How One Picture Makes the Case for Ad Orientem


They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. That being the case, the picture above is a powerful argument in favor of the Mass being offered ad orientem.

In the picture we are shown the supernatural truth re-presented at every Mass. What we have is a visual reminder that the Mass is indeed a sacrifice–THE sacrifice of Calvary–and that the Eucharist is nothing less than Our Lord Himself: body, blood, soul, and divinity.

The priest offering the Mass ad orientem joins with the faithful, on the same side of the altar and this side of humanity, as he leads us to the Cross through his priestly ordination and the words of consecration.

The priest and people face together the crucifix and tabernacle, visually reinforcing that it is Christ, the perfect, holy, and spotless victim being offered to God the Father.

The picture above also illustrates how the priest himself disappears to a degree when the Mass is offered ad orientem; a sort of liturgical anonymity. It is not Fr. ____ who we see or hear at this pinnacle of the Holy Sacrifice; his personality is irrelevant to the action of the Mass.

It is not his face we see, his expression and mannerisms, but only the ornateness of his vestments and the overall beauty of the sanctuary. And it is this beauty that glorifies God and further directs us towards the source of beauty itself.

With the great elevation of the host it is the Eucharist, and nothing else, that we are drawn to adore. This, of course, can be further aided by the silent recitation of the Canon and the accompaniment of Sanctus bells at the moment of consecration.

There are obviously many more liturgical, theological, and historical arguments that can be made in support of ad orientem liturgies. The mere fact that it was the near universal practice of the Church, east and west, for the first two thousand years is compelling enough. Just last year Cardinal Sarah of the Congregation for Divine Worship reiterated the fruits of returning to the traditional practice.

But sometimes we need to forego a well researched and well reasoned defense and simply let an image speak for itself. To that end, the picture above succeeds.

Photo credit: SueAnn Howell/Catholic News Herald

Posted on January 7, 2017, in liturgy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. It is true. The picture says so much. What we are going through as Catholics with our Mass is tragic. I Put it on Twitter.

  2. Franklin P. Uroda

    I’ve been around, and seen many Holy Sacrifices of Jesus God Almighty. They were all “Ad Deum, qui laetificat.”

  3. Francis Philip

    In the Universe, I am not sure how one gets so sentimental about the east of earth. Consider Mass on the chaos of the battlefield or Mass in outer space…an orientation on a geographical direction tied to a planet just seems infinitely limiting. Or, stand on the north or South Pole and look in every direction where doing so will never find east or west…

    • Apparently the Church east and west has been guilty of “sentimentality” since the beginning. Further, as we are spirit AND flesh, and temporal beings residing on earth, liturgical direction is a big deal. Finally, as we are finite beings and spiritually influenced by the physical constructs of our liturgical prayer, matters such as ad orientem worship are important.

      • For me, a “former, mass-confused, NO-only” Catholic, I get it! Regardless of the actual orientation of the sanctuary, the priest/pastor is leading the congregation to the holy throne of our Eternal King; an opportunity for us, sinful beings in need of His grace and mercy, to give our best in worship due him. This powerful gesture should be a model for ALL Christians to at least consider. In my WELS (Wisc. Synod) parish, our pastor, on most occasions, will turn towards the altar table for our “Lutheran Confetior.” Simple, but moving indeed. Thanks for posting this. God Bless.

      • Francis Philip

        There is not a good reason to assign guilt. But, as the Church has grown beyond the belief that the sun and planets revolved around the earth, we should also be able to grow beyond the ancient sunrise orientation, and also beyond the ancient Jewish orientation toward the Temple Mount. God is in our tabernacles: let us orient ourselves in that direction, where He Is. God is also everywhere else, but let us at least focus on His Real Presence while He is there.

  4. I have always been grateful for the mass in English with the priest facing the congregation. It is the best thing that came out of Vatican 11 for me. I find it so beautiful and worshipful. I can’t thank God enough for it!!!

  5. The first thing I saw when I looked at that picture, before reading the title of the article, my eyes were drawn to Jesus. And every time I look at that picture, my focus goes right to Him. Perhaps this is a small change that could have huge consequences. It was not prescribed by Vatican II – it’s been implemented incorrectly. Should we not remedy the error(s)? The Church can explain to the people who complain the priest has his back to them, that if he faces them, the priest’s back will be to God. Instead we will all face God.

  6. It took me a few moments to realize that it was not a priest on the back side of the altar…I saw a priest reaching out to a man kneeling in front of the altar. I see Christ Himself reaching – it was only in looking closer that I saw it was a picture of a priest holding up the Eucharist.

  7. Obsessing endlessly about the Mass a) is not our job and b) sinks to the level of superstition when it goes on and on and on. You want Tridentine, go Tridentine. You want Ordinary, go Ordinary. But, please, stop with the endless narcissistic griping!

  8. Jennie Stanbro

    My parish now has the Risen Lord on the Cross. How I wish they hadn’t done that. It is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, not a celebration of the Mass. Yes, I understand we r in the Easter season but catholics today by their voting choices, show they need to be reminded of Christ’s suffering on a daily basis. Sadly the NO Mass, for the most part, as become all about celebrations. Enough.

  9. God is Spirit. We worship Him in spirit and in truth. So there should not be any fixed direction. Moreover Jesus would be looking at His disciples when He said “Take this all of you and eat it. This is My body……”

    And when Jesus was hanging on the cross i think He would be facing the “congregation”. The lamb of God; the sacrifice, would be facing the people.

    I’ve attended a Latin mass once. I felt very disconnect because the priest’s back was towards me and i cant see or hear him. I don’t know what’s going on.

    So Ad Orientem is not for me. I want to participate in the mass. I want to see Jesus in the persona of the priests, holding up the sacrifice of His body and blood, facing me and telling me of His sacrifice for me.

    • Hi Christopher, you have some good points, e.g. Jesus looking at his disciples. In Mass ad orientem we are all facing Jesus – the priest leading us. This is the ritual maintained in the Liberal Catholic Church where I was a long-time member of the clergy – and I liked the idea of us facing Jesus. Having converted to Roman Catholicism in a long, roundabout way in 2015, I, however, commiserate with you when it comes to our participation in a Latin Mass. The Liturgy is actually quite clear in indicating / directing congregational responses, but this rarely happens. It would – in my opinion – just require the priests to train the congregation in their Latin responses. As this seems unlikely to happen, I now attend regular Mass – and I am not getting “hung up” about “any fixed direction” anymore.

  1. Pingback: SUNDAY EDITION | Big Pulpit


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: