17 December 2010

Advantages of Celebrating Ad Orientem

Often I am asked about why I face the "wrong way" (ad orientem) when I celebrate Mass. These questions come mostly from visitors and the Catholic students I teach; however, sometimes parishioners also ask out of curiosity or because they have been asked by others. Since I've never (even as a Lutheran) celebrated Mass versus populum, I can't fathom celebrating Mass any other way.

When asked, I give a variety of answers--some better than others. Recently I came across an apologia for facing the Lord (tabernacle) when celebrating Mass written by Dom Mark Kirby, a monastic priest in the Catholic Church in Tulsa OK. Reading through them, I agree with all of the advantages that Fr Mark lists. Perhaps others can add to the list.

What are the advantages of standing at the altar ad orientem, as I have experienced them over the past two years? I can think of ten straight off:

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.


Phil said...

When you were still a Lutheran, did you find a rationale within Lutheranism for celebrating ad orientem?

Furthermore, did you find reasons there not to celebrate versus populum?

filcon said...

Merry Christmas and God bless you, Father.

Fr John W Fenton said...


My rationale for celebrating ad orientem as a Lutheran was the same as not celebrating versus populum; namely, that the former was in the liturgical tradition of Lutheranism as articulated by the Book of Concord. Piepkorn was a support in this argument.

I hasten to note, however, that such supports and decisions were ultimately, for each Lutheran pastor, a personal decision--or a decision left to the "local custom" of the parish. In other words, as a Lutheran it was most definitely my (and not our) rationale based on my preferences grounded in the authors or time period that I preferred.

Such personal preferences (or individualism) is severely curtailed in Orthodoxy in favor of submitting to rubrics, bishops, etc.

Fr John W Fenton said...


Thank you for the greeting and kindness.