Roman Catholic Church.  From oldest to newest, they are:

  1. The Tridentine.  This form is also known as the “Old Latin Mass,” the “Tridentine Mass,” or the “Extraordinary Form.”  This is the way Mass was said before the reformed liturgy that was created after Vatican II.  In this form of the Mass, the priest is required to face the altar.  It’s not that he has his back to the people.  It’s that he is facing God in the tabernacle.  The whole architecture of the church building is based on the architecture specified in the Bible for the construction of the temple in Jerusalem.  As required in the Jewish temple sacrifice, the priest faces the “Holy of Holies” as he sacrifices the bread and wine.  The symbolism is very, very deep and powerful.
  2. The Novus Ordo.  This is the form most Catholics today experience every Sunday. It is more commonly known as the “new Mass.”  The General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM), which is church’s law for how the Novus Ordo is to be celebrated, actually assumes the priest is facing the altar (i.e., ad orientem) most of the time, including specific instructions for him to turn to face the people at specific times, such as at the Sign of Peace.  It does, however, allow him to say Mass facing the people (i.e., versus populum).
  3. The Divine Worship Missal.  This is a form of Mass based on the way Mass has been said for centuries in the Anglican church.  It was approved for use in parishes designated as “Anglican Use” parishes by local Roman Catholic bishops.  These parishes are intended generally for Roman Catholics who used to be Anglicans or Episcopalians.  It is also the official liturgy of the three “personal ordinariates” for former Anglicans.  The Anglican Use Mass is celebrated ad orientem.

So in all three of three forms of Mass in the Roman Catholic Church, Mass is celebrated facing the altar (ad orientem).  In only one form is the option of facing the people available.  But it is an option that has become the norm.

It’s amazing that there has been such a kerfluffel in the Catholic world about Cardinal Sarah’s encouragement of a practice that is actually supposed to be the way it’s done–even if it’s generally ignored by almost all priests.

All Cardinal Sarah encouraged is that priests “face east” more frequently, and that Advent would be a particularly meaningful time to re-introduce Catholics to this practice, with the symbolism of commonly “looking to the east” for the advent of the Lord.

But the narcissim so prevalent in society seems to make such thoughts seem to most people to be almost ecclesiastical hate speech.

But here’s an article that makes the case more effectively:  I suggest you read it to understand why it’s so important.

The vast majority of Catholic priests are facing the wrong way