Pope Faces East

Today the Holy Father, Pope Francis, again celebrated Mass ad orientem, that is, facing Christ, or facing in the same direction as the people. He celebrated on the historic high altar in the Sistine Chapel, during the annual Mass at which the Pope also baptizes a number of children.

This is the second time that Pope Francis has shown that this is a legitimate form of celebration, reinforcing what liturgical law already clearly says – to say nothing of immemorial practice.

I have previously written about this subject here (on the topic of celebrating “facing Christ“) and here (when Pope Francis previously celebrated this way). Also, I would point out this post that Archbishop Gullickson posted on his blog today.

A lot of people have a lot of “baggage” about this topic; if their parish priest started celebrating this way, they would have a conniption fit. Yet Pope Francis shows us, just as Pope Benedict, Pope John Paul II, et al. did, that this is a legitimate form of celebration. In fact, it is the way that Mass was celebrated for centuries. There is a very meaningful and beautiful theology behind it, and we should accept it as part of the legitimate diversity that exists in the Church.

Happy Sunday!

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8 Responses to Pope Faces East

  1. erin says:

    I’m glad to seen that … we attend the Latin Mass and it is reaffirming to see our pope celebrate this way…..many people don’t understand it because they aren’t used to it but facing Christ instead of the people had been done for centuries ….

  2. Mark says:

    Something that confuses me about the General Norms is that while it directs the priest to face the people at certain points, it also explicitly states the Mass should be celebrated facing the people except for a grave reason. In the article Father says any priest can offer Mass facing the same direction as the people, but the norms appear conflicted to me.

    • My reading of the GIRM does not agree with yours. I know of no place where a grave reason is cited as being needed for celebrating versus apsidem. Can you provide a citation?

  3. Naveen Frank says:

    I recall my early days as an Altar Boy serving Mass. We had to kneel just behind the priest , who faced the altar, like the faithful . I am glad the Holy father has shown us the way to continue this beautiful practice.

  4. Aleksander says:

    Well, I think what Fr Jerabek is saying is an overinterpretation of the events. He says: “This is the second time that Pope Francis has shown that this is a legitimate form of celebration, reinforcing what liturgical law already clearly says – to say nothing of immemorial practice.” and “Yet Pope Francis shows us, just as Pope Benedict, Pope John Paul II, et al. did, that this is a legitimate form of celebration.” I understand that by celebrating Eucharist in Sistine Chapel Pope Francis has only shown that it is physically impossible to celebrate the Mass differently in that place. Bl. John Paul II as a bishop celebrated Eucharist facing the people already in 1950-ies in Poland that is even before the Council and the liturgical reform. As for the “immemorial practice” this also shows a lack of historical knowledge. For example in Poland the Mass was celebrated facing the people still in the Middle Ages. This was also the case for many churches and cathedrals throughout Europe.

    • I’m afraid that it is you who are mistaken; in the past whenever the Pope wanted to face the people – whether in the Sistine Chapel or anywhere else where the regular altar was fixed against the wall – they simply set up a portable altar for that purpose. Pope Francis could easily have done that for this occasion and he didn’t – just as he didn’t when he celebrated at the altar of John Paul II. It is not at all “physically impossible” to celebrate versus popoulum in these places; he simply chose not to! As for my alleged lack of historical knowledge, the fact that in certain places and times there were celebrations facing the people does not at all challenge the fact that celebrating coram Deo is an immemorial practice; you are engaging in logical fallacies, to say nothing of the overly simplistic interpretation you give to these historic apparently-exceptional cases.

      • Aleksander says:

        Well, a portable altar at a place where there is a regular one? That would be against rubrics. Ok, by saying it’s physically impossible I meant it’s physically impossible without putting there an extra portable altar but that was obvious for me. Celebrating Eucharist facing people is also celebrating it coram Deo that is coram Christo super altarem. Facing the East is merely a symbolic issue yet there are many who treat it like if it’s a condition of salvation or something. How did Christ celebrated Eucharist in the Upper Room? How did He celebrate it on the Cross?

      • This is the last comment of yours that I will post. It is not against the rubrics; not only has Pope Francis used a portable altar in the Sistine Chapel on a prior occasion, but so did Pope Benedict, Pope John Paul II, and others. For that matter, in countless churches throughout the world a new altar was installed in front of a perfectly good high altar, so that the priest could face the people — something that was never legislated by the Church one way or the other.
        I never said that it was a matter of salvation. You are not approaching anything that I have said with a sense of measure and good logic.

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