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Ad Orientem/Versus Populum and the Opportunity for an Encounter with Mystery

—from Fr. Z’s blog post ASK FATHER: Why on earth did they start offering mass “facing the people”?


Why on earth did they feel it necessary or even salutary to start offering Mass facing the people?

I think there are several factors for why the altars got turned around.

Before launching in, the great liturgical expert Klaus Gamber thought that turning altars around did more damage to Catholic identity than anything else after the Council.  Also, I am leaving aside the blah blah that everyone has to add: “we have to admit that either way of saying Mass is okeydokey”.  No.  Both ways are legal and rubrical in both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Form, but they are not “equal”.  I’m not going to make any arguments for Mass versus populum here.

Reams of paper could be offered for each of these following points, so I’ll be telegraphic.  Also, I’ll give you just a few.


There are other factors as well, but I’ll cut to the final, hardest one.

If everything is made immediate and “understandable”, and if all the hard elements are reduced to the lowest (easy) common denominator, and it everyone is turned in on themselves, distractions multiply and people don’t have to deal with their fear of death.  Making Mass constantly easier by exposing every little thing and making everything audible wars against our stillness. Immediacy is an obstacle to the apophatic experience we need.  Constant facial expression, loud voices, etc, reduces the opportunity for an encounter with Mystery to zero.  I think that some people who imposed the changes (which the Council Fathers did NOT mandate) truly understood this and… they imposed them anyway… on purpose.  The time of the changes was also the time of the sexual revolution.   Holy Church was the only thing that could stand in the way of the descent into general immorality.  And the most power means of Social Communication that the Church possesses is sacred liturgical worship, especially the Mass.  The Mass had to be brought down in order to facilitate “liberation”.

Those are a few fast thoughts on a really complicated subject.



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