Versus orientem: The Spadaro Tweets

Fr. Antonio Spadaro, the “Jesuit’s Jesuit,” is a trusted adviser of Pope Francis and Editor in Chief of the semi-official Vatican newspaper Civiltà Cattolica. Hence it is significant that he tweeted yesterday about the controversial proposal of Cardinal Sarah that priests turn around this coming Advent and face liturgical east, as was common before the Second Vatican Council. One suspects that his position is also that of Pope Francis. The significance of these tweets, then, is not so much their content as what they probably saying about the prevailing opinion in Pope Francis’s closest circle.

Here are the tweets.Screenshot (3)


Screenshot (2)



Screenshot (1)


  1. Genuine ignorance of how ad orientem is celebrated or deliberately misinterpreting the rubrics? Either way, it’s troubling.

  2. What is the real experience of the people? I’ve heard mention of the personal preference of the priest, but what of the people? Do the people see the priest celebrating ad orientem as leading them in prayer toward God? Is their preference to follow? Likewise do the people experiencing the priest celebrating vesus populum have an experience of being included in the celebration and the whole thing being a genuine work of all gathered together?

    1. @Br. August Schaefer, OSB:

      Speaking for myself, I prefer the imagery of being led forward, and I find ad orientem much less distracting. I’m better able to focus on my role in the pews of praying the prayers, singing the music when appropriate, etc when there’s not someone looking out at me most of the time. That isn’t to say I’m not aware or don’t care what is going on; liturgical fouls are just as distracting if a person knows the rubrics reasonably well. Having said that, I realize that I’m wired differently than most and don’t really enjoy the hand holding, hand shaking, and other touchy feely bits that can take place during Mass, either.

    2. @Br. August Schaefer, OSB:
      I much prefer versus populum and here is why:
      When I was 11 I became an altar boy and learned the Latin responses, and served Mass while offered ad orientem. My mom was proud of me, but that was about it. By the time I was 12 that changed and serving at a 7:00AM Mass in the convent, and being a witness to the consecration filled me with a personal sense of awe that I have never forgotten, and do not believe I would have ever experienced but for that change.

      I understand that in a large church with varieties of cultures that sort of intensity can be hard to find because people come late, leave early, go to the rest room, babies cry, etc., and not everyone is going to ahve my experience. But, if I was faced with a choice of ad orientem or nothing, I would still go, but probably only because I had that experience, and given a choice, I am always choosing versus populum. Every time.

  3. I was a little perplexed by the fact that Fr Spadaro chose to quote a rubric whose only real purpose is to tell the priest (who it presupposes isn’t facing the people at the time) to face the people.

    Similarly minorly irritated to see ++Vincent choosing to quote from the GIRM on the desirability of celebration facing the people when, long before the GIRM was translated into English, it had been clarified that it was the desirability of the altar being freestanding that was intended by the Latin.

    I genuinely don’t get how, in a Missal filled with optional choices, we should be so hung up on what should be a legitimate option – the orientation of the celebrant. It didn’t inhibit the growth of the Church for a thousand years and more – it’s probably not going to bring about the apocalypse now!

    Anyhow, when our prelates and people of influence get into a state defending the much neglected Roman Canon, then I’ll pay a little more attention…

  4. Both sides need to admit ambiguities. It peeves me when people distort facts to promote a wider agenda. The GIRM quote annoys me because it was taken out of a context that presupposed ad orientem orientation. The quotes about “all of history and unified tradition celebrating facing east” likewise annoy me because of their ignoring the truth that the history of liturgical orientation is quite messy. If we were voting, I’d say that I tend to prefer ad orientem worship. Since we don’t make these decisions simply based on opinions, that preference should matter for little. I wish we could have a real open discussion about posture and gesture in the liturgy at some point in the next few decades. I dream that this discussion could be somehow separated from ideological dogmatism on other issues.

  5. Also, these are from Francis Rocca (of WSJ):

    Vatican spokesman, clarifying @Card_R_Sarah, discourages use of “reform of the reform,” says term is “source of misunderstandings”…

    Vatican spokesman says pope met with @Card_R_Sarah to clarify that there are no new instructions for ad orientem celebration during Advent…

    Vatican spokesman, re @Card_R_Sarah statements, recalls that Pope has said traditional Latin Mass should not replace post-Vatican II form…

    ETA: The full statement from Fr. Lombardi (in Italian):

  6. Logically, why would the GIRM need to specifically note the priest should “face the people” when it is the default position anyway or the ONLY option?

    I agree with Mr Surrency above, that it is ambiguous as to whether the versus populum or ad orientem is the “default”. Clearly though the texts cited by Fr. Spadaro actually confirms that the orientation is optional. I note also that Cardinal Nichols only dissuaded, but not forbid the ad orientem, as far as I can tell. As chief liturgical authority in his diocese he’s well within his power to do so I believe.

  7. 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.

  8. Cullen and Koterski’s argument for the mistranslation of n.299 is addressed by Baldovin. Baldovin concludes that while it is possible to read ‘wherever possible’ as referring to the separation of the altar, it is certainly not the most likely reading.

  9. The ironic thing is the very rubric he cites is inserted there, because the other rubrics presume the Priest is facing the other direction. Laughable.

  10. Relevant extract

    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.

  11. The Vatican press office has just issued a statement on this. See America Magazine online for Gerald O’Connel’s report. There will be no change.

  12. The CDW has clarified that the “wherever possible” of GIRM 299 refers to both the altar and the celebration but also that it’s merely a suggestion, not an obligation and no rigid rule is intended.

  13. Reyanna Rice : The Vatican press office has just issued a statement on this. See America Magazine online for Gerald O’Connel’s report. There will be no change.

    In other words, both orientations will continue to be legitimate.

  14. Both orientations will continue to be legitimate, as Fr Forte says.

    But it’s clear that both the CDW clarification and an accurate reading of GIRM section 299 commend or suggest Mass facing the people, or note that it “seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier”.

    Both are legitimate; one appears to be officially recommended.

  15. If one strictly interprets post-conciliar documents, one can reasonably formulate an argument that versus populum is allowed if not encouraged. But I’d think it’s important to note that the romam missal also indicated that men only should be selected for the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, but I’m sure many (probably most) of those arguing against ad orientem worship have been allowing women to be included in that rite for years. How does one reconcile the two? Do we follow the rubrics or not? .

  16. I cannot imagine that anyone thought for a moment that Pope Francis was an advocate of facing the altar (simply permitting it is a different matter). Had he wanted to, he would have done so long ago – and besides, it was clear on the few occasions that he celebrated in such a manner that he was completely unfamiliar with how to do so. That Spadaro’s advocacy of facing the people dovetails with that of the Pope doesn’t seem like a gigantic revelation.

    The tweet about the chair is a complete non-sequitur, by the way, and Spadaro’s quoting of the rubrics reveals perhaps more excitement than reflection, since most don’t really support his position (some might say a couple are ‘points’ for ‘the other side’).

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