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Bacolod City, Philippines Saturday, January 13, 2018
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Ad orientem


Last week I discussed the rising number of Catholics who pined for the old Latin Mass or what they called Ad Orientem (facing east). I just mentioned the Latin name that is actually the literal translation without intending to deal on this lengthily. I am grateful that Fr. Sean Coyle wrote immediately from Ireland to explain the term in detail since this kind of Mass does not mean that the priest faces the eastern side of the church and added with more details that we did not know about.

“ I'm writing about your column today: Traditional Mass as there's a little confusion in terminology. Ad orientem, ‘Towards the East', refers to the priest and the people facing the same way. In what is now called the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (the ‘Old Mass', the ‘Traditional Latin Mass' or ‘TLM') the priest and the people faced the same way, with rare exceptions such as St Peter's Basilica.  

“T he priest is not obliged to celebrate the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the Novus Ordo, facing the people. One of the post-Vatican Council II documents said that altars were to be ‘free-standing', which to me means that the priest should be able to celebrate Mass either ad orientem or versus populum, ‘facing the people'. Many churches changed the altars but some didn't leave them free-standing, since it is often physically impossible for the priest to stand at the side nearer the people. And, as far as I know, it was not obligatory for many old churches to change their altars around.

“ And, as you pointed out, tables often replaced beautiful altars. I visited many churches in Rome and other Italian cities during my recent three months in Rome. In 2015, on two separate pilgrimages, I also visited many churches in northern Italy and in Malta. I sometimes felt angry at the reality of a beautiful altar, the work of artists and craftsmen and where the Mass had been celebrated for centuries, still there but no longer used, a cheap table being used instead. The image that comes to my mind when I come across this is that of someone painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa.

“ Pope Francis has celebrated the novus ordo Mass a d orientem number of times in the Sistine Chapel, as did Pope Benedict.”

I had thought that the Masses in the Philippines are all using the novus ordo , but I seems the old Latin Mass are still around here. Fr. Sean confirms this.  

“ In recent years I have celebrated the novus ordo Mass ad orientem quite frequently, initially when giving a retreat to Missionaries of Charity in Tagaytay City. The Superior told me that some other priests did the same. Most Mondays in recent years I celebrated Mass with the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family in Holy Family Home for Girls, Cabug. I initially explained to the Sisters that I would like to try this. Almost always after that the Sisters arranged the movable altar so that the novus ordo Mass would be celebrated ad orientem. I never asked them to do that. And occasionally I would celebrate Sunday Mass at Holy Family Home for the girls and Sisters ad orientem. A couple of times on WWME weekends in Bacolod and in San Jose de Antique I did the same. ” WWME is World Wide Marriage Encounter.

“ Latin is still the official language of the novus ordo Mass, or Ordinary Form. Translations in other languages are based on the original Latin. On occasion I have celebrated Mass with nuns in Latin, a couple of times with Carmelites in Iceland whose language was Dutch, and once or twice with retired Daughters of Charity near Munich. And here in Ireland, when I don't have a congregation, I sometimes celebrate the novus ordo (Ordinary Form) Mass in Latin.

“ So it is not quite accurate to use the term ‘Latin Mass' only for the TLM. ”

The explanation makes clear what ad orientem means, but there is more, the reason many who had participated in ad orientem Mass desire it for its solemnity and mystery. Some Masses in English also incorporate Latin. Let's continue next Saturday.*



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