The Ad Orientem and the Versus Populum

Jude Missa

In the Holy Mass, there is a long history of debate between the Catholics and the Protestants on where the priest has to face during the Holy Mass. Before the Vatican II council, the Priest always faces to the altar during the Holy Mass. This orientation is called “Ad Orientem”. Then changes occurred on Pope Paul VI’s Mass (Novus Ordo Mass) in 1969 where the Priest is now facing the congregation. This orientation is called “Versus Populum”. The Traditional Catholics societies such as the Society of Pope Pius X (SSPX) and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) still using the Ad Orientem as they celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass. Now, the debate is now between the Traditionalist and the Modernist. The question is, which is better? The Ad Orientem or the Versus Populum? Before we answer. Let’s take a look of their history.

Ad Orientem

Ad orientem is the Latin word means “To the east”. This orientation was regularly used by the priest in the Tridentine Mass or the Traditional Latin Mass and before the usage of the Novus Ordo Mass. The origin of this orientation is from the Jews where they face east when they pray because the Temple of Jerusalem is located on the east. This was continued by the Catholics because of the second coming of Christ, He will appear from the East. Facing the east where the Altar is, is spiritually facing God because it is the Altar of our Lord, and also where the Blessed Eucharist is while inside the Tabernacle. Facing the east or the altar also attributes to the first Pope, St. Peter, where one of its first reform after the liturgical abuse of some Christians during his papacy.

Versus Populum

The Versus Populum is the Latin word means “Towards to people”. Its origin was traced back from some Protestant sects before the Vatican II. When Pope Paul VI reform of the Mass, it is similar to the Protestants including the Versus Populum. Protestants and modernist defend the Versus Populum and often teach that its origin us for the first Mass in the world which is the Last Supper where Christ is facing the apostles.

Now let’s go to the frequent asked questions about these two orientations.

Which is the better? Ad Orientem or Versus Populum?

It’s Ad Orientem. Because this orientation represents that the priest and people are facing towards God. They both pray and adore God in the Blessed Sacrament together. And this is also making the Traditional Latin Mass the better Holy Mass for us Catholics, because this mass more represented in the praying form.

But Jesus Christ was facing the apostles, why the priest cannot face the congregation?

Yes, it is true that our Lord faced the apostles during the Last Supper. But, the difference of Christ and the Priest is that Jesus Christ is our Lord and our God. You cannot turn your back to Him. That is why the Priest must face the Altar with the congregation. This is why St. Peter and the apostles decide to use this orientation than facing the people while celebrating the Mass.

But is it rude that Priest turning his back to the people?

It is true that turning back to a person is bad. But not in the Holy Mass. Have you seen a bus driver who is facing towards his passengers? No, because he can’t. If the driver faces the people while driving, he will be prone to accident. Similar to the Ad Orientem, the Priest must face the Altar because he is leading the congregation. If it is rude to turn back to the people, it is ruder to turn the Priest back to God.

But we cannot see the face of the Priest if he turns his back to the us.

When you attend the Holy Mass, you are not there to see the face the priest or other faithful. You are facing God and pray to Him with the Priest.

Brethren, the center of our Life is Jesus Christ, and we must only focus on Him during the Holy Mass. For those who attend the Traditional Latin Mass, let us pray that this Mass will spread all around the world again, so everybody’s mind, heart and soul is facing towards God.


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