Huge Gap Separates Pope Francis from Liturgical Traditionalists

by Massimo Faggioli

Editor’s note: Pray Tell is happy to publish this piece which originally appeared at Global Pulse Magazine. Global Pulse Magazine is edited in Rome and produced in Bangkok, offering daily postings, along with a daily and weekly newsletters for subscribers. Global Pulse Magazine provides unique insights on issues that matter – in the Church and in the wider world of politics, religion, ethics, society and culture. The content is aimed at an international, English speaking readership that values good writing and thoughtful assessments from the best Catholic publishers.


From the moment Pope Francis was elected on March 13, 2013 it was clear that a huge gap separated him from the so-called Catholic traditionalists – on liturgy, ecclesiology, ecumenism, moral theology and the Church’s social doctrine.

Despite their constant attacks against him, the pope showed a remarkable restraint towards the traditionalists – and not just because this is good Church politics, but because he does not like conflict.

“I don’t chop off heads,” he said a couple of weeks ago in interview with the Argentinian newspaper La Nacion.

“That was never my style. I’ve never liked doing that,” he insisted.

Indeed, we had become almost accustomed to the idea that Francis and the traditionalists were pretty much traveling on two separate and parallel paths in a “live and let live” sort of silent agreement. But two recent developments indicate something important about the pope and the various forms of Catholic traditionalism.

The first took place on June 29 when the schismatic Priestly Society of St Pius X (SSPX) issued a communiqué that slammed the brakes on any hoped-for reconciliation with Rome. In a carefully worded text, Bishop Bernard Fellay – leader of the anti-Vatican II movement founded by the late-Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (195-1991) – did not close the door completely on future developments in the SSPX’s relationship with Rome. But he acknowledged that there was a great distance between the so-called Lefebvrists and the Church of Francis, while indirectly admitting there were also divisions inside their society.

End-of-June communiqués have become almost a tradition with the SSPX. After courting Benedict XVI for years, the three bishops of the SSPX (Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais and Alfonso de Gallareta) released a statement a several weeks after the former pope resigned pointing out the flaws in a famous speech he gave on the “two hermeneutics” of Vatican II.

The second development took place on July 5th when Cardinal Robert Sarah (Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, appointed by Francis in November 2014), during a talk in London, invited all priests to start celebrating Mass ad orientem (the characteristic pre-Vatican II style with the priest’s back to the people), starting next Advent.

This caused a reaction from many Catholics – including theologians, bishops and even cardinals – all around the world. But the most visible reaction came from Pope Francis who, in an unprecedented statement released on July 11 through the Holy See Press Office, disavowed Cardinal Sarah’s appeal and his support for a “reform of the liturgical reform” (an expression that the Holy See statement says “may at times give rise to error”).

These two incidents could be seen just as a brief series of small events. But I believe they play some bigger role in the chronology of Francis’ pontificate.

First of all, the press office’s July 11th communiqué is the pope’s most direct and unequivocal statement to date – for those who did not get the message from everything he does, including his liturgical style – concerning the post-Vatican II liturgical reform and the many attempts to question the theology and ecclesiology of the Council’s constitution on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium.

So far, Francis has not focused on the liturgy, at least not in his documents. For example, in his foundational document, the 2013 exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he quotes from many Vatican II documents, but not from the liturgical constitution. However, Cardinal Sarah’s initiative forced him to react forcefully.

The statement makes clear that Francis can live with liturgical traditionalism, but “the ‘extraordinary’ form, which was permitted by Pope Benedict XVI for the purposes and in the ways explained in his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, must not take the place of the ‘ordinary’ one”.

The African cardinal’s overreach provoked the reaction of Francis, producing a clear setback in the agenda of the advocates of the pre-Vatican II Mass – both those who see as possible a peaceful coexistence of the reformed liturgy and Old Mass on the same level, and those who work actively to see the post-conciliar liturgical reform abrogated.

(Note that this was actually the second time Cardinal Sarah defied Francis. It took thirteen months – from December 2014 to January 2016 – for his office to implement the pope’s request that the official liturgical rubrics be changed so women could be included in the Holy Thursday foot washing ritual).

As Italian liturgist and theologian Andrea Grillo wrote, “The conciliar journey can resume.”

This is a significant moment for more than just the liturgy (and that is why any comparison between Catholic liturgical traditionalism on one side and the liturgical traditionalism of the Eastern Catholic Churches and of the Eastern Orthodox Churches on the other side does not explain anything of what is happening).

In reality, the recent incidents show once again how Catholic traditionalists continue to underestimate Pope Francis. Many of them really thought they could twist his arm. Unfortunately for them, they have not paid close enough attention to how the pope deals with politicians who have tried this same tactic.

And their continuing inability to read the mind of such a Vatican II pope speaks volumes about the relationship between Francis and all those who are trying to “bridge” (let’s put it that way) the Catholic Church of Vatican II and Catholic ultra-traditionalism (above all the Vatican commission “Ecclesia Dei”). Paradoxically, the extreme schismatics of the SSPX are the traditionalists that understand Francis better.

Most importantly, these last few weeks make clear that the position of the traditionalist cause has shifted significantly. During the end of the pontificate of John Paul II and all during that of Benedict XVI, issues close to the heart of traditionalists had become central in the agenda of some officials the Roman Curia and in the European and English-speaking Catholic intelligentsia – as Italian Catholic historian Giovanni Miccoli noted several years ago.

The simple fact is that for Francis the traditionalists’ agenda is no longer a central concern. “It is central only for the biographies of their advocates”, but not for the future of the Church.

These recent events do not mean that traditionalists and their agenda will be wiped off or disappear from the Roman Catholic horizon. The pope has no interest in doing that. It just means that, for Francis, the Church is a big tent. And the liturgical reform from Vatican II (use of the vernacular, inculturation, adaptation, etc.) is one of the safeguards that allows it to be a big tent and a missionary Church in the global world. This is something that got lost in the “altar wars” of these last many years.

It is worth remembering that during the last decade the Roman Curia and some Catholic circles (not only the blogosphere, but also universities, journals and magazines) showed a particular sympathy and irenic attitude towards the issues of traditionalists (in liturgy and not only).

That irenicism, at least in the minds of those with the best intentions, was supposed to make clear that the Catholic Church was remaining a big tent. But instead, the result of ten years (at least) of that irenicism towards traditionalism was that the exclusivist agenda of traditionalists had become the theological manifesto for a smaller, purer Church.

And in the long run it was supposed to replace the Catholic Church of Vatican II. In this sense, the pontificate of Pope Francis, especially in these last few weeks, has been a moment of truth.

Massimo Faggioli is a Church historian, Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University



  1. I may have missed something in Cardinal Sarah’s talk (admittedly, I read sections and scanned the rest). Giving a talk to applauding supporters at a conference, my take was his suggestion to face east was more an encouragement for clergy already stepping into some of the more traditional accoutrements of liturgy.

    I think there’s a vague sense among many Catholics that if we only get the formula right (be it be it say-the-black-do-the-red, permit divorce and contraception, singing plainchant, ordain married men and women, etc.) that the lost multitudes will return and we will once again enjoy the heady days of piety and social gospel for immigrants.

    Somehow, we need to be disabused of this notion.

    SSPX reconciliation and priests facing east address issues within the flock. The people who have left, religious and secular, schismatic or heretical or otherwise care about these matters in small minorities, if at all. They do not address how to live a Catholic Christian way in the modern world. These misplaced priorities convince skeptics we care little for the real concerns of people–we focus only on a small minority of churchy folk. This discourages the seekers who are actually coming to us for answers.

    For Pope Francis, not only is the Church a big tent, we have a big horizon before us, and a multitude of possibilities. The big tent is great, but we are not meant to shelter ourselves from the elements.

    Meanwhile, we limit ourselves to too many old and tired ideas, be their origin 1545-63 or 1962-65. My take is that Vatican II conciliar reforms would have suited us well about 100-150 years ago. I suspect a council called today would be addressing in more detail: baptismal vocation and discipleship, family life, training and discernment for ministry, the tension and/or crossroads between action and contemplation, inculturation, and perhaps a few other topics not on recent conciliar agendas.

  2. I found his comment about traditionalists thinking they could twist Pope Francis’ arm puzzling. The impression I get from the more traddy blogs has always been quite the opposite, that any notion of him being a pushover is a deliberate facade he puts up.

    I knew from the beginning that Francis wouldn’t support traditional liturgy as Benedict had done, the real surprise was that he has largely not stood in its way. I recall there was a lot of wishful thinking on the part of the anti-EF crowd that Francis would suppress SP among other things.

    1. This is a significant moment for more than just the liturgy…


      It’s quite obvious Pope Francis will “live and let live,” liturgically and otherwise, on a whole lot of pretty much anything, but, the authority and teachings of the Second Vatican Council, they simply are not up for debate.

      @Jack Wayne#2:

      …any notion of him being a pushover is a deliberate facade he puts up.

      Where or how does anyone get the idea that this Pope is a pushover??

  3. One simple — and central — fact here is that Pope Francis is the first pope ordained after the Second Vatican Council.

  4. From Faggioli: ” And the liturgical reform from Vatican II (use of the vernacular, inculturation, adaptation, etc.) is one of the safeguards that allows it to be a big tent and a missionary Church in the global world.” Pope Francis is well aware that the reforms of Vatican II, both liturgical and ecclesiological, are what allowed the Catholic Church in Latin America to respond to the hemorrhaging of Catholics to the Evangelical Protestants. The Vatican II reforms of enculturation and adaptation enabled a Carismatic spirituality to be embraced and for small communities to become a significant part of the ministerial efforts. If you’ve never read the Aparecida document of the Latin American Episcopal Conference (, I’d encourage you to do so. He was one its’ principle authors. I read it shortly after his election and it gave me an excellent insight into much of what Pope Francis does. Would that the English-speaking bishops had listened with such care to the reasons why people were leaving the Church and found ways to address their issues.

  5. Julie++++

    In the previous ROTR post, the usual tired and unproven opinions were advanced AGAIN:
    – allegation that the NO caused the significant departure of catholics from the church
    (Note – research groups such as CARA have shown that this is a false narrative based upon reaction; rumors; and ideology. It ignores the significant increase in the southern hemisphere, the third world, and shows no evidence that the allegations understand cultural shifts; church institutional decisions such as episcopal appointments; HV; patriarchy; gay issues; etc. Talk about living in a bubble even at Notre Dame)
    – NO and EF – have to agree with some commenters that the use of these terms appears and feels perjorative. They become *shibboleths* – passwords to an exclusive club that thinks they know more and are more important than the People of God. Whenever I read these terms, it is as if the context and reality is balanced. Any sense that SP and EF means *extraordinary* in the sense of outside the norm; rare; designed for those who are unable to change; that it is an unreformed rite based upon an outdated ecclesiology, etc. is just ignored. Rather, you find those who are given a *yard* and spin it into taking a *mile*.
    – A. Reid – found his response to be an over-reach (that is saying it kindly). There is a saying that those who know they are wrong scream the loudest. Good description of his rant. (it reminds me of some of the current second rate speakers at the Republican Convention – all smoke).

  6. If SSPX is an “extreme schismatic group”, why would Pope Francis give their priests faculties to hear confessions in the Year of Mercy and beyond? Affirm that they are Catholic? If SSPX is an extreme schismatic group, what of groups like SSPV or CMRI, who believe all the Vatican II popes are antipopes? I’ve seen them described as not in full communion and in an irregular canonical situation, but extreme schismatic?

    Also, I find the author’s term “Church of Francis” troubling. The Church belongs to her Lord and not any one pope. It contributes to an unhealthy cult of personality around the person of the Holy Father.

    1. @Bill deHaas:

      This article does not address the controversy over the accuracy of the English translation of GIRM #299, whether “quod” refers to the altar being built away from the wall to enable to the possibility of versus populum or whether “quod” was referring to versus populum per se. Given that the CDW ruled that both ad orientem and versus populum are lawful in the celebration of Mass, and that “[t]here is no preference expressed in the liturgical legislation for either position. As both positions enjoy the favor of law, the legislation may not be invoked to say that one position or the other accords more closely with the mind of the Church”…why can’t we just live and let live, allowing both? I think the fear that if ad orientem is allowed, Vatican II will unravel is scare tactics…we have the Eastern rites and Extraordinary Form of the Mass celebrated ad orientem, and Vatican II is still there.

      1. @Jay Edward:

        This is a specious argument. What would be the point of building an altar away from the wall if not to enable celebration facing the people?

        We had been building altars attached to a wall or to a reredos for many centuries. It would make no sense to vary that practice except to enable the practice which we now enjoy. The mind of the legislator is clear.

        The English liturgical pioneer James Crichton had written about altars built away from the wall as early as 1943, in an article in the journal Liturgy entitled “A Dream Church”. He was finally able to fulfil his dream in the church of Holy Redeemer, Pershore, constructed in 1958-9 with a freestanding altar in the middle of the sanctuary area. From Easter 1959, when the church opened, Crichton celebrated versus orientem. After the Second Vatican Council, all he had to do was move around to the other side of the altar; no other modifications were necessary. In his design for the church he had correctly foreseen that celebration versus populum would become the desirable norm, and had had that belief confirmed by the ideas prevalent in the Liturgical Movement on the continent of Europe prior to the Council.

        In April this year the church was designated a “Listed Building” for its architectural and historical interest.

      2. @Paul Inwood:

        Just because one is enabled to do something doesn’t mean they are required. The only thing that is required is that wherever possible there are freestanding altars so Mass can be celebrated versus populum…this does not imply it must be!

      3. @Jay Edward:

        Clearly there is no actual obligation to celebrate facing the people, but there is an implicit strong recommendation. There is no purpose in having freestanding altars at all unless you want to celebrate facing the people — that is the whole point of them.

      4. @Paul Inwood:
        There are examples in the US, as well. The Shrine of The Little Flower, built in the 1930s, has an altar in the very center of the church, surrounded by seating on all sides (it is in Royal Oak, MI, outside of Detroit). A smaller church in St. Louis, in some ways influenced by the Michigan church, was built in the 1940s (he Church of The Little Flower). Again, the altar was placed in the very center of the building.

      5. @John Schuster-Craig:

        I wasn’t exactly talking about altars in the centre of the entire building, but about a sanctuary area abutting the nave, with the altar centrally placed in it so that it can be walked around.

        There are many examples of churches in the US with altars in the very centre of the building. One that comes to mind is Padre Serra in Camarillo, CA. When I first saw the plans for this, I strongly recommended that it not be built in this way, since the Germans had experimented with this form in the 1960s and 70s and quickly discovered that it just doesn’t work. But my advice was ignored and the church was built that way anyway, mainly (it seems) to satisfy the desire of the then-pastor to be the centre of attention when presiding at the altar.

        You can see pictures of it here:

        It is an octagonal church with a central altar on a raised plinth. The problems with this kind of layout include (a) the fact that priests cannot physically preside through a full 360 degrees, so a proportion of the assembly will be directly behind the priest’s back (b) the fact that when the altar is dead centre then everything else will automatically be in the “wrong” place since there is no “right” place in which to put them — chair, ambo, etc. Everything is pushed to the margins.

        What cannot be seen so easily from the photos is that in this particular church there is another problem: a second, outer “ring” of seating outside the pillars that hold up the central roof, creating a “2nd-Class-Citizen” area for those who do not arrive in time to sit in the inner circle. Some will be behind the chair, some behind the ambo (sandwiched between it and the musicians), and everyone in the outer ring behind a large number of people and separated from them by a walkway between the two “rings”. (In some of the photos, the additional seating is absent, and it just looks as if everyone is within the pillars. They aren’t.) The musicians are behind almost everyone, being in one segment of the outer ring.

        It simply doesn’t work. Crichton’s idea was much simpler: just build the altar away from the back wall so that you can preside from either side of it. In those days, the improved “scallop shell” and “horseshoe” arrangements, often with raked seating, that we are now familiar with had not yet been thought of. I did see him in later years celebrating in churches and chapels with seating on three sides of the altar, but I am sure he would have resisted having seating on all four sides, as at Padre Serra.

      6. @Jay Edward:

        Jay: […] “why can’t we just live and let live, allowing both? I think the fear that if ad orientem is allowed, Vatican II will unravel is scare tactics…we have the Eastern rites and Extraordinary Form of the Mass celebrated ad orientem, and Vatican II is still there.

        I’ve long suspected that many Catholics prefer versus populum not for liturgical or theological reasons at all. Colloquial American English (I don’t know if this is true for other world Englishes) contains the idiom “to turn one’s back …”, meaning to disrespect the emotions or opinion of another person. Perhaps for some people, ad orientem reminds them of this idiom. Remember that not everyone is going to be swayed by liturgical-theological arguments for ad orientem. I prefer it myself, even if most of the time I worship at Mass versus populum. Still, I suspect many have a negative emotional reaction to ad orientem for the emotional reasons stated. I respect this reaction.

        Liturgy, at some level, must reflect the lived experience of most people. Versus populum, on some level, reflects socio-psychological shifts which are multifaceted. Not all these facets have been thorougly explored.

      7. @Jay Edward:

        At risk of burrowing further into the rabbit-hole, I disagree with you quite sharply. As I (imperfectly) stated before, the practice of Mass versus populum has little to do with the Tridentine liturgy itself, as if liturgy creates a demand for posture. Consider the possibility that the converse is true.

        A preference for versus populum (or an aversion to ad orientem, which is not the same) resides in socio-cultural changes which may favor a certain level of explicit, transparent action. This explicit nature is perhaps even required at this particular time of human development. Please refer to “turn one’s back …” at my comment on #18. The socio-cultural sensibilities of a world Church (that is, not confined to the expectations of Europeans or their descendents) also figures significantly in perceptions of posture. Posture, and the liturgy created by posture, is then conformed to current expecations of diverse cultures converging all at once into the practice of a universal Church. This phenomenon has been well explained by PTB participants and excerpts of liturgical theorists found herein.

        It is quite possible that at some point in relatively near history ad orientem will fulfill affective needs. That time is not now, and the contours of the curves of liturgical time cannot be seen from our vantage point. It is pointless to try to force an issue which will take a course.

        [Mathematics clarifies change over time. It is a shame, really, that I have forgotten calculus. A return to casual study is well needed.]

  7. Todd – sorry, you continue to reject the ecclesiology of VII.

    Here you go – another article from an expert on VII:

    In terms of what you cite:

    “We must remember, moreover, that the “Constitution on the Church” and the “Constitution on Divine Revelation” are specifically designated as “dogmatic constitutions.” If, indeed, we look at the number and importance of Vatican II’s teachings, the council is not council lite but the very opposite.

    The constitution on the church also taught that the church is constituted by the people in it, so that the term “people of God” is a valid, crucially important and, moreover, traditional expression of the reality of the church. Since the people of God are everywhere on the face of the earth, the council therefore taught that the church is at home in every culture and needs to incarnate itself in each of them. Because the council also taught that the sacred liturgy is an act of the whole community at worship and is therefore essentially a participatory action, the liturgy has to admit into itself symbols and customs of every culture.” (eucharist is not clergy driven)

  8. On a smaller scale, the chapel of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY was built in 1953 in a circular design.
    There have been some interior modifications over the years, but the altar still stands as the focal point of the structure and all action within it. One of the interesting facts about the chapel is that it was completely built by Marist Brothers.

  9. On whether the point of a free standing altar is to celebrate facing the people, we might do well to consider our Eastern Rite brethren. Their altars are pretty universally free-standing, and yet the priest faces the altar.

      1. @Shaughn Casey:
        As regular readers here might remember, I detest hovering illuminated screens at the liturgy, and would flee places where I encountered them. The visual penetration of that illumination is extraordinarily intrusive on my senses and interferes with the divine penetration I try to be open to during the liturgy. I generally put myself in a sensorily contemplative-receptive affect during the liturgy (that is not to say I do not actively participate – quite the contrary), be those screens destroy that for me.

      2. @Shaughn Casey:
        I expected that you might well say that, and apprehend why that can be so for some/many. It’s a reason why the issue of orientation is something I reject as a shibboleth-level issue – both postures can be distracting/helpful in pastoral terms.

        The difference for me is that one thing is not human and the other is. The LED glow hits my peripheral vision hard. And I know I am hardly alone in that way.

      3. @Karl Liam Saur#28:

        …the issue of orientation is something I reject as a shibboleth-level issue…

        [minor hijack] Remember the hypothetical question you posed in that other thread that went along the lines of: would anyone think differently of Francis if he began celebrating mass ad-orientem come this Advent?

        Shibboleth is exactly what came to my mind, that if Francis were to adopt the ad orientem posture, I would think that he’s doing it to debilitate its power as a shibboleth.

        (Either that or he’s just trolling the traddies 🙂 ) [/end hijack]

      4. @Elisabeth Ahn:
        That’s how I might well interpret his doing it, and would welcome it to that extent. I am inclined to short-circuit shibboleths before they become too powerful. They are toxic to true discipleship, because they are a facile substitute for it.

      5. @Karl Liam Saur:

        Right. For what it’s worth, I don’t like LED screens, either. They’re a big thing at Protestant services for displaying song lyrics, and it drives me batty. I try, though, to be comprehensive for that reason. Some folks really do connect in a versus populum setting. I get that. Some really do connect in an ad orientem setting. I get that, too. I see no reason why both can’t be provided, when it’s reasonably possible and a given community wants it.

  10. Guess I missed the point of this post – it is NOT just about the location of an altar. It is about VII’s ecclesiology; its eucharistic theology, etc.
    The whole approach of the ROTR; extraordinary rite; or even appeals to the Eastern Rite misses these points and it is why Francis is shutting down the awkward attempts to play around with the ROTR, two forms of the one rite, etc.

  11. Jordan, while I think that phrase (to turn ones back on…) is very much on the mind of those who describe ad orientem as the priest turning his back to the people, I think much of it is a sort of guilt by association – namely association with silent low Mass and the widespread practice of forbidding vocal participation at Mass. I’ve noticed this as a common thread when people recount their negative experiences before the council, and it almost always has nothing to do with ad orientem per se, but rather not hearing the priest or being able to sing and respond. I also think this is why younger Catholics and Protestants don’t have such an emotional reaction to the idea of ad orientem. When I first experienced it, it was like I finally understood the communal dimension of Mass for the first time and had a realization that we aren’t just watching the priest, but are instead doing something with him. (and that is why those screaming that it does not fit the ecclesiology of VII seem to be so full of baloney to me).

    1. @Jack Wayne:
      What was there to do for the people at the Tridentine or EF Mass if not watching the priest “say Mass” on their behalf? As a high schooler I belonged to a parish which celebrated a “dialogue Mass” in Latin in which the people made all the responses and sang the ordinary parts of the Mass. Much more to do that just watching the priest. In the OF, I can’t imagine people “watching me” as I lead them in worship. I’m not “watching them” because I’m offering the mass with them–in, with, and through Christ. For both me and the people the focus is on Christ whether at the ambo, on the altar, or in my ministry as a priest. Ad orientam is based on a particular theology of God and of a particular kind of ecclesiology. I have no problem that a small sliver of active Catholics relates to a theology and ecclesiology that comports with God being “out there” rather than “here in our midst”.

      1. @Fr. Jack Feehily:
        I think ad orientem is wonderful because it emphasizes both – God in our midst (we are, after all, gathered together in worship, united with the priest), as well as the need to continue to journey together towards him, so I reject the dichotomy you propose. Perhaps versus populum only emphasizes one aspect, but ad orientem does not in my experience.

      2. @Jack Wayne:
        But ad orientem doesn’t seem to say “God in our midst,” it says “God is out ahead of us a far from us, and we have to move forward to get there.” Or worse, to some people I think it says “God is at the wall behind the altar.” I can see pros and cons of each way, but it seems to me that facing away from people and toward wall (East) can seem to communicate that God is in front of the priest (which is why he’s facing that way) and not behind him where the people are.

      3. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:

        Fr. Anthony, “But ad orientem doesn’t seem to say ‘God in our midst,’ it says ‘God is out ahead of us a far from us, and we have to move forward to get there.’

        The ad orientem posture also communicates that the celebrant and congregation both, in the process of same direction movement towards a God unseen, demonstrate a human alienation from a God whom we will not encounter until the particular judgement. When the celebrant faces the people as the imago Dei and the baptismal priesthood, both of which are indubitably true, does the celebrant also clearly communicate the human alienation from God? I am not sure. I am a shattered, distorted mirror of Christ because of sin. Yet postmodern worship sometimes temps me to lie to God, to say “I am whole” when I am broken.

        Ad orientem is not appropriate for the Roman rite now. Yet versus populum must contain a penitential sense to have a eucharistic sacrifice. I know it is not possible to approach the Eucharist without a meditation on my frailty.

  12. @Fr Anthony Ruff,

    I think that is a possibility, and likely contributed to the rise of vs populum after the council, but I think there is a danger in either posture of having misunderstandings and don’t consider your example to be worse than what can occur at a vs populum Mass. Both require a degree of explanation to make the symbolism more apparent and to let the congregation know its vital role. Rather than making it seem like God is in our midst, versus populum can easily lead people to believe the Mass is mostly a show/demonstration put on by the priest for them, but I’m sure you know that argument inside out and don’t need me to rehash it for you.

    I also think we need to keep in mind that these discussions are about ad orientem at the OF, which takes place in different locations in the sanctuary and facing different directions at different times, possibly creating a better idea of God being present in different ways. Much of the Mass would still be vs populum, with the ad orientem stance being percieved differently by the congregation than if the entire thing were to take place at the altar, as in the typical EF.

  13. I serve at an ad orientem Mass every Sunday, and this past Sunday I thought about some of the comments here and laughed to myself: “This isn’t supposed to work, because it says God is out there and not in our midst.” Which of course doesn’t seem at all to be the case. There’s all our overthinking, and then there’s the liturgy in practice. These two do not always align.

    1. @Alan Johnson:
      Well, there is the Hypostatic Union and all that, too; it’s not as if Jesus stopped having a (now glorified) body after the Ascension. Also, if one considers geographical location as too reductive to apply the case at hand, one also starts to weaken the sense of the other presences of God in the liturgy and in the mystical Body of Christ, et cet.

      1. @Alan Johnson:
        Ah, we address God the Father in the Son and through the Holy Spirit. There is a tether in there. I see your point, but you are unnecessarily overarguing it in the sense that I don’t think it ends up resolving the issue.

      2. @Karl Liam Saur:
        But when it is argued that with ad orientem all are turned towards God, what is actually being said. Is it worth unpicking the reasoning?

      3. @Alan Johnson:

        If I understand the analogy correctly, the idea is the gathered assembly in a church building represents the entirety of the created order throughout time and space, and God transcends it. Asking how far beyond the wall misses the point. You might as well ask where heaven is up in the sky.

        The Eucharist, then, represents the Incarnation in a beautiful way: God, present and yet hidden in the tabernacle, beyond the veil, as it were, but also God revealed in the elevated, consecrated elements, and then that same incarnate God dwelling in us as we participate in the Eucharistic Feast. And on and on — I’ve left much out, I’m sure, and much could be written. Of course God is already present, sustaining the universe, with His Holy Spirit dwelling in us, but particular rituals emphasize that relationship in particular ways at particular times.

  14. And so we come full circle (as it were!). If everyone is facing the altar, the primary symbol of Christ in our midst, no matter from which direction, they are all de facto facing in the same direction together. All those who prefer the OF, you can relax.

    1. @Ben Yanke:
      Argentine pontiff continues to undermine Catholic tradition as I and those who agree with me conceive it.

      Fixed that for you.

  15. I think an issue I have is that ad orientem isn’t given the proper weight in these discussions by its critics when one considers the origin and history of the practice. It is a practice that originated in the early Church, came to characterize virtually all Christian worship prior to Vatican II, and still characterizes the worship of the second largest group of Christians to this very day. It isn’t in the same category as Latin liturgy, or kneeling for communion, or many other things debated here. Many early Christians put a lot of importance on the practice, so much so that it seems the evidence we have for versus populum in the early Church still relates to facing East ( indeed, is there evidence of versus populum in the early Church in which facing the people was the primary reason for doing so, without consideration given to also facing east? Does that Worship article answer this? ).

    So I think people need to think twice before trivializing any suggested return to the practice with “how far beyond the wall is God” arguments, or by recalling how they didn’t like the Latin Mass back when they were kids, or by comparing it to deck chairs, or claiming it contradicts the ecclesiology of Vatican II, or that the most recent GIRM has settled the issue.

    1. @Jack Wayne:
      Again, pull the Eastern Rite card – tired narrative. We have different rites because we understand and celebrate out of different ecclesiologies/historical developments and thus different rites (eastern or latin/Roman)….lex orandi, lex credendi. You are trying to *borrow* one element and insert it into a completely different liturgical history and style. The Roman Rite has changed and developed its liturgical practices and spirituality.

    2. @Jack Wayne:
      Dear Jack,
      The Council of Nicaea in 325 forbade kneeling on any Sunday of the year and on every day of Easter season at liturgy. This was observed nearly uniformly for most all the first milleinnium at least, as far as we know. So this means something very important about bodily posture: the priest standing at the altar faces ‘east,’ and the faithful face the same direction, standing like the priest.
      So the universal historic practice brings the people into unity with the priest by common practice.
      Would you expend the same energy fighting against kneeling for the Eucharistic prayer, based on historical grounds?
      The question is a good one for determining whether people really care about historical precedent, or really just want the 1950s back.
      The decree on not kneeling, unlike ad orientem, has the mandate of an ecumenical council behind it.

  16. The trivialization of the suggested return to the older practice is in response to the manner in which Cdl. Sarah made the “suggestion”. He expressed a personal opinion that priests not only should welcome such a shift but that they should do so beginning the first Sunday of Advent. The shift from ad orientam to versus populam occurred in the context of the reform of the Roman Rite called for by the Roman Pontiff in union with the college of bishops at VII. In my view, it is irrelevant that they did not specifically mandate such a change in posture because of the nearly universal acceptance of the new practice from the time it was introduced. Had it been conceived of in terms of a “radial depature” from Tradition it would not have taken hold. The popes and bishops were perfectly free to criticize or even sanction the practice. They did not. A rather tiny sliver of the world’s Catholics and its clergy objected and resisted. Some of them preferred schism to joining the rest of the faithful in adjusting to the new rite. Others just grumbled and prayed for another day when the old order could be restored.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily:
      That it was not specifically mandated is of extreme importance. You characterize those who wish to wish to worship ad orientem as refusing to adjusting to the new rite. But the Congregation has has stated than both orientations are in accord with liturgical law. The fact is that ad orientem is a legitimate option in the new rite. The reason that versus populum has become universal is because it has been falsely presented as if it were mandated and those who objected were subject to harsh retribution. This misrepresentation can no longer be maintained.

  17. I have no objection to ad orientam for those who are drawn to it. I don’t even object to priests who have a preference for this posture to make it available at a particular Mass provided that it is not introduced as the way Mass “ought” to be celebrated in view of “Tradition”. The NO and versus populam have become synonymous from its inception in virtually every local church. Five popes have celebrated Mass in this manner all over the world. Pope Benedict who made a strong case for reconsideration observed that the NO shall continue as we have known it in terms of the use of vernacular and versus populam. Ad orientam is certainly not contra legem. Nor is versus populam.

  18. @Fr Anthony,

    I suppose I would ask if there are clear parallels between the introduction of kneeling in the Latin rite as an exclusive practice and the introduction of versus populum as an exclusive practice. But ultimately I would answer that I would not argue against kneeling since the practice has its own history and precident in the Latin rite in the second millennium, and I do believe rites can change and develop over time. However, that doesn’t mean I would argue against standing as being opposed to the history of the Rite or as bad in and of itself (as many who argue against ad orientem wrongly do).

    While I prefer ad orientem and think Versus Populum can be more easily misunderstood, I wouldn’t demand that vs populum be suppressed or dare to say it has no place in the ecclesiology/history of the Latin rite. Instead, I would argue that it should not be held up as better than ad orientem, or as an integral part of the OF, of Vatican II, or presented as the correct way of doing things. I see myself less as arguing against something and more arguing FOR something. Ad orientem is a major part of the Latin rite’s history and development (which is why I find Bill’s response puzzling) and does not contradict Vatican II(though I can see why some might think so), so I think it deserves equal footing at the very least.

    1. @Jack Wayne:
      Underlying this is a methodological problem. You seem to be arguing from what is allowed, what is prohibited, what is not prohibited, which is rather legalistic, but behind this is a desire to do things the older way. I grant there is some theological rationale too, but these other factors weigh rather heavily.

      I think it’s mostly irrelevant whether, on a technicality, kneeling was or wasn’t introduced the way versus populum was. The more interesting question is what is theologically appropriate. And Vatican II brought in a paradigm shift (here’s where the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ falls flat and has outlived its usefulness) making it possible for people to ask questions about theological propriety and move to practices not foreseen explicitly in the Council.


      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        I think I am tending towards a legalistic argument largely because of my live-and-let-live nature. I primarily argue for ad orientem not for legalistic reasons, or because it is the older practice, but because in my informed opinion I think it *is* superior, more beneficial, and more theologically appropriate – and I’ve said why on many occasions. Personally, I think it *should* be the preferred, almost exclusive practice, but I realize that other informed people, such as yourself, do not agree. I also realize liturgy isn’t like a math problem where there is only one right answer, as there will always be subjectivity on what is the most appropriate/beneficial practice due to personal experience or history. I’m quite sure I would never be able to convince you to agree with me as to why ad orientem is better, so the best I can do to create some sort of common ground or rapport is to argue from a historical/legalistic angle.

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