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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“Sacred music, being a complementary part of the solemn liturgy, participates in the general scope of the liturgy, which is the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful. It contributes to the decorum and the splendor of the ecclesiastical ceremonies, and since its principal office is to clothe with suitable melody the liturgical text proposed for the understanding of the faithful, its proper aim is to add greater efficacy to the text, in order that through it the faithful may be the more easily moved to devotion and better disposed for the reception of the fruits of grace belonging to the celebration of the most holy mysteries.”
— Pope Saint Pius X

Bishop of Manchester • Letter Re: “Ad Orientem”
published 5 December 2016 by Jeff Ostrowski

O MY KNOWLEDGE, three American bishops have attempted to forbid “ad orientem” celebration. The first was the bishop of Little Rock, whose letter went out in July. That was followed quickly by the bishop of Davenport, Iowa, who also sent a letter. Now—by means of the CCW Facebook—I was sent this letter from the diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire:

599 ad orientem

Some have argued “expectation” is different than “command”—but that doesn’t hold up. I worked at a Cathedral for four years. When our bishop said “I expect XYZ to happen…” you better believe we made XYZ happen.

It’s difficult to understand how the bishop can require a “personal, in-depth conversation” before priests choose a legitimate option, especially in light of the CDW statement (SEE BELOW). 1

Celebration facing the people is certainly a legitimate option. The GIRM paragraphs dealing with altar construction clearly say:

{ 299. Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit. }
299. Where it is possible to do so, the main altar should be built separated from the wall. This allows for the possibility of Mass “facing the people” and also walking around the altar.

The CDW on 10 April 2000 (PROTOCOL NO. 564/00/L) settled the question of “ad orientem” in the 2000 (2002) Missal:

“This dicastery wishes to state that Holy Mass may be celebrated versus populum or versus apsidem. Both positions are in accord with liturgical law; both are to be considered correct. There is no preference expressed in the liturgical legislation for either position. As both positions enjoy the favor of law, the legislation may not be invoked to say that one position or the other accords more closely with the mind of the Church.”

Bishop Amos (of Davenport, Iowa) has argued that “versus populum” celebration is necessary so everyone can face the Altar:

“However, it is clear that the normative position of the priest when presiding at Mass in the Ordinary Form is facing the people, or, better, of the priest and the assembly facing the Altar together, the Altar that is a symbol of Christ in our midst and of our participation in the feast of the Kingdom.”

But don’t we all face the Altar either way?

598 ad orientem

The rector at the Cathedral where I served for four years had all the Masses “ad orientem” one Sunday, even the Spanish Mass. I asked him what the response was, and he said hardly anyone noticed! Remember that—in Ordinary Form Masses—when “ad orientem” is chosen, the priest and people face the same way only about 10% of the time. (It’s primarily during the Canon.)

The universal practice of the Church, as far back as we have documentation, has always been to have priest and people face the same direction:

593 Cardinal Sarah ad orientem

I was taught that Christ will return from the East, and the priest is leading us to Christ—but there are many other explanations.


1   I wonder if the letter could (perhaps) be amended? Perhaps Bishop Libasci could simply recommend that priests switching to “ad orientem” come to him for advice and tips first.