Facing God: 10 Advantages of Ad Orientem

Catholic churches are traditionally built facing the East, because, as Cardinal Ratzinger taught, this direction reflects the “cosmic sign of the rising sun which symbolizes the universality of God.”

Ordinary Form, Ad Orientem. - Southern Orders, http://southernorderspage.blogspot.com.

Listers, Fr. Mark Kirby offers an excellent reflection on ad orientem.1 On his blog, Vultus Christi, Father Kirby reflects on five years of saying the Holy Mass ad orientem. He states, “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.”

Ad Orientem is Latin for to the east and refers to the direction the priest faces during the mass. Catholic churches are traditionally built facing the East, because, as Cardinal Ratzinger taught, this direction reflects the “cosmic sign of the rising sun which symbolizes the universality of God.”2 The priest facing the altar is also referred to as Ad Deum, which is Latin for to God. First, this phrase sidesteps so-called problems that arise if the priest is facing the altar in a Church that has not been built facing the East. Second, it provides a strong contrast to the phrase Versus Populum, which is Latin for facing the people. While the ancient liturgies did speak of the priest turning and “facing the people” during certain parts of the mass, the concept of celebrating the entire mass versus populum is arguably an invention of the 1970’s, an invention that stands in direct contradistinction to the Church’s ancient traditions.

In celebrating five years of switching to ad orientem/ad deum from versus populum, Father Kirby submits “10 Advantages” to celebrating the mass facing the East.


Bishop Edward Slattery celebrates a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form in Washington (CNS photo)
Bishop Edward Slattery celebrates a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form in Washington (CNS photo)


10 Advantages of Ad Orientem

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.


In contrast, he also speaks of the disadvantage of occasionally having to celebrate versus populum. He laments, “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.”3 Father Kirby is not the only advocate of ad orientem in the Tulsa Diocese. His Excellency Bishop Slattery celebrates mass ad Deum and has been a vocal critic of versus populum. In his own words, he states, “it was a serious rupture with the Church’s ancient tradition. Secondly, it can give the appearance that the priest and the people were engaged in a conversation about God, rather than the worship of God. Thirdly, it places an inordinate importance on the personality of the celebrant by placing him on a kind of liturgical stage.”4


Bonus Memes!


Ad Orientem Sunrise Meme


Ad Orientem Cartoon Meme


Ad Orientem Matrix Meme


Ad Orientem Meme Cry


Ad Orientem Francis Meme


Ad Orientem Meme Latin

  1. Fr. Kirby: At the time of his blog post, Fr. Kirby was the Prior of the Diocesan Benedictine Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is now at the Silverstream Priory. []
  2. Cardinal Ratzinger on the East: The Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Ad Solem, 2006 p. 64 []
  3. Father Kirby: The good priest wrote this reflection in 2010 in a blog entitled, Five Years of Ad Orientem, h/t to the Rorate Caeli post Fr. Mark Kirby on Ad Orientem and the TLM for pointing us toward Father Kirby’s reflection. []
  4. Bishop Slattery: The quote is taken from Oklahoma bishop explains return to ad orientem worship Catholic Culture, August 18, 2009. His Excellency has also penned an article for his diocesan news paper on Ad Orientem – PDF. He also written an article for the National Catholic Register on the liturgy, in which he proclaims “nothing was broken” in the pre-Vatican II liturgy. []
  • My monastery relocated to Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland two years ago. Still under the patronage of Our Lady of the Cenacle, it is called Silverstream Priory.

  • Jennifer Blankenship

    Great post. Father Kirby left Tulsa for Ireland a couple of years ago, FYI

    • Thank you, we’ve made the correction. God bless.

  • Everyone facing the same direction has always made more sense to me, and the priest is supposed to lead us in prayer (among other things). Who shows the way by doing the opposite? Facing the people, the priest draws more attention to himself, which is okay during the homily, but we are all together to worship God as one body. Somehow, the priest looks more reverent, more like he’s leading when he faces the East like everyone else. Transepts may not face East, but the principle remains the same.

  • Patty Sterling

    I can see merit in both positions. To me Versus Populum means that the priest is bringing the attention of the congregation to the mass and opening it up to them. In turning his back, the priest is celebrating solo and excluding the congregation. The Ad Orientum argument is new to me and interesting but I lean towards the other.

  • JP

    Cool St. Mary’s (in Pine Bluff WI) was in this!

  • Zoe

    Fabulous article! It all just seems to click so perfectly, from the Confiteor to the Elevation, when the mass is said ad orientem. Every time I have attended a versus populum mass it gave me the impression that the priest was offering not a sacrifice to God but rather to the congregation, with his back to the Body of Christ (the tabernacle) and the crucifix. I would much the prefer the priest to act as an alter Christus and lead the people in prayer and preparation for the awesome sacrifice about to take place upon the altar. I feel so much more unified with the entire celebration, rather than watching from the pews a man facing us on a sort of stage. It always pains me to see a beautiful high altar either torn out or obscured by a modern free-standing altar haphazardly placed in front of it.

  • Jacob Vadakkel

    Most of the Oriental Rites preserve the heritage of celebrating the Holy Mass facing the East.

  • Tina In Ashburn

    A priest once told me that saying Mass Versus Populum distracts him. Because he is forced to see people, what they are doing, how they are dressed, coming and going – his achieving recollection and focus on the Sacrifice is much harder. When he faces the Tabernacle, it is easier to focus on the God right in front of him.

    Versus Populum is a lie, in a way, because the posture does not face the God we are addressing – this posture makes it look as if the priest is addressing the people, that we gather around a table together. Because of this incorrect emphasis on people, priests make eye contact, smile, speak dramatically [I find priestly theatrics a huge impediment to prayer and focus on the Mass] and generally forget that the Mass is directed to God, not people. People benefit, yes, but the laity is NOT the object of this Holy Conversation.

    Because of the Versus Populum posture, people indeed have forgotten that the Mass addresses God the Father – the Mass is an offering of the Son as Victim.

    • TC

      Dom Dix, an Anglican (non-Catholic) priest, a “so-called” expert on Church worship, postulated in the 1940s and 1950s that the Early Church the bishop or priest celebrating Mass faced the people. This was the impetus (along with a LOT of falsified “research”) leading to versus populum post-Vatican II. Versus populum itself is a bald-faced LIE invented by Protestants. Ancient manuscripts from the Early Church (using real research) show that even in the very Early Church, the clergy and the people FACED THE EAST. This has been proven quite powerfully at the excavations of a Church circa 150 AD at Dura Europos, Syria. The bishop’s throne was to the side and everyone faced East.

      Dom Dix’s work has been massively repudiated.

  • mark murphy

    Sadly this attitude is becoming more prevalent among some priest and faithful. I am a priest and celebrating Mass with all facing the Altar of Sacrifice and being able to see one another reminds us that each one of us is sacred and the presence of God because of Christ’s Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity — made present by the priest who acts In Persona Christi. I am not sure one can get more Christ centered and ordered to the Father than that.

    • Leon Berton

      This statement, arguably, seems to present a disputable portrayal of means and ends. Yes, the ordained acts ‘in persona Christi’ in the midst of those gathered (ec-clesia).

      But the corporate liturgical action is not principally but derivatively to ‘remind us that each one of us is sacred’, but rather it effectively this concomitant finality by principally bringing each person present, insofar as possible, into profound ‘participatio actuosa’ (which is, first of all, immanent or interior personal acts of will and intellect not subordinated to transient actions), with the Eternal Father, in and through a represencing of the most central actions of Jesus the Christ.

      Celebration of the liturgy ‘ad orientem’, arguably, better maintains a proper ordering of prior or principal and secondary or derivative ends attained through acts of worship and adoration, especially in the ‘Mass’ which is the central corporate ritual of the Church.

      • Leon Berton

        I should have added to my observations the fact that, after many long years of having supported what now has come to be called the ‘Extraordinary’ form of the Mass, I personally would prefer the ‘Missa Ordinaria’ to be readily available in every diocese and large parish, if possible entirely in Latin and certainly ‘ad orientem’.

        I think certain revisions of the pre-Conciliar rubrics in accord with ancient sound liturgical principles were needed, although I in no way defend the aberrations that were foisted upon the faithful (some for decades), nor much less the manner in which the liturgical alterations were so tyrannically imposed.

        However, I do not favor equating the ‘Latin Liturgy’ with the ‘Missa Extraordinaria’, much less do I think it wise to equate full hermeneutic continuity with the Church’s history with fixating upon the pre-Conciliar rubrics, along with what often are Romanticized assumptions about anterior eras.

        Rather, I favor the ‘Missa Normativa’ or so-called ‘Novus Ordo’ being easily available in Latin, or at the discretion of the local ordinary in varying ratios of Latin and precise translations, executed with dignity and beautiful music, and said ‘ad orientem’. Until this is prevalent, yet without imposing a legalistic uniformism, I believe Roman Catholics will lack certain unifying awarenesses within their corporate consciousness.

        That should be the ‘exemplar’ of the liturgy, and I think the faithful of the Roman Church suffer from a lack of focal corporate consciousness due to the fact that the exemplar is not readily available in each and every diocese, particularly in cathedrals.

        Presently, however, one finds isolated enclaves of so-called ‘traditionalists’ tolerated by the local ordinary in order to defuse the potential impact of the S.S.P.X., and everywhere else in the diocese one finds the ‘Missa Normativa’ executed with many incidental variants.

        I do not question the sincerity of the multiple congregations where it has become habitual to execute the liturgy with various somewhat casual para-liturgical acts bonded therein.

        However, it is stunning that virtually no bishops advocate in any manner a strong presence of the ‘Missa Normativa’ in its exemplary and plenary execution, as the Council intended, said in Latin and ‘ad orientem.’

        Seemingly, many things can be tolerated except this.

  • Doris McGee

    I left the church when the Priest faced the people! To me, it lost it’s sacredness. Now I am searching for the original Mass somewhere in central Louisiana. I am 70 years old and I know that I am nearing the time of being with the Lord. This find would be wonderful and very meaningful for me.

    • Doris, please don’t deprive yourself of the Eucharist! Whether the Mass is celebrated reverently or not, Jesus is there regardless!

      As for finding a Mass “Ad Orientem”, I’d suggest looking for an FSSP parish or visiting an Eastern Rite Catholic Church.

      • Michael Brooks

        Or a Mass celebrated by one of the Priests of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.

  • Sarah

    I think Ad Orientem is lovely, and I used to prefer it by far. But unfortunately, now that I’ve developed severe hearing loss even though I’m only 30, I’ve lost access to Ad Orientem liturgies because when the priest faces the altar, I can’t read his lips. Having an ASL interpreter doens’t really solve the problem. I’m not sure exactly what, if anything, would solve it.

    • Michael Brooks

      get a “Pocket Talker”, as it has worked wonders for me, and it’s lots cheaper than regular hearing aids. Sure, it looks like a small walkman radio with earbuds, and has a small Microphone to attach to it. The Microphone picks up the voice of the Priest quite clearly for me, and I’m like 80/90% deaf in each respective ears. My Pocket Talker cost me $135, as compared to costs of hearing aids today. I hope this helps. Google: Walking Talker.

  • CJ

    Doris, I don’t know if this will help, but here is a directory of traditional Latin Masses available: http://www.ecclesiadei.org/masses.cfm

  • Please Ms. McGee, return to the sacraments right away, whether you can find Holy Mass in the Extraordinary form or not. But I perfectly well understand why you’d want “the original Mass” — maybe this will help, click here.

  • don luca

    I agree completely with these reflections
    because of my personal experience
    after six years that I celebrate Mass ad orientem
    both theologically
    both pastorally
    I do not understand how what is evident is not recognized by all
    and indeed is refused and hindered (illegally) by the bishops

  • Doris McGee

    I thank you both CJ & Tom for your kind replies. They showed me the Mass in Carencro, Louisiana, which is about 45 minutes from my home. I will definitely be attending. Thank God for the both of you. May God Bless You.

  • Bernadette Avison

    God is everywhere – North South, East West – Christ is all around us The priest is to be there for the people first and, foremost and, not for himself ! Too much emphasis on the priest and, not on Jesus Christ. Let us focus on the sacrifice of calvary. putting less emphasis on the celebrant, some of whom do it beautifully – Pope Francis has said to focus on Jesus Christ and, not on the pries.