Why Ad Orientem is Anathema to So Many


It is still mind blowing to see the continuing reaction to Cardinal Robert Sarah’s call for more ad orientem masses. As I have chronicled previously, the swift response from the Vatican to the Cardinal’s address at Sacra Liturgia U.K. was enough to make your head spin. In an era of conflicting ecclesial conferences, ambiguous footnotes, and “go make a mess” Catholicism, it would appear that right worship and traditional orientation might be the only exception to the rule.

The real question we need to ask is this: Why are so many bishops opposed to masses being offered ad orientem?

The answer may be as simple as this: Pride.

That’s it. Pride. That foundation of all sins. It caused the fall of the angel Lucifer. It lead to the fall of Adam. And it’s been the cause of the widespread collapse of the faith in the post-conciliar years.

Offering the Mass ad orientem forces us to recognize, without any doubt or confusion, just who it is we are worshipping.

Sin tells man to worship himself. Virtue instructs him to worship God.

If you want to understand why the opposition to a mere suggestion from Cardinal Sarah is so intense, look no further than pride.

For a better understanding of this we only need to listen Pope Benedict XVI. Writing in The Spirit of the Liturgy, in the chapter The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer, (then) Cardinal Ratzinger notes:

“In reality what happened was that an unprecedented clericalization came on the scene. Now the priest — the “presider”, as they now prefer to call him — becomes the real point of reference for the whole Liturgy. Everything depends on him. We have to see him, to respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing.”

Connecting the dots even more on this unhealthy preoccupation to see the priest during the liturgy, an argument so foundational for proponents of versus populum (facing the people), Ratzinger continues:

“The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is locked into itself. The common turning toward the East was not a “celebration toward the wall”; it did not mean that the priest “had his back to the people”: the priest himself was not regarded as so important.”

The priest himself was not regarded as so important. Unless, of course, modernity has decided that he is; that man’s focus upon himself is more important. It’s excused in various ways:

We have to engage people.

The people aren’t ready for this. We need weeks/ months/ years/ decades/ generations(?) of catechesis to prepare them.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal doesn’t allow for it in the Novus Ordo.

Excuses. Falsehoods. The only thing preventing more masses from being offered ad orientem is pride. Or possibly fear. Fear of man instead of a virtuous fear of the Lord.

But that’s an entirely different vice for another discussion.

(Photo Credit: Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.)

Posted on July 16, 2016, in liturgy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. Pride, that’s it. A pride cemented by poor seminary formation and an absence of formation (e.g., a bishop celebrating Mass with decorum and with sensitivity to nuance) during those annual clergy retreats.

    And, fear. Fear of having to actually learn how to celebrate the Mass with dignity and reverence. I.e., having to make time and use their brains to (re-)learn how to celebrate Holy Mass in a manner in continuity with the ars celebrandi (typical associated with the Extraordinary and Anglican Ordinariate Forms). Skills mostly forgotten or never appreciated among Ordinary Form clergy.

    Great posts! Keep ’em coming!

  2. Worship in the eternal state as depicted in the Bible’s Book of Revelation is directed toward the Throne and Person of God and nowhere else.

  3. Yep, pride. Ultimately leading to the dethroning of God and the deification of man, the heart of modernism. https://nonvenipacem.com/2016/07/16/the-dethroning-of-god-and-the-deification-of-man/

  4. “The heart of the ideology driving the post-Conciliar reform of the liturgical books is the destruction of the Traditional understanding of the Mass as a sacrifice, namely,
    the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary, the offering of the Son to the Father. Without the Roman Canon, which the reformers tried to get rid of entirely, that the Mass is a sacrifice is not evident in the three new Eucharistic prayers.
    What is at stake in the insistence on versus populum [facing the people] is the very nature of the Mass. What most Catholics believe today is that the Mass is a community meal and the priest’s job is to say the words that change the bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ for the purpose of Holy Communion. The Mass is for them. The priest facing the people engenders this understanding quite readily and enforces a heavily horizontal experience of the Mass. The almost universal practice of Communion in the hand standing in a line as if waiting for ham in a deli is the result of a deliberate repression of Communion on the tongue kneeling and telling the people that standing in the hand is the only way to receive Holy Communion after Vatican II. All nonsense. All ideology.” http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2016/07/contra-cardinal-sarah-bitter-and.html

  5. I suspect for many priests it’s shame and inadequacy. For some, working long hours and covering multiple parishes, they resent that their efforts aren’t good enough. As a great Fraternity priest said, “it’s not their fault they don’t know what they don’t know.” They went to seminary at the worst possible time, when everything traditional was scorned. Most lack any appreciable knowledge of Scholastic theology as well as Latin, of course.

    • SSPX priests cover multiple “parishes”, i.e chapels too, usually traveling many miles to do so. You don’t need to understand Scholastic theology nor Latin to celebrate a Mass ad orientum.

  6. Ad Orientem allows also for the priest to be more fully engaged in the Holy Sacrifice instead of having to be the object of a spectator sport and being on stage at the table.

  7. For Catholics, there is only one location on the planet that is sacred above all others:

    Where Jesus offers Himself to His Father and to us.

    If I live in Tokyo, I face West. If I live in Moscow, I face South.
    If I live in Khartoum, I face North.
    If I live in Washington, D.C., I face East.

    Jesus with me, Jesus before me, Jesus behind me,
    Jesus in me, Jesus beneath me, Jesus above me,
    Jesus on my right, Jesus on my left,
    Jesus when I lie down, Jesus when I sit down,
    Jesus in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
    Jesus in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
    Jesus in the eye that sees me,
    Jesus in the ear that hears me. (Adapted from The Lorica of St. Patrick)

  8. O. Felix Culpa

    At our tiny parish at the far away corner of our diocese, my pastor has been doing the Ordinary Form according to the actual Mass rubrics (which provides for an ad orientem posture for the Offertory up to the distribution of Communion) for about 18 months now. He said it is because he wants us to experience the full range of options available in the Missal, so he uses a full range of opening rites, penitential rites, Eucharistic prayers, etc. as well He uses the ad orientem option for all weekday Masses and probably more than half of the Sundays.

    In that time, as far as I can tell as an ordinary parishioner, most people like the ad orientem, or (at the very worst) are indifferent. Really, it is still the Ordinary Form of the Mass! It’s really not all *that* different! Which makes it strange to read so much wild push-back about Cdl. Sarah’s mild suggestion.

    But then, there is usually wild push-back whenever anyone promotes anything that increases reverence: like using incense, wearing chasubles rather than just stoles, avoiding guitar-hymns from the 1980s, receiving on the tongue (or worse, kneeling!) As always, the freak-out is way out of proportion to the modest change.

    I think the article is correct: pride is at the root of a lot of that. After all, entire ecclesiastical careers were built around implementing the “spirit of Vatican II” and it takes quite a bit of humility to step back and say “well, that didn’t work out quite the way we had planned.”

    But I think there is something else, too: Modernism. Modernists are all atheists when you scratch the surface; they see religion as, at best, a sort of window dressing on social-justice. So they actually WANT the focus of worship to be on Man, not God — all horizontal, no vertical — in order to support their Man-focused worldview. To their minds, it is a superstitious *distraction* to focus on the Lord and His redeeming sacrifice. They see anything that increases devotion as practices as, in a way, immoral, because they take the focus off the “worshipping community.”

  9. Thank you! I wonder how my priest will take it. On the first article I got “no comment” or nil reaction. I think he was waiting on popular opinion. 😔

  10. Thank you for this.

  11. Adapted from the Bible’s Revelation Chapter 4…around the throne of God were 24 throne-seats and upon the throne-seats were 24 elders (presbytes)…the 24 elders fall down before Him who sat on the Throne and worship.

  12. For some it’s pride, but for others it’s because they are really wolves in sheep’s clothing and they know that proper worship will bring greater grace & fruits, which, of course, they do not want. They don’t want all their decades of protestantization of the mass to be undone.

  13. You know, in psychodynamic theory, when a person responds seemingly out of proportion with the given stimulus, we have to wonder if it is an defense mechanism. Which means, the stimulus causes certain psychological discomfort (or hurt) and the person wants to protect his ego so he reacts rather fantastically.

    I think we as a society has become very, very sensitive and very, very psychologically defensive.

  14. Saying that priests and bishops resist ad orientem due to pride and fear is slander. You don’t know what is in their hearts, and it’s a low rhetorical trick to resort to ad hominem attacks. We are supposed to believe the best about others, not to resort to armchair psychoanalysis of the other person’s motives. It’s quite disrespectful. A far better approach would be to be humble yourself, and pray and fast that the Holy Spirit will guide your opponents. Pray that the truth will win. And then it would help if you would familiarize yourself with their reasoning. They were taught a certain way, and they accepted the authority of those who taught them. Tell them there has been a misunderstanding, and that the Second Vatican council on the liturgy did not ban ad orientem. Tell them that it is optional. Tell them that many deeply spiritual clerics have some convincing arguments about how the ad orientem posture creates a more-reverent Mass, more oriented to God. There are a lot of good reasons. Attacking people will not work. But facts just might. If they don’t agree with you, hand the matter over to the Holy Spirit and get back to looking after your own sanctification, working on your own humility, and owning your own fears.

    • Thank you for commenting, but I couldn’t disagree more with you Roseanne. First, I said “many” and “maybe”, in no way suggesting that this applies to all of our holy bishops. The point of this post is to determine why the fierce resistance to something that dates back to antiquity, was always the norm, and a practice in both east and west for 1900 years.

      As to all of your recommendations for instructing them on the “why” of AO worship, that’s exactly what people of good faith have been doing for decades. From Bouyer, to Gamber, to Ratzinger, to Sarah. Many have tried, and yet their efforts are flat out rejected, with no discussion or discernment, including this most recent instance with Cdl. Sarah. To speculate on the idea that pride is at the root of this militant resistance to something as obvious as the Mass offered ad orientem is quite reasonable.

      • What is behind your sharp criticism? Pride? Fear? Those have to be the only reasons why you believe the way you do… Why? Because I’m copying you.

      • Hmm. I’m sorry that you don’t want to discuss this seriously. The article, one of three or four that I’ve written on AO worship, speaks for itself. It is perfectly responsible and charitable to discuss (and speculate) why certain prelates are quicker to squash the mere suggestions of Cdl. Sarah than they are those of Cdl. Marx or Cdl. Kasper. The purpose and tradition of AO worship has been discussed ad nauseam. At some point we must ask what the heck is going on. With some bishops, the answer becomes perfectly clear from their own words and actions.

      • I am on the same side as you are. But your methods of attributing motives of pride and fear are detestable. I write about these issues too. I am simply trying to tell you that your not doing the right thing even though you have good reasons for wanting ad orientem worship to be restored.

      • Roseanne, I do appreciate your feedback and I know (from your writings and comments on Facebook) that we are on the same side. I would simply note that I am fortunate to have many holy, orthodox, and thoughtful priests and lay persons reading and sharing my blog, and the consistent feedback is that I strike a good balance. Over three years and 180-200 posts, some may have less tact, some may be more (or less) direct in tone; but overall I am comfortable with the content I post.

        God bless and thanks again for taking the time to comment.

    • Regarding other possible reasons for their quick response to Cdl. Sarah’s suggestion, I did end my post by noting:

      The only thing preventing more masses from being offered ad orientem is pride. Or possibly fear. Fear of man instead of a virtuous fear of the Lord. But that’s an entirely different vice for another discussion.

  15. I agree totally. We are starving for right worship. This is what we need to rescue our beautiful Holy Mother Church.

  16. Mass facing the people was, I have read, advocated by Luther and other reformers as a way of promoting “understanding” and a way of demystifying the Liturgy. Communication and teaching –thus the emphasis on preaching– was basic to Luther. The efficacy of the Mass (Communion) depended on an individual’s Faith, alone. There was no real presence except by way of Faith. Understanding (by way of vocal and visual) teaching led to “I believe”. Ritual became for Luther a means of teaching.

    Luther, of course, rejected the Roman Church’s emphasis on the Mass as a sacrifice offered in expiation of sins committed against a vengeful God. To Luther, again as I have read, understood the altar itself to be more like a table to which Christ invites all people with open hands and heart so that they can take and receive grace and mercy. We need only recall Luther’s conversion experience to explain his understanding. Much of Catholic preaching today is about grace and mercy, far less about sin and judgement.

    Naturally, then, the Last Supper became a prominent scene of Lutheran art. Prior to the Reformation, the Last Supper scene was rarely used in retables at high altars. Luther recommended it, as useful to understanding, for the main art panels on the altar.

    Crucifixion scenes, of course, continued to be central to Lutheran art but were depicted as something from the past, something the meaning of which had to be taught. Thus the visual emblem of Lutheranism is a scene of the crucifix in a plain church surrounded by Luther (or other some other preacher) on one side preaching –while pointing to the crucifix with one hand and the other hand resting on the scriptures– to a congregation on the other side.

    Further, Lutheran Last Supper scenes depicted Christ and his apostles dressed in the contemporary clothing of Luther’s time. Even further, the people seated “around” the table were often prominent members of the congregation. This seems to make the Last Supper “present” unlike the crucifixion. In the main panels of Lutheran retables, crucifixion scenes usually include John the Baptist pointing to Christ on the Cross but also Luther or other prominent preachers included also pointing but with one hand on the scriptures.

    I am of the opinion that the strong reaction against ad orientum is simply a matter of the reemergence of Luther’s theology and his desacralization of Christianity. it fits perfectly with our contemporary cultural experience with its emphasis on science and understanding.

    I don’t think it is so much about pride as it the triumph of Lutheran theology in the Catholic Church.

  17. it is Anathema because of all the poison that was given to us after the council….i remember. how sad, but little by little the reverence is returning, as saying the N.O. Ad Orientem is beautiful, even though the Latin Mass is a favorite

  18. James J Martinelli

    Whom we worship…. not ‘who’.

  1. Pingback: Why Ad Orientem is Anathema to So Many – Roscoe's Story

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  3. Pingback: Why Ad Orientem Mass is Anathema to So Many? | PagadianDiocese.org

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