E HAVE TALKED a lot about the history of “versus populum” celebration. For example, here is a whole series of articles on that topic. Some may be interested to learn that “versus populum” was actually allowed in the old Latin Liturgy (although Mass was almost never offered that way).
If you don’t believe me, click here:
* * Rubrics from a 1906 Missale Romanum
These same rubrics have been found in Missals published in 1962, 1927, 1943, 1906, and 1886. If you find earlier missals which say the same thing, please email me.
1962 RUBRICS — Ritus Servandus in celebratione Missae
V, §3 • Si Altare sit ad Orientem, versus populum, Celebrans versa facie ad populum, non vertit humeros ad Altare, cum dicturus est Dominus vobiscum, Orate, fratres, Ite, Missa est, vel daturus benedictionem; sed, osculato Altari in medio, ibi expansis et junctis manibus, ut supra, salutat populum, et dat benedictionem.
V, §3 • If the Altar faces the people, the Celebrant does not turn his back to the Altar when saying Dominus vobiscum, Orate, fratres, Ite, missa est, or when giving the blessing, but having kissed the Altar in the middle, there extending and joining his hands, as above, facing the people, greets them and gives the blessing.
XII, 2 • Si Celebrans in Altari vertit faciem ad populum, non vertit se, sed stans ut erat, benedicit populo, ut supra, in medio Altaris; deinde accedit ad cornu Evangelii, et dicit Evangelium S. Joannis.
XII, §2 • If the Celebrant is at an Altar facing the people, he does not turn around, but standing as he was, blesses the people, as above, at the middle of the Altar. Then he goes to the Gospel side, and reads the Gospel of St. John.
WHEN THE PRIEST FACES ad orientem, what a powerful statement it makes when he literally turns around to speak to the congregation. Think about it. How many times in your life are you focused on doing something, then literally turn around to speak to the ones who are following you? I was taught never to turn around in my pew … Can you imagine how awkward it would be in the middle of Mass for me to keep turning around to face the person behind me? Yet, the priest does this constantly, according to the rubrics, to emphasize the unity that ought to exist between celebrant and congregation. Wow! Very cool.
UPDATE (from a kind reader):
“Si Altare sit ad Orientem, versus populum, Celebrans versa facie ad populum…” can be found in a 1625 missal on p. xxxvii; a 1674 missal on p. 220; 1861 missal on p. 49; 1866 missal p. xxix as well as several other Missals. Go to google books and type in a dozen words from the rubric and it will come up with a list. You can sort and filter your results by year if you please. My guess is that the rubric has been in there since 1570 (and possibly in earlier Missals), however I have been unable to find either a pdf of one or to physically be able to look in one to verify this.