Five Years of "Ad Orientem"

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Taking the Step

December 17, 2010 will mark the fifth anniversary of my standing before the altar ad orientem for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I began offering Holy Mass exclusively ad orientem at the Monastery of the Glorious Cross, where I served for a number of years as chaplain. I prepared the change in Advent 2005 with an appropriate pastoral and mystagogical catechesis.

Then Came Summorum Pontificum

After September 14, 2007, Summorum Pontificum made it much easier to celebrate the traditional rite of Holy Mass and, since undertaking my mission in Tulsa, I have offered the Extraordinary Form daily, having no desire and seeing no need, in the context of contemplative monastic life, of celebrating in the Ordinary Form.

No Going Back

That being said, after five years of offering Holy Mass ad orientem, I can say that I never want to have to return to the versus populum position. While traveling, I am, however, sometimes obliged to celebrate versus populum, notably in Ireland, in France and Italy; it leaves me with a feeling of extreme inappropriateness. I suffer from what I can only describe as a lack of sacred pudeur, or modesty in the face of the Holy Mysteries. When obliged to celebrate versus populum, I feel viscerally, as it were, that there is something very wrong -- theologically, spiritually, and anthropologically -- with offering the Holy Sacrifice turned toward the congregation.

Ten Advantages

What are the advantages of standing at the altar ad orientem, as I have experienced them over the past two years? I can think of ten straight off:

1. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is experienced as having a theocentric direction and focus.
2. The faithful are spared the tiresome clerocentrism that has so overtaken the celebration of Holy Mass in the past forty years.
3. It has once again become evident that the Canon of the Mass (Prex Eucharistica) is addressed to the Father, by the priest, in the name of all.
4. The sacrificial character of the Mass is wonderfully expressed and affirmed.
5. Almost imperceptibly one discovers the rightness of praying silently at certain moments, of reciting certain parts of the Mass softly, and of cantillating others.
6. It affords the priest celebrant the boon of a holy modesty.
7. I find myself more and more identified with Christ, Eternal High Priest and Hostia perpetua, in the liturgy of the heavenly sanctuary, beyond the veil, before the Face of the Father.
8. During the Canon of the Mass I am graced with a profound recollection.
9. The people have become more reverent in their demeanour.
10. The entire celebration of Holy Mass has gained in reverence, attention, and devotion.

14 Comments

I can only say: Bravo! May the Maternal Heart of Mary grant us a new clerical Pentecost.

This reminds me of an old TV commercial. I've forgotten the product, but the line was: "Try it. You'll like it." I am not trivializing anything here. I pray that all priests will eventually feel free to celebrate ad orientem without fear of repercussions from fellow priests, their bishops and the laity. May they begin immediately.

Many years ago, I sauntered into a church and serendipitously beheld the Traditional Mass for the first time. I arrived right in the middle of the Liturgy of the Eucharist and I felt a real movement going on there, because of the ad orientem in great part; a flight forward, the whole church travelling through a spiritual cosmos with the priest in sacred robes as it's captain. I never experienced such again. So maybe it was what's possible in a very fervent ad orientem Mass.

Thank you for posting this. Your experience and thoughts are a great hope.

Excellent Reflection Father (I'll be adding you to my blogroll)


I've noticed this especially in the older Churches, that the priest is out of place whenever he's celebrating VP. (I feel that way anytime, but in particular for the older Churches). Whenever I'm on the altar serving, It's always easier for me to focus upon the mysteries when the Mass is offered Ad Orientem, my inner OCD comes out about people staring at me nit-picking at what I'm doing...It's gotten to the point where I close my eyes, whenever I'm serving VP Masses, staring at the people (outside when you're supposed to) is something that bothers me greatly. God willing I'll never have to say a Mass facing the people when I'm ordained. I can only imagine how much more distracted the priest is than I am

God bless you, Father.

From Seattle, Wa., thank you, Father for an excellent post.

You received three Ave's from me, Reverend. Merry Christmas!

Fr. Kirby,
Blessings! I saw your article in a post on Fr. Z's blog and just had to comment. I am the pastor of a small-ish parish in NC and have been offering the EF Mass since the motu proprio of our Holy Father. However, 5 years prior to that I began offering the weekday Ordinary Form Masses ad orientem. With some education and instruction the parish took to the new position just fine. After about a year, I began offering all the Sunday Masses ad orientem as well, so now 8 years later, ALL Masses here, both EF and OF, weekday and Sunday are "facing the Lord." It took a while to do, but I can tell you it's been a huge blessing not only to me, but to my parish. Congratulations and wishes for a Blessed Christmas to you and to your community. Fr. Kowalski

Father - a beautiful post. This "top 10" will come in handy this Christmas season when I get together with my extended family & the talk turns to religion, as it always does eventually. All of us Catholic, however, there is much diversity of thought with what "proper worship" entails. None of them would advocate ad orientem, most especially my Baby Boomer parents who rather like their communal Masses with a video screen & drums & a priest who is not "ignoring" them.

Dear Father,

thank you so much for your words that are truly inspiring. I hope that I will be able soon to follow your example. Not always easy in certain circumstances. Please pray for me.

In Charitate non ficta,

Michael

Wonderful! I sent this letter to a lay liturgical group recently, and wonder what you think:
"Dear__,
Regarding the restoration of ad orientem in the West, I can’t help thinking that if a fine lay-lead organization such as your own were to promote an annual 'Turning Towards the Lord Day', under some such title, it might just provide the framework and motivation needed for this to get going. In preparation for some set day each year—the Feast of the Ascension comes to mind—yours and other sympathetic groups could encourage priests to make the change on that day. Copies of the Lang book could be provided.
If we priests know that other priests will be doing the same and on the same day, it will be easier for us to go forward. Left alone, we feel ourselves and appear to others to be liturgically eccentric. But if we know for ourselves and can announce to our congregations that priests around the world are going to do the same on the same day, then we will have a firmer base to stand upon. I wish I could say that the weight of tradition and indications from the Holy Father are enough, but I’m afraid we need this little extra assistance.
If the annual event were to catch on, with more priests 'going ad orientem' each year, it would, I think, also provide the Holy See an opportunity to defend and promote the practice. I don’t think the Holy Father is prepared to make any top-down pronouncements on the matter, since it has been precisely such pronouncements that have gotten us into some of our liturgical troubles recently (the 'occidental' position was, after all, encouraged, if not mandated, by the Holy See in the 1960’s and since). But a 'bottom-up' approach, if you will, might just do the trick.
God’s will be done."

In my personal experience the most awkward moment in the Mass celebrated versus populum is the Doxology after the Lord's Prayer, when the faithful are all looking at me and saying, "For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever." And yet I continue to hear people say that Mass celebrated ad orientem exalts the priest and turns the Mass into a one-man show. Perhaps we priests should give people who think this way the opportunity to stand behind the altar for a moment (outside of Mass, obviously) while we go into the nave, look right at them, and recite that response.

Hi Father Mark! I'm Daniel! I hope you remember me! After leaving Holy Cross in Rome I also discovered The Tridentine Mass and my spiritual life changed completely! Pray for me and my vocation! Greetings from Don Antonio! You are for us the only Benedictine priest that taught us the love for liturgy, for the Divine Sacrifice! I hope to keep in touch only if you want!

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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