“Where do the conciliar texts speak of communion in the hand, for example, or where do they enjoin the so-called altar facing the people, which is scant testimony to that ‘giving perfect glory to God’ which the liturgy constitution says (in para. 5) is the goal and purpose of worship? The answer is: Nowhere.” — Bishop Rudolf Graber of Regensburg (July, 1985)
HE RISING POPULARITY of the internet has made it more difficult for people to misrepresent the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. At this point in time, a good number of Catholics realize that the Council never once mentioned “Mass facing the people,” and the current (2011) rubrics still assume the priest will be ad orientem. A multitude of documents treating this question can be found here.
The current rubrics tell the priest when he must turn around and face the people. This would be superfluous were he already facing them. However, the current rubrics also (sometimes) tell the priest when he must turn back around (i.e. resume facing the Altar), and this is often overlooked.
For example, look at rubric #157 of the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (2000):
157. Oratione conclusa, sacerdos genuflectit, accipit hostiam, eamque aliquantulum elevatam super patenam vel super calicem tenens, versus ad populum, dicit: Ecce Agnus Dei …
157. At the conclusion of this prayer, the priest genuflects and takes up the host (which he elevates slightly above the paten or chalice), and, having turned toward the people, says: “Behold the Lamb of God …. “
As soon as that’s over, the rubrics say:
158. Postea, stans ad altare conversus, sacerdos secreto dicit: Corpus Christi …
158. Then, having turned back around to face the altar, the priest says silently: “May the Body of Christ …”
THESE RUBRICS have been there since the very beginning. For instance, here’s what the 1969 GIRM said for that section:
The interesting thing is, contrary to what we might expect, these rubrics have been strengthened over the years. (On this, see Rev. Hunwicke’s article, here.)
By the way, don’t forget that, over the last forty years, the numbering system for the GIRM has changed, slight modifications have been made, and the Missal rubrics have been slightly altered as well. However, as I already mentioned, the rubrics which indicate the direction of the priest have been strengthened through the years.
REMINDER: It is also lawful to celebrate Mass “facing the people” according to current Ecclesiastical law, even though this practice was never mentioned by Second Vatican Council.