Cardinal Nichols discourages priests from celebrating Mass ad orientem

This just in: “Cardinal Nichols discourages priests from celebrating Mass ad orientem,” in the Catholic Herald.

Cardinal Nichols wrote to priests reminding them that, “the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, approved by the highest authority in the Church, states in paragraph 299 that ‘The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. The altar should, moreover, be so placed as to be truly the centre toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns. The altar is usually fixed and is dedicated.’”

Cardinal Nichols said that Mass was not the time for priests to “exercise personal preference or taste”, and “as the last paragraph of the GIRM states so clearly, ‘The Roman Missal, though in a diversity of languages and with some variety of customs, must in the future be safeguarded as an instrument and an outstanding sign of the integrity and unity of the Roman Rite’ (399).”

 

39 comments

  1. Of course ad orientem isn’t about personal preference or taste. It is about uniting ourselves with the Church through time and our Eastern brothers and sisters. The thread on Cardinal Sarah’s comments reads like a carcicature.

    No one can point to any evidence that versus populum was ever the norm until the last 50 years. The best is Professor/Deacon Bauerschmidt saying we don’t have good archaelogical evidence from before the 4th or 5th century as to the orientation of house churches or altars. Yet we have the wonderful quotations from Fathers of the 2nd century talking about how all turned East to pray.

    All those here who push legitimate options suddenly lose their convictions when it comes to encouraging priests to celebrate Mass as it has been celebrated throughout so much of the Church’s history.

    1. @Conor Dugan:
      Dear Conor,

      With all due respect: baloney. There are strong feelings on both sides of this question, and I see lots of personal preference or taste, and lots of ego, whichever direction I look. Claiming that one side (whichever side) is free of this and is simply about uniting oneself to Christ is naïve and self-congratulatory in the extreme.

      awr

    2. @Conor Dugan:
      No evidence? What about a photograph of Pope Pius XII celebrating versus populum at the high altar of St Peter’s?

      http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-cSxcg13Omu0/UTrVYrJ3PjI/AAAAAAAADbU/R6ouMyhYSbg/s1600/PapalMass3.jpg

      Granted, the apse of St Peter’s is on the western end so he is also celebrating ad orientam. The same would be true of Rome’s cathedral, St John in Lateran, as well as a number of Rome’s ancient churches. So we have a fairly solid tradition of early Roman churches built so that the presider faces east, while the people face west, and presider and people face one another. And the tradition is strong enough that when St Peter’s was entirely rebuilt in the 16th century, the altar was again placed so as to make it impossible for the presider to celebrate mass on the side where he faces the apse. You would think that if having everyone facing the same direction was such a normative practice, a newly built church at that time would at least be designed to make it possible.

      So there is indeed evidence of versus populum being at the very least a part of the church’s tradition. And in churches that by their very nature establish the norm for the Latin Rite.

      1. @Fr Lou Meiman:
        According to Jungmann, who is arguably still the greatest authority on the history of the Roman Rite, when the pope celebrated facing East in the old Roman basilicas, the people also turned East, facing the door and the rising sun. They were not necessarily “back to the altar” … some were side-on. The awkwardness of this, however, led to the practice of placing the altar at the East end. (It was probably at the West end in the early basilicas in imitation of the pagan temples, whose doors faced East so that the morning sun would light up the statue of the God.) There are a few basilicas where there is archeological evidence that the orientation was actually changed, and the altar moved from the West end to the East… memory tells me this was so at St Paul outside the Walls, but I could be confusing it with another Roman church.

    3. @Conor Dugan:
      Those quotes from the Fathers of the Church — if I remember correctly (and I may not) — are from what we today would call Eastern Fathers. Not sure if there are any from the West.

      1. @Lee Bacchi:
        Well, consider Tertullian. I don’t think anyone would consider him “Eastern” – he was a North African Roman. He writes:

        “Others, again … believe that the sun is our god. We shall be counted Persians perhaps … The idea no doubt has originated from our being known to turn to the east in prayer.”

      2. @Martin Wallace OP:
        OK, but then I would refer you to Robin Jensen’s research presented in the March 2015 issue of Worship, especially since it deals with worship in the North African Church.

  2. In the Liturgy of the Word the ministers are addressing the congregation so it makes sense that they face the people. In the Eucharistic Prayer the priest is leading the people in addressing God the Father, not the congregation, so why should he face them at this time?

  3. Maybe I’m just woefully naive, but why can’t all parties involved simply acknowledge that both “orientations” are valid historically, theologically, and legally and leave it at that? Differences in fasting not destroying unity in faith and all that….

  4. Sorry but I would venture the overwhelming number of priests and lay people who form our congregations find the “priest facing the assemble” a remarkable way to celebrate the Eucharist. It has certainly improved the full, active and conscious participation of everyone in the mass.

  5. I would imagine that apart from theological considerations there are architectural ones. I have ruminated about this “controversy” since I first heard about it and have applied it in my imagination to the various churches I have been visiting during my summer travels.
    Quite a few would not be amenable to an orientation to the east without being a disruption to the architecture of the building. This is not to say that new buildings couldn’t be constructed with this orientation in mind, just that it would be unrealistic to re-orient many churches not constructed this way.

  6. To address the issue of “facing east”… I wonder how many churches are currently built in such away that when the priest faces east, he faces the people? Sigh…

    I pray that God will heal us of all this liturgical angst and the need to be the winner of an argument. I pray that we stop pleasing Satan by using the liturgical documents as an instrument of battle and begin to please God by using these documents as an instrument of unity and peace. Grant us the grace to know that, we who serve in the liturgical life of the church, glorify God best when we serve one another and are especially mindful of our responsibilty of our call to serve the people in the pews. Grant us the grace to work together to create a sacred time and space where all who enter, may encounter Christ truly present in Word and Sacrament. In Jesus’s name, we pray. Amen.

  7. To paraphrase what Doctor No said to James Bond: “East, west, just points on the compass, each as (valid) as the other.”

  8. There’s an interesting / odd tweet in the article from a Fr Spadaro that reads, “The priest, /facing the people/ and extending and then joining his hands, invites the people to pray.” I don’t know, though, that this particular instruction has anything to do with ad orientem vs versus populum. Even in the usus antiquior, the priest will turn to the congregation, extend his hands, say the salutation, join his hands together, and say “Oremus” before turning again to the altar.

  9. The altar of sacrifice is the preeminent symbol of Christ when the community of faith is gathered with their pastors for the Eucharistic Liturgy. During the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, priest and people are facing Christ The Lord. When we priests address the Father in prayer our gaze is directed not at the people but slightly above them. In my church there is a crucifix on the back wall that is a focal point. Since I have memorized some of the texts, sometimes I close my eyes as I get caught up in it. May Mass be celebrated in some other fashion? Sure, but not as a preference of personal piety.

  10. As I sat listening to the Gospel yesterday, I remembered learning that the priest and the Levite did not wish to make themselves unclean (in keeping with their laws), so they avoided this beaten man in observance of the letter of their laws. And it struck me that we (Church) are doing the same thing. My Catholic feeds have been full of this issue, and kneeling to receive Communion, and refusing sacraments to specific sinners, and not one mention of how to be Christ to one another in the midst of the hateful, prejudiced, and violent events that have swept the country in the last week. We should be weeping over lives lost and families devastated and growing hatred, instead we’re locked in heated debate about meaningless (in comparison) issues.

  11. Jack Feehily : The altar of sacrifice is the preeminent symbol of Christ when the community of faith is gathered with their pastors for the Eucharistic Liturgy. During the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, priest and people are facing Christ The Lord. When we priests address the Father in prayer our gaze is directed not at the people but slightly above them. In my church there is a crucifix on the back wall that is a focal point. Since I have memorized some of the texts, sometimes I close my eyes as I get caught up in it. May Mass be celebrated in some other fashion? Sure, but not as a preference of personal piety.

    So in Mass versus populum the priest and the people are looking past each other toward a different focus. So why is to so necessary that they be turn toward each other? Would it not be better for them to be turned in the same direction in a single orientation toward God the Father?

  12. Jack Feehily : During the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, priest and people are facing Christ The Lord.

    Are the priest and people FACING Christ the Lord, or are they UNITED with him in offering thanksgiving to the Father, “through him, with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit?” I’ll bet this can be expressed in all sorts of ways in terms of spatial configuration and orientation.

  13. With respect, the Cardinal is completely wrong in his interpretation of the Missal. The CDW already corrected this erroneous interpretation in the English. We do ecumenism with our Eastern friends a disservice and also reject our own tradition by Mass facing the people. We are the ONLY ancient Church that has the Mass offered facing the people, symbolically with our back to God, whether this is intentional or not. The way we treat our liturgy and tradition makes the Easterners cringe, it is no good for ecumenism.

  14. Kevin, indeed it could be. Especially if we need to accommodate older ecclesiologies or when setting aside the resourcement that inspired SC. I understand there are some Catholics who believe that FACP can be accomplished even without moving one’s lips. I’m also aware of a phalanx of the more recently ordained who understand ontological change as providing them with a superior position within the body of Christ, one that is expressed in wearing cassocks and birettas and lacy albs while claiming they are repairing the church that we older priests ruined. I would regard these other approaches as simple signs of diversity if I didn’t perceive them as signs of seeking to be served rather than to serve. I could be wrong though.

  15. What about the argument that GIRM 299 is mistranslated? I’ve seen serious arguments that a better translation is that the altar should be removed the wall whenever possible, not that mass facing the people should be done whenever possible.

  16. The Congregation responded on September 25, 2000, to a European cardinal’s question about the position of the priest during the liturgy of the Eucharist. Adoremus’s translation of the original letter, written in Italian, appears here. Responses such as these two letters are later published in Notitiae, the official publication of the congregation of Divine Worship.

    CONGREGATIO DE CULTU DIVINO
    ET DISCIPLINA SACRAMENTORUM

    Prot. No 2086/00/L

    The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in no. 299 of the Instituto Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which, during the Eucharistic liturgy, the position of the priest versus absidem [facing towards the apse] is to be excluded.

    The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:

    Negative, and in accordance with the following explanation.

    The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account.

    It is in the first place to be borne in mind that the word expedit does not constitute an obligation, but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum [detached from the wall] and to the celebration versus populum [towards the people]. The clause ubi possibile sit [where it is possible] refers to different elements, as, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc. It reaffirms that the position towards the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier (Cf. the editorial in Notitiae 29 [1993] 245-249), without excluding, however, the other possibility.

    [cont.]

  17. However, whatever may be the position of the celebrating priest, it is clear that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered to the one and triune God, and that the principal, eternal, and high priest is Jesus Christ, who acts through the ministry of the priest who visibly presides as his instrument. The liturgical assembly participates in the celebration in virtue of the common priesthood of the faithful which requires the ministry of the ordained priest to be exercised in the Eucharistic Synaxis. The physical position, especially with respect to the communication among the various members of the assembly, must be distinguished from the interior spiritual orientation of all. It would be a grave error to imagine that the principle orientation of the sacrificial action is [toward] the community. If the priest celebrates versus populum, which is a legitimate and often advisable, his spiritual attitude ought always to, be versus Deum per Jesus Christum [towards God through Jesus Christ], as representative of the entire Church. The Church as well, which takes concrete form in the assembly which participates, is entirely turned versus Deum [towards God] as its first spiritual movement.

    It appears that the ancient tradition, though not without exception, was that the celebrant and the praying community were turned versus orientem [towards the East], the direction from which the Light which is Christ comes. It is not unusual for ancient churches to be “oriented” so that the priest and the people were turned versus orientem during public prayer.

    It may be that when there were problems of space, or of some other kind, the apse represented the East symbolically. Today the expression versus orientem often means versus apsidem, and in speaking of versus populum it is not the west but rather the community present that is meant.

    [cont.]

  18. In the ancient architecture of churches, the place of the Bishop or the celebrating priest was in the center of the apse where, seated and turned towards the community, the proclamation of the readings was listened to, Now this presidential place was not ascribed to the human person of the bishop or the priest, nor to his intellectual gifts and not even to his personal holiness, but to his role as an instrument of the invisible Pontiff, who is the Lord Jesus.

    When it is a question of ancient churches, or of great artistic value, it is appropriate, moreover, to keep in mind civil legislation regarding changes or renovations. Adding another altar may not always be a worthy solution.

    There is no need to give excessive importance to elements which have changed throughout the centuries. What always remains is the event celebrated in the liturgy: this is manifested through rites, signs, symbols and words which express various aspects of the mystery without, however, exhausting it, because it transcends them. Taking a rigid position and absolutizing it could become a rejection of some aspect of the truth which merits respect and acceptance.

    Vatican City, 25 September 2000.

    Jorge A. Card. MEDINA ESTÉVEZ
    Cardinal Prefect

    Francesco Pio Tamburrino
    Archbishop Secretary

  19. By the way, the Sacred Congregation of Rites made the EXACT same point time and again prior to Vatican II. They were explicit about removing the altar from the wall whenever possible. They also recommended gradines be erected behind the altar for tabernacle and display of relics.

    With that said, the rubrics presume a certain position.

  20. Too bad the Cardinal’s argument rests entirely on a mistranslation of GIRM 299. That there is a mistranslation is extremely well known.

    GIRM 299 says: “Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.” This ought to be translated: “The main altar should be built separated from the wall, which is useful wherever it is possible, so that it can be easily walked around and a celebration toward the people can be carried out.” However, it was erroneously translated: “The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.”

    The erudite Latinist Fr. Hunwicke offers his own excellent translation of GIRM 299: “The High Altar [not, be it observed, every altar] should be constructed away from the wall, so that the option is open [possit] of walking easily around it and using it for Mass facing the people. This [i.e., having the altar free-standing so that the options are open] is desirable wherever possible.”

    Cardinal Sarah’s advice still stands.

    1. @Peter Kwasniewski:
      Peter – appears you missed the earlier post on this topic – 148 posts until comments were closed. Guess you have returned to your *bubble*. From Jonathan Day:

      At some point someone is sure to repeat the canard that section 299 of the GIRM was “mistranslated”, so let’s deal with that now.

      The Latin reads:

      Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.

      Now it is true that the last clause, quod expedit … refers to everything that goes before it, not just to celebration facing the people; otherwise quod would have been feminine qua, to accord with celebratio.

      One particularly idiotic translation of this reads:

      The main altar should be built separated from the wall, which is useful wherever it is possible, so that it can be easily walked around and a celebration toward the people can be carried out.

      A more idiomatic and more accurate rendering would be:

      Wherever it is possible to do so, the main altar should be separated from the wall, so that it is easy to walk around it and to celebrate facing the people.

      The quod clause isn’t limited in reference to celebration facing the people, but it certainly includes it.

      An analogy would be, “Whenever you can, eat 5 servings of vegetables each day, in order to reduce your chances of getting cancer.”

      It’s true that this section of GIRM 299 doesn’t require celebration facing the people, but it sure seems to recommend it.

      Guess we will now argue about who is the most *erudite Latinist*? And, no, Sarah has no clue.

      1. @Bill deHaas:

        Latin teacher here.

        Quod is a neuter singular relative pronoun; it could agree grammatically with two words in the sentence. Quod can replace altare, a neuter singular, or it can replace the implied subject “it” for possit, which is in a purpose clause following “ut.” Fr. Hunwicke has clearly interpreted “quod” to agree with altare. It’s a reasonable translation, especially for a Classicist. Both are neuter singular, and Cicero puts relative clauses far away from their antecedents quite often. Others like to keep relative clauses close to their antecedents, and so “it” in “possit” also makes sense. Jonathan Day rightly suggests that quod can’t go with celebratio, which is feminine, but it’s a stretch for it to agree with “everything that comes before.” It’s probably splitting hairs, but you’d more likely see “qua (neuter plural) expediunt” if it were to agree with the passive infinitives circumiri and peragi together, rather than the implied “it” in possit, which emphasizes possibility. The /possibility/ to do both is expedient.

        It starts with rather artful Latin: “Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum.” “Separated” is separated from “altar” as far as it can be. That separation would be even further emphasized if the relative clause, separated by a purpose clause, refers back again to altare. Or it could defy that expectation and go with the implied subject of possit. It’s chiefly a question of whether the rubric uses subtle, artful Latin or not. Hunwicke goes with Cicero. Day goes with Tacitus.

        Regardless, it’s overstating things to suggest this rubric insists on versus populum everywhere and at at all times, since it only explicitly refers to high altars when they’re being built. The verbiage heavily suggests possibility for a result, rather than insisting on a result. It’s vague, and your biases will lead you to your interpretation.

      2. @Shaughn Casey:
        Shaughn, I’m sure your Latin is far better than mine. But I don’t understand how the relative clause starting with quod can refer to altare — “the altar is useful wherever it is possible”? Maybe I’m missing a metonymy or something like that: the thing separated for the separation?

        And my argument in fact agreed with you: that the relative clause expands the implicit subject of possit. But what is supposed to be “possible”? It seems clear to me that this includes both circumiri (walking around the altar) and peragi (celebration facing the people).

        Liturgical rubrics in Latin have generally struck me as preferring workaday constructions to Ciceronian elegance. Maybe you have some examples to the contrary.

        Without doubt, the rubric doesn’t insist on celebration facing the people “everywhere and at all times”. I hope I never said that it does. But I stand by my point that the rubric commends this orientation. And so does the clarification from the CDW.

        The traditionalists have repeated the canard that GIRM 299 was “mistranslated” in English, and apparently in several other European languages, and that the CDW set everything straight.

        Most of those who have been claiming that celebration facing the apse is still allowed (as clearly it is) also claim that this orientation is far superior, or that celebration facing the people is a sort of liturgical cancer afflicting the Church. They would cheerfully see celebration facing the people ruled out “everywhere and at all times”. This despite Popes Francis, Benedict XVI and John Paul II facing the people in virtually every public celebration of Mass that they conducted.

      3. @Jonathan Day:

        Ah, fair, re: altare. Let’s bridge the gap. The more precise thing to argue is that quod stands for “altare sejunctum a pariete.” It makes more immediate sense with the full participial phrase included. M’bad.

        I mostly point out Cicero because Fr Hunwicke /is/ a Classicist (and so am I), which probably colors our translation instincts.

  21. An official letter from the CDW in the year 2000 seems to lay to rest that versus populum is the “desired” form of the liturgy…

    The new General Instruction of the Roman Missal was prepared by the Congregation for Divine Worship and submitted to the Holy Father for his approval, which he gave on Holy Thursday, April 20, 2000. The congregation addresses this question of the authority of bishops in the matter of legitimate liturgical options in an official letter (Protocol No. 564/00/L) of April 10, 2000. It is not possible that this letter could have been “superseded” by the General Instruction. It is from the same person responsible for the drafting of the General Instruction, which was surely submitted to the Holy Father some time before he reviewed it and gave his approval, and therefore prior to this official document.
    The relevant parts of the document, signed by both Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and Archbishop Francesco Pio Tamburrino, the Secretary of the Congregation, state:
    · “This Dicastery [i.e. the Congregation] wishes to state that Holy Mass may be celebrated versus populum [facing the people] or versus apsidem [facing the apse]. Both positions are in accord with liturgical law; both are to be considered correct.”
    · “It should be borne in mind that there 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.”

    1. @Chip Stalter:
      The subsequent Protocol No. 2036/00/L of September 25, 2000 resurrects the debate then puts it to rest in favor of versus populum: “It is in the first place to be borne in mind that the word expedit does not constitute an obligation, but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum [detached from the wall] and to the celebration versus populum [toward the people]. The clause ubi possibile sit [where it is possible] refers to different elements, as, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc. It reaffirms that the position toward the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier (Cf. the editorial in Notitiae 29 [1993] 245-249), without excluding, however, the other possibility.”

  22. Mr. Casey – thank you for the kind reply. As you are obviously aware, this whole *event*, IMO, is ridiculous. The fact that the Vatican and its dicasteries can issue pronouncements that are NOT even in good latin only underlines how ridiculous this has become. (after 8 years of latin, find that experts can’t even agree on the basic language and latin has passed its use by date – there are few experts today that can even work the language appropriately and correctly (think the recent english missal translations)

    As you can imagine, along with SP and the whole EF/OF chaos, pray that we eventually outgrow those who are unable to let go of the past and their traditionalism. Whatever the complicated historical roots; whatever the Eastern Rite; whatever…..VII’s ecclesiology and theology of the Eucharist make this whole *ad orientem* debate an accident; an accretion; and something that diverts from reasonable, needed, and solid pastoral liturgy discussions. Just as we never received from the cup for hundreds of years and have now moved passed that; so it is time to move passed the ad orientem debate.
    IMO, *east* needs to be a metaphor; not taken literally or fundamentally. We do not worship the sun – it is a sign and symbol – nothing more.

    1. @Bill deHaas:

      Hi Bill,

      I hope we can agree to disagree there. I’m a comprehensive sort of fellow; if folks want to worship ad orientem or in accordance with the usus antiquior, I think they should be allowed to do so. Heck, even Francis himself has been spotted celebrating ad orientem at times. Are we prepared to rule it out or explicitly condemn it? Doing so would cause still another printing of rubrics and missals, since they clearly suggest at times that the priest won’t, in fact, be facing the congregation, and so must turn to face them. There is a lot of muddle here, complete with conflicting information, that still needs to be sorted out.

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