Monday, August 15, 2011

My Experimental 'Spirit of Vatican II' Liturgy

Tonight, I did an experiment with the liturgy, in the (true) spirit of Vatican II.

For the Solemnity of the Assumption, we had the schola present; we chanted the introit--in English--as well as the offertory and communion. In fact, the only hymn we sang was the Salve Regina at the conclusion.

We did use some Latin and Greek: Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.

I chanted the Gospel, the Roman Canon and a lot else.

Oh--and I offered the Mass toward the Lord.

Before Mass, I explained what I was going to do; and then I elaborated on it during my homily.

I chose this occasion because it was not an obligatory Mass, and I'd warned in the bulletin there'd be lots of incense and chant, so I figured that would be something of a clue.

But I didn't decide, until 15 minutes before, to go ahead with ad orientem.

I let folks know they didn't have to like it, but they might; I invited them to let me know what they thought about it. (A few gave comments and those where positive ones.)

In my homily, I explained how Pope Benedict has prompted this reconsideration of ad orientem, I attempted to explain how, after Vatican II, some things were given so much emphasis that other important aspects of the liturgy were obscured, and I explained how the priest needs to decrease, so that Christ may increase. I explained that I wasn't planning on doing this all the time, just now and then.

We had about 40 folks present.

Now I'm having some dinner.

Update (ca. 11:55 pm)...

Well, I had my dinner, and had some time to think about the Mass tonight, so now I can share some further thoughts about offering Mass ad orientem. (Welcome Fr. Z readers!)

It's not the first time I've done it; but I haven't offered Mass ad orientem in the parish many times other than privately. I was a little nervous, because I thought, is someone going to get upset about this? Really upset? And it didn't help that I am getting over a cold and developed a bit of a cough as I'm finishing the Canon (singing it); it was really hard finishing the Per Ipsum.

The servers, including several adults, in cassock and surplice, were excellent. The three boys were all brothers, sons of the music director. The schola was excellent. The acoustics in Saint Boniface--now that the carpeting is gone--are excellent. The one downside of ad orientem was I couldn't see the clouds of incense I know the servers were offering behind me, during the elevations.

I might also add, that having a procession carried out well is very edifying.

I am sorry I forgot my biretta, but--it is just as well. It was probably better I didn't wear it; as well, that I didn't use the Roman Canon in Latin, as I was going to do initially. Why do I say that?

Because, as it was, it should have been clear we were offering the newer form of the Mass, not the extraordinary form. Had I used a biretta, and used Latin, it might have been less clear.

Finally, I have to tell you, there is something tremendously powerful, for the priest, in offering Mass toward the Lord. For one, the architecture of the church makes so much more sense. As I offered the Sacrifice, I was aware of the beautiful sanctuary lamp over my head, I was gazing at the massive crucifix ahead of all of us, and above that, the Good Shepherd window in the apse. The light from the evening sun poured in through the windows, a dappled gold light.

I knew everyone was behind me, but--I was there alone; but not alone, with the Lord.

A couple of curious things happened, none of which I orchestrated. The servers were all kneeling behind me, at the top step of the altar, as I made my communion; they remained kneeling for communion.

Then, when I went down to distribute the Eucharist to the faithful, it seemed a lot of folks received on the tongue--more than usual. And there seemed a tremendous sense of awe among all who came forward. It's hard to know if that's actually what others felt, unless folks present say so, or just my perception.


Chase said...

I felt that, when you said the Mass ad orientem, my perception was such that you were celebrating with us and not just doing something for us.

With your own corpus repositioned, it helps us (or me, anyway) to center our focus on the body of Christ. It also positions you as a leader, because you are facing toward what we should be facing toward.

Thanks for celebrating ad orientem.
- Chase

Angelika said...

Thank you, Father!

Kathy said...

I really like your style in trying new things but not forcing it down people's throats. You do it all with a lot of thought and teaching.

And it seems the people are responding.


Anonymous said...

God bless you, Father. Would that other priests had your courage, I wouldn't have to endure nonsense each and every Sunday. *sigh*

mamacantrix said...

I loved having the Mass offered ad orientum! The reality of the priest going ahead of the people, entering the Holy of Holies on their behalf, is beautifully illustrated when his gaze is directed to the tabernacle. I think you made the point well in your homily, too, that your leadership is more effective if you aren't "walking backwards." Thank you!

P.S. Maybe the school kids would find it interesting, too, at some point? (hint, hint)

Gail F said...

Wow, I would love to go to a mass like that!!!

FYI -- and I hope you don't think this is trivializing what you did by comparing a fun hobby to the holy sacrifice of the mass -- my husband and I used to be involved in several living history organizations. We discovered something you can't discover by reading books: That when you do things the way people used to do them in the past (to the best of your ability to figure out what they did do by A LOT of research, not just making it up on the fly), you often discover exactly why they did it that way. IT WORKS. Stuff you thought would never work actually works better, and stuff you thought would work doesn't. Stuff "everybody knows" (women wearing certain kinds of clothes can't run or climb trees or do heavy work) is just plain wrong. Etc. Moreover, if you learn how to dance or fence or whatever it is that people actually did, you find out what is fun or romantic or enjoyable (or boring) about it, but not until you really know how to do it.

There is no substitute, in other words, for experience. At a certain point, to learn more about something you have to stop reading about it and guessing what it would be like. I have read several essays now from priests who have done just what you did, and it seems that they all learned something powerful and deep about mass by doing it that way -- not just logistics.

Anonymous said...


you used Hebrew too.... in the Sanctus .... Sabbaoth

Unknown said...

Fr., which set of English propers did you use?

AliceS said...

And the full Latin mass is the best food of all for the soul!
Continue on your quest Father; it will only get better from here.

We all need to remember that we should decrease, so that the Lord may increase.

fxr2 said...

Thank You Father, for our fortitude, and your courage.


Fr Martin Fox said...


Ah, that's a question for our music director; I'll see if he can wander by here and answer your question, or I'll find out...

Banshee said...


Re: not seeing the incense, I guess that's the bit you get to offer up. :) I know how you love it, but it's also kind of a subsidiarism thing not to see everything, just like not to do everything.

Anonymous said...

Is the mass ad orientem primarily the act of facing the altar rather than the congregants during the service except when presenting the homily? The church I grew up in had the altar attached to the back wall so everything was lifted up to God with the pastor facing the altar. I did indeed feel we were all participating together as the body of believers in communion with Christ.

Thank you for the education.

mamacantrix said...

John used the propers from the SEP for the Feast of the Assumption, Arlene's psalm response for the feast (The Queen Stands at your right hand...), Arcadelt's Ave Maria after communion, and Salve Regina after the final blessing. Does my bias show if I say it was wonderful? :)

Ron Rolling said...

What a wonderful teaching moment! I pray you will find more opportunities to incorporate what was done and experienced (see Mamacantrix's suggestion).

Fr Martin Fox said...


Basically, yes...

"Ad orientem" means, literally, "toward the East," but it means in practice, toward liturgical east, not necessarily geographic east. The East, where the sun rises, has always had deep meaning for Christians (and Jews before us; I believe their graves are "oriented" toward the East, as are Christians' to this day). So much so, that if possible, churches were built so that the apse, or "head" of the church, was east-ward. In our case, it is not.

Even so, liturgical East means the assembly and the priest facing the same direction during parts of the Mass.

It works like this:

The priest approaches the altar and does not walk around behind it to venerate it; he kisses it on the people's side.

He goes to the chair, and there begins the Sign of the Cross. The Missal doesn't say he faces the people at this point; so unless his chair faces the people, he faces straight ahead (I actually muffed this, out of habit). He does turn to the people for the greeting, i.e., "The Lord be with you." But not for the penitential rite or the opening oration. So those I do facing straight ahead, toward the altar (at 90-degree angle to the assembly in my churches).

The readings and homily are done in the usual fashion at the pulpit; the Creed and petitions are done in the usual fashion; last night, I did the petitions from the chair, again facing the altar, not turned toward the people.

Then, from the offertory forward, the activity at the altar took place on the people's side. As the Missal calls for, I turned to face the people when I prayed...

"Pray my brothers and sisters..." (i.e., after I'd placed the bread and wine on the altar, incensed them, and washed my hands. The mixing of water and wine, and the washing of hands, took place sideways, so folks could see that if they wished. They could also see I was lifting up the bread and wine at the offering, even if they couldn't see the paten and chalice at that point.)

Then for the dialogue and preface, I faced the altar, and likewise through the Eucharistic Prayer; through the Per Ipsum, the Our Father, the sign of peace--although I turned and offered the peace to two servers, one on each side of the altar.

Then, when I showed the Body and Blood, saying, "This is the Lamb of God," this too was facing the people, as called for. Then I turned back, made my communion, then brought communion to the servers and all the faithful.

Then I returned to the altar, did the usual things after communion, then returned to the chair.

Mass concluded at the chair--which faces the altar on one side--in the same way I do at every other Mass. The rubrics, again, call for the priest to face the people a last time for the blessing. It doesn't actually say he faces the people for the dismissal ("The Mass is ended...") but that's how I did it.

Rich Leonardi said...

Bravo, Father. Can you post the text of your homily?

Fr Martin Fox said...

Thanks Rich.

I didn't have a text, sorry, all I can do is summarize; feel free to quote me:

The first part of my homily was about the fittingness of God taking Mary into heaven, because of her accepting the mission he gave her, knowing, as he did, all that would cost her.

Although I cannot now recall my transition, I shifted to discussing the reasons for having Mass ad orientem.

I said that above all, the initiative was from Pope Benedict, who has a concern for renewing and strengthening our Catholic identity and our worship. I explained that in the wake of Vatican II, some things were emphasized so much, that other things were obscured. Vatican II wanted to draw people into the Mass in a greater way, and opened the door to the vernacular--but didn't intend to banish Latin, and didn't intend to deny the transcendent. The emphasis on Mass as a meal did not intend to deny or obscure the sacrificial aspect of the Mass.

So how do I know the sacrificial aspect of the Mass has been obscured? I told the story of someone who said, Father can we have one of those Masses without the stuff in the middle? By the "stuff in the middle," the person meant the sacrifice at the altar! Without that "middle part," there is no Mass!

I pointed out how, in recent years, we've seen kneelers return to churches; we are seeing a return to traditional architecture; i.e., an attempt to strengthen reverence and transcendence in the Mass.

Then I explained some of the pope's reasoning--that the focus of everyone, including the priest, at the altar, needs to be the Lord. I explained how it is hard for me, facing the people, not to be self-conscious, not to interact with the faithful--which is not my purpose at the point. I think I said, my proper purpose is to offer the Mass for you, and with you, but not to you. I explained that is why Pope Benedict asked for the arrangement of candles on the altar, that we'd been using, but it was a reason for the priest to face forward with the people.

I explained that when we get to heaven, then we will gather with the priest--the Lord--facing us; till then, the priest leads us all on a procession toward heaven--the Mass symbolizes it.

Finally, I explained that I had no plan to do this at Sunday Masses, no worries, but I would do it now and then at Masses like this, and that I hoped folks would feel free to tell me what they think.

truthfinder2 said...

Just beautiful! I hope, Father, that when you decide to do this again, you will post the date and time on your blog. I would really like to come. --- Rosemary

Fr Martin Fox said...


Noted! I'll see what I can do...

Gail F said...

"I explained that in the wake of Vatican II, some things were emphasized so much, that other things were obscured. Vatican II wanted to draw people into the Mass in a greater way, and opened the door to the vernacular--but didn't intend to banish Latin, and didn't intend to deny the transcendent. The emphasis on Mass as a meal did not intend to deny or obscure the sacrificial aspect of the Mass."

Fr. Fox, that is such a great point and I wish people would drive it home again and again. Forget all the nastiness and the disappointment from all sides... Vatican II did mean to draw people into the mass in a greater way. I think that many of us, being younger and not having lived through it as adults, can understand perfectly well that some things were tried that didn't work, and some things were lost that shouldn't have been. We are not attached to various experiments, and we are curious about what we suspect we are missing. To frame the explanation in this way will make sense to a lot of people.

Ron Rolling said...

Father, having just read your comments at the Chant Cafe, I offer this suggestion of when you might wish to experiment more with this.

In light of the fact it is not a holy day of obligation (but still may have well attended masses), may I suggest the Feast of All Souls?

Anonymous said...

I knew everyone was behind me, but--I was there alone; but not alone, with the Lord.

The above sentence in your post bothers me. I attended an ad orientem Mass and I felt like the congregation was irrelevant, like we were not part of the Mass. I was surprised because I didn't expect to feel that way. After reading your post, I got the feeling that the Mass was all about you. It left me very unsettled.


Fr Martin Fox said...


Thanks for your comments.

I'd ask you to make allowances for my own comments, insofar as I posted them around midnight and they were brief; maybe I didn't express myself well.

I don't consider the Mass "all about me," and while I am not trying to tell you what to believe, I would defend myself on two counts, both in how even Mass celebrated "ad orientem" takes place, and then in how I myself experience in Mass as celebrant.

As you know, an "ad orientem" Mass only means the priest and the people facing the same way for the offering of the sacrifice and the preparation of the sacrifice for the people. It's only part of the whole Mass, although the central part.

Before this, of course, the readings have been proclaimed to the people, inviting their response. You may not recall this, but in the old form of the Mass, the priest would proclaim the readings at the altar, facing more or less forward, and no response from the faithful--even with the Gospel. Just to be clear, when we had Mass ad orientem Monday night, we did it according to the current rubrics: i.e., the readings were proclaimed facing the people.

Then, of course, after the sacrifice is offered (the Eucharistic Prayer), and then prepared (i.e., everything to the Lamb of God), the priest again faces the people, now showing them the Lamb of God, and after he makes his own communion, he brings the Sacrifice to the people to make their communion.

And the priest, after all have received, ends Mass facing the people.

So my point is not to say your feelings or experiences are wrong, but to point out that the format of the Mass, celebrating ad orientem, is clearly not excluding the people at all. It's not all about the priest. (continued...)

Fr Martin Fox said...

But it is true that it is, in one aspect, all about the priest. But that aspect is not the only one. But it's worth dwelling on, because it's what I was trying to describe in my post Monday night.

A priest never offers the Mass alone, even if he is alone; yet at the same time, even if the priest offers the Mass with a million people present, there is a sense in which he is, indeed, alone.

A paradox.

The role and essence of a priest is to be a mediator--he goes from God's People, to God, in their behalf; and he goes, from God, bringing God's grace and mercy to his people. A priest is one of God's People, obviously; yet he is also set apart in a special way. If not, then there's no point in the priesthood. There's no benefit if he doesn't have any unique role of mediation and sanctifying God's people.

And this is very powerful at the moment a priest is at the altar, offering the Sacrifice. And, yes, I do think this is easier for the priest to experience either when offering Mass in the absence of a congregation--and/or when he offers the Mass ad orientem.

At that moment, the priest is clearly speaking the words of another. He is making the words of Christ, and the words of the entire Body of Christ (head and members) his own: when he prays the Eucharistic Prayer.

Of course, in a sense, that's true of the entire Mass; but it is most powerfully true at this moment. It's palpable.

The priest comes to a point where he says, "on the night before he was betrayed..." and in a few moments, the priest is now speaking the very words of the Savior. When he lifts the Body and Blood, he has moved, as it were, from the Last Supper, to the Cross.

Was Jesus alone on the Cross? Yes and no. His mother and St. John were there; the good thief, and his enemies were there. Moreover, Jesus was aware of, and interceding for, all humanity in that moment.

And yet, how can we not say Jesus was alone? Only he was on his cross. His mother, united with him, nevertheless did not die for us. Only Christ gave himself on the Cross.

And notice, what did he say from the Cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" That's a powerful passage that deserves more than I'll say about it here; but I would say this--plus the agony in the garden, support my contention about the "aloneness" of Christ in his Passion and Death.

Well, if that's true, then there's no getting around it. The priest of Christ must know what that is. If a priest is configured to Christ the High Priest, he must experience that. As Fulton Sheen said, a priest is a victim-priest, just like our Savior.

That's an aspect about the priesthood perhaps most don't know about. A priest approaches the cross and makes it his own in a unique way, because he is a priest.

Fr Martin Fox said...

And--to bring it back to our discussion--this happens when the priest is at the altar, offering the Sacrifice.

All I was trying to say was I felt it. I think it's good that I feel it. I was trying to say this is a benefit of ad orientem, that this is brought home powerfully to the priest offering Mass.

The risk of offering Mass toward the people is the priest might miss this; and confuse his ordained priesthood--which is unique--with his baptismal priesthood, which he shares with all the faithful.

For the sake of the faithful, the priest has to come to a point where he does something for them that he does, in this sense, "alone"--even though they are present and part of it.

I don't know if this helps.

The other thing I would say in my defense, and in defense of this approach to the Mass, is as follows.

The more a priest's personality and preferences enter into a Mass, the more it becomes all about him. On the other hand, the more the priest's personal preferences and personality shrink (they can't disappear, any more than he can), the more it's about the Mass, not him.

I'm sure you've been to Masses where the priest interjects personal stuff, personal greetings, and humor, from beginning to end. I've done it myself, it's easy to do. I'm not condemning it; it's human. But I bet we can agree it can go way too far. (Other people at Mass can do it too; lectors or extraordinary ministers, for example.)

When a priest offers the Mass according to its proper form, leaving out ad libs and interjections, this is toned down. While a homily is a good thing, it is optional at daily Mass, and omitting it has this value--that the Mass stands more on its own as it were. There is some value in that.

When the priest--at least, this priest--faces the people, he can't help thinking about what he's doing as a "proclamation." I learned, both in high school, college, and in the seminary, about ways to use voice, gesture and demeanor to enhance my speaking style and to be more persuasive. In my own experience, I find it almost impossible not to bring this into every word I speak at Mass, including the prayers.

Yet what is that, but making the Mass that much more, about me? Bringing that much more of my judgments (about what to emphasize), my personal values (borne of my own experiences), into the prayers of the Mass?

My point is, that one thing that I find really does help me, is when I'm not facing the people. And I think this may be the unappreciated value of a priest offering the prayers in a low voice. Not that I'm against the people hearing those prayers; that's good. But you can see what I'm getting at; a sotto voce proclamation of the prayers wrings out all the priest's personality and preferences--and he simply prays the prayers, period.

Well, I'm rambling, but here's the point I'm trying to make: the people for whom the Mass is offered, are--in my very fallible opinion--better served when the priest is not focused on them.

I think ad orientem helps with that, without all this blather of mine explaining it; both the people and the priest simply experience it. To the extent it works, that's how it works.

Anonymous said...


I'm new to your blog (came across it today) and find a lot of interesting topics. Although I'm from the US, I'm currently residing in the UK. My husband and I embraced the Catholic faith couple years ago and were recently confirmed. The Latin Mass are a norm at the monasteries and is of high demand at some of the local arises. It's so beautiful and should be made the norm in my opinion. The "new and improved" translation is not really new, but the correct translation of what was and what should be. God Bless you.

Anonymous said...

Meant to say parishes ...

Rich said...

I think this was a noble experiment, and I am inspired by the comments of both the OP and the combox participants.

Ad orientem will take some getting used to by Catholics in America because we are used to seeing everything, because we interpret it as exclusion, and because we have lost all sense of "hierarchy" in our day-to-day living. We quickly want to dispel any idea of mystery because we look at "mysteries" as something to solve, not simply something that is. To be faced with a worship situation where part of it is left shrouded in mystery can leave the typical American feeling like he has been cheated a full experience. Not so. He has left the world of the humdrum and touched Heaven, the ultimate mystery. He should be left in awe.

Anyway, I could go on and on. There are just some random thoughts. I hope they help someone out there.

CatholicMom said... I misunderstood from misreading another biretta..haha... still I would have traveled all the way to Piqua to celebrate your Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. How awesome!!!