Lincoln: Ad Orientem Masses Encouraged during Advent

PrayTell readers will recall the kerfuffle around Card. Sarah’s remarks about presiding at the Eucharist “ad orientem” beginning this Advent. The Diocese of Lincoln, NE, has promoted this proposal.

The diocesan newspaper of that diocese states “[d]uring Advent again this year, priests all around the world will celebrate Mass ad orientem in response to a request by His Eminence, Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. This will include priests in the Diocese of Lincoln, all of whom are invited to celebrate the Mass in this way during Advent.

Quoting an op-ed by Bishop James Coley from November 21, 2014, the column continues “Even in Churches that did not face the east, the priest and people stood together in the Mass, gazing at Christ on the crucifix, on the altar, and in the tabernacle, to recall the importance of watching for his return.”

The paper, continuing, states “[t]his symbolism is especially appropriate during Advent, the season during which all Catholics eagerly await the coming of the Lord. “Today, at a time when it is easy to forget that Christ is coming—and easy to be complacent in our spiritual lives and in the work of evangelization—we need reminders that Christ will come,” the bishop reasoned in his 2014 column.”

The bishop, who already presides at his cathedral using this posture, is said to be “leading by example” in this matter.

Read the whole thing here. 



  1. And:

    “Father Rayer emphasized that Cardinal Sarah’s request to resume ad orientem during Advent is completely optional. It’s up to each priest to decide what is best for the lay faithful, and also what the physical space around the altar allows.

    Bishop Conley has requested that any priest who chooses to celebrate Mass ad orientem during Advent provide appropriate catechesis to the faithful before doing so.”

  2. Hmm. The Bishop responds to Cardinal Sarah, but not to the Pope? Glad I don’t live in NE. This can’t do much for harmony during Advent.

  3. 3 Parishes near me mad the permanent change. Several others seem to do it during Advent and Lent. Several practice it just during weekday morning Masses.

  4. The bishop, who already presides at his cathedral using this posture, is said to be “leading by example” in this matter.

    And one wonders: In what other matters does this bishop intend to “lead by example” this Advent and, onward? How does this bishop “lead by example” in following the missionary mandate of the Lord? In living the Joy of the Gospel in the spirit of the Beatitudes in his episcopal ministry?

    One surely hopes this bishop does more than merely going out of his way to adopt a particular liturgical posture during mass.

  5. It’s an interesting proposition, and perhaps has some merit. But it seems like a solution in search of a problem. Any priest who would consider ad orientem worship is surely already celebrating Mass in a reverent manner, so this option will not have the effect of reigning in talk-show style presiding.

    If you asked a sample of people in the pews what about Mass needs improving, the top three responses would likely be preaching, music, and hospitality. Endless debates about the orientation of the presider do nothing to address these issues.

  6. Remember, this is the same Lincoln once led by the far right leaning Fabian Bruskewicz. Apparently the Vatican found in Bishop Conley one who would continue with his predecessor’s liturgical policies. It probably won’t create much of a stir in a diocese where I’m told so many believe they are safeguarding “tradition” in following practices like no altar girls, mostly male readers and CM’s, no blessings during communion, and in many places no communion under both species at all Sunday Masses. They do have lots of seminarians and priests. Perhaps they will begin exporting them to neighboring dioceses.

  7. We often claim to be serious about letting local bishops lead their dioceses; oughtn’t we be consistent, whether it’s about liturgy or pastoral matters?

    Whatever the disagreements may be, Lincoln has mostly stable or growing parishes and schools and a strong record of drawing vocations and evangelizing through their Newman centers on college campuses. They seem to have struck a successful balance of engaging in the culture while standing in contrast to it. There will, I’m sure, be debates about the causes and correlations there.

  8. This, not too serious thought, occurred to me when reading the original post re all facing the same direction.

    What would happen if Christ were to return via the main door when they are all facing the other way?

  9. Erm…

    “The eastward-facing position of the celebrant in the old Mass was never intended as a celebration toward the holy of holies, nor can it really be described as “facing the altar”. In fact it would be contrary to all theological reason, since the Lord is present in the eucharistic gifts during the Mass in the same way as he is in the gifts of the tabernacle which come from the Mass. Thus the Eucharist would be celebrated “from” the Host “to” the Host, which is plainly meaningless. There is only one inner direction of the Eucharist, namely, from Christ in the Holy Spirit to the Father. The only question is how this can be best expressed in liturgical form.”

    Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, p139-40.

    1. @Chris Castell:
      That quotation from Ratzinger is very interesting. What, then, would be “ad Dominum”? Some seem to assume it would be to the East, but as this quotation shows, the Lord is truly present on the altar. I know that Ratzinger wrote positively of ad orientem, but I’m increasingly aware of how that means the people are hindered from seeing the Lord on the altar in the gifts of bread and wine. I think everyone gathered around the altar, where they can best see the altar and best see the gifts, is in many ways more ad Dominum than the setup where the priest mostly obscures the view of the altar and the gifts.

  10. @anthony ruff, osb
    My thoughts precisely. If true ‘ad orientem’ is to the Lord himself, then a lot of the talk of switching back as some kind of necessity is based on false premises, rationalising preference into theology.

    If He is the eschatological east, then I get the symbolism but the subsequent thoughts in The Spirit of the Liturgy don’t of necessity conclude in either ad orientem OR a great big cross in the centre of the altar (which in turn contradicts the principle of a single altar cross when there is one on the sanctuary wall), any more than (and here’s the rationalisation) versus populum automatically leads to a community being closed in on itself. This is where he’s trying to be practical but where I think he misses the point.

    The potential flaws with both approaches are equally possible in either. The answer is proper catechesis and mystagogy, and just doing it properly.

  11. Oops – to answer the question: I would consider the altar where the Lord comes to be the focus of ‘ad dominum’ in this sense. So would he, I think – he celebrates both ways without batting an eyelid, and always has.

  12. I think one would find support in the Catechism to say that Christ is present at Mass in many ways:

    – His body and blood in the form of bread and wine
    – The altar itself (Catechism §1383, quoting St Ambrose)
    – The gathered assembly (the body of Christ)
    – The ordained celebrant (§1548)
    – Sacred scripture (§102)

    This suggests that it is incorrect to say that a priest facing the assembly is therefore “facing away from God” or to speak of a closed circle, or to use ad Deum or ad Dominum to refer exclusively to facing the apse.

    None of this offers a reason to avoid celebrating facing the apse, or facing East; it simply implies that the more customary usage of the priest facing the people should not be viewed as inferior.

  13. @ Johnathan Day

    “None of this offers a reason to avoid celebrating facing the apse, or facing East; it simply implies that the more customary usage of the priest facing the people should not be viewed as inferior.”

    When deciding on the posture of the priest, I don’t think the different ways in which Christ is present in the sacred liturgy should have primacy in our consideration (i.e. In the assembly, the priest, the Word of God, and consecrated species). What should have primacy in our consideration are the ends of the Mass (i.e. adoration, thanksgiving, atonement and petition). What are we trying to facilitate and accomplish by our gathering together about the altar? Isn’t it adoration of God the Father, through the Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit? Turning away from the people and directing our prayers together toward the heavens beyond the altar has greater sign value and points to these ends with more emphasis than toward the people or gazing upon what’s on the altar. Adoration of the Eucharistic species is not the focus of the anaphora. Facing the people or encircling the altar gives greater weight to the ways in which Christ is present in the liturgy, but ad orientem puts the overarching reason that Christ makes himself present in the first place into focus. For this reason, I would argue that it is a superior posture and should have primacy of place in the sacred liturgy.

    1. @Fr. Steve Hartley:
      Well I suppose so, if those “four ends” according to the Baltimore Catechism are your basis for understanding the mystery of the blessed Eucharist.

      I would suggest a richer and more Catholic understanding of the ends of the Mass – based on the New Testament, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. The old “four ends” are all certainly true and not false, but they are best put into a larger context.

      A better Eucharistic theology might affect how you answer the question of the direction of the priest at Mass.


  14. The modern apologists for celebration facing the apse (and “traditionalists” are very modern indeed) are quick to say that the priest is never turning away from the people, but rather facing the same direction with them.

    Fr Hartley isn’t so restrained: in his Eucharistic theology, the priest is deliberately turning away from the people, apparently because the Father, to whom our prayers are being addressed, is “away from the people”. Deeply flawed theology, in my view, and misguided liturgical practice: just as misguided as spurning the exchange of the peace.

    CS Lewis wasn’t a Catholic; in fact there’s a lot of anti-Catholicism in his work. But every now and then he got it just right. This is from The Weight of Glory:

    Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

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