About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife and children.
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“Victoria not only made his professional debut as church organist: he also continued active on the organ bench until the very eve of his death. Indeed, during his last seven years at Madrid (1604-1611) he occupied no other musical post but that of convent organist.”
— Dr. Robert Stevenson (1961)

A Flawed Translation Of Ritus Servandus?
published 2 March 2015 by Jeff Ostrowski

204 ad orientem ECENTLY, I posted an article containing screen shots of the 1572 Missale Romanum. Included were excerpts from an English translation of the Ritus Servandus sent to me by an FSSP priest.

Those who carefully examine the first section will see that the words “ad orientem” are not translated into English. They have vanished! Moreover, many of the commonly available translations—such as this one—omit the words ad orientem (“to the East”) in the English version. If you scroll to the bottom, you’ll notice the Saint John Cantius Website also eliminates those words. Why?

I don’t know why ad orientem was ignored in those English translations. 1

Perhaps Monsignor Schuler’s 1984 article—which we cited in early 2013—should be amended. Schuler wrote:

NOTHER FABLE INTRODUCED by the promoters of a new rite was the error that the new Mass had to be celebrated versus populum at a table altar erected near the congregation. Old altars were removed, even against the wishes of the people; new table altars were set up, some very poorly designed and even unworthy of the Mass celebrated on them. To promote the use of the altar versus populum, the English translation of the new missal of Paul VI even mistranslates the Latin original—or leaves out entirely the rubrics of the Missale Romanum—which in at least five places indicates that the priest should turn toward the people to say “The Lord be with you,” “Pray brethern,” “This is the Lamb of God,” etc. The Latin has sacerdos ad populum conversus dicit, but the English takes no notice of conversus which clearly means “having turned toward the people.” The norm for the new missal of Pope Paul VI is the priest at an altar which is not versus populum. Furthermore, the altar versus populum is not a new idea brought in by the reforms of Paul VI. The Mass could always be celebrated with the priest facing the people, as indeed it was in Rome and in many other places for centuries. True, it was not the usual way, but it did exist.

Perhaps Msgr. Schuler should have said: “The Mass could always be celebrated with the priest facing the people, if the Altar faced East…”

Somewhere, Msgr. Schuler talks about how he was one of the first priests in America to say Mass facing the people because he was serving at a Church whose (pre-conciliar) architecture demanded it. Looking through the various articles we’ve posted on the subject of ad orientem, I was unable to find that reference. He said something to the effect of, “It was supposed to be a cutting edge practice that would make such a difference to the people … but after a few months, the novelty of versus populum wore off.”

A VARIETY OF GUESSES can be found regarding the history of “Mass facing the people.” Some suggest that, on those rare occasions when Mass was celebrated versus populum, the entire congregation faced East during the Canon. That theory may be true, and is held by today’s serious scholars. Mentioning the 1572 rubric doesn’t change this. 2

One thing, however, is clear: the overwhelming evidence we possess has the entire congregation facing the same direction. That is to say, 99% of the evidence we possess shows the priest “with his back to the people.”

When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter which “side” you are on in a setting like this:

200 Raphael “The Mass at Bolsena”

The Mass is the Mass. Let me say it again: The Mass is the Mass.

However, celebration facing the people can distract the priest, who finds himself wanting to “entertain” the congregation. The following image—often cited as an instance of versus populum—shows the priest looking at a “wall.” That’s probably a good way to eliminate any element of entertainment, eh?

201 Versus Populum Mass


1   People tend to mimic whatever the FSSP does, and Fr. Dennis Duvelius seems to have made an English translation “cut and pasted” by others. As far as I know, Fr. Duvelius is still an FSSP priest. It would seem he simply overlooked the words ad orientem.

2   Whenever I mention this historical fact, I receive condemnatory emails. I am told to “keep quiet,” as if mentioning its existence will somehow promote ad populum celebrations. My answer is always the same: acknowledging the existence of something (when that existence is beyond dispute) is not wrong.