WHEN AN ORDINARY FORM Mass is offered “ad orientem,” the priest and congregation face the same direction approximately 11% of the time. The vast majority of the Mass—the Liturgy of the Word, Homily, and so on—is celebrated facing the people. 1
Viewing photographs like the following, I cry out: “What have we done?”
The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship—those responsible for our current GIRM—closed the ad orientem conversation once and for all:
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.
—|10 April 2000 (PROTOCOL NO. 564/00/L)
Certain groups become irate when this topic is broached. The Collegeville press (a “progressive” organization) once published an article claiming the GIRM’s Latin edition omits ad orientem rubrics. However, we posted screenshots demonstrating the inaccuracy of their assertion.
IT IS NOT POSSIBLE to maintain that 100% of Ordinary Form Masses must be ad orientem, because (in the section dealing with construction of new churches) the GIRM says:
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, which allows for the possibility of Mass “facing the people” as well as circling the altar.
On the other hand, claiming that new churches must have a free-standing altar is also erroneous, because the Bishops’ Liturgy Committee has said on 14 February 2012: “The GIRM never speaks to every possible scenario that could take place.” 2
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 To my knowledge, the first person to publicly speak about this was Rev. Mr. Andrew Leung. Cf. his second point here.
2 It is easy to see where churches could be built the traditional way. For example, consider architects with a special sensitivity to the Roman Catholic traditions. Or, consider those who feel a special desire to respond to the request of the CDF Prefect appointed by Pope Francis.