Ad Orientem and Versus Populum are two concepts in relation to the stance of the celebrant of Catholic Liturgy . In the former, the priest faces the Altar along with the faithful. In the latter, the celebrant faces the faithful, by taking a position between the Altar (which houses the Tabernacle) and the Lord's Table, while the faithful face both the Altar and the celebrant. While the former one was followed by all liturgical rites till the 2nd Vatican Council, many rites shifted to the latter one , in a development that owes its origin not to a direction from Rome, but to the need felt for making the Mass more faithful-oriented. Of late, there has been a controversy in the Syro Malabar Catholic Church of Southern India, following the decision of a Synod of Bishops which directed for restoration of Ad Orientem. With a good per cent of clergy and the laity supporting the Versus Populum, the dispute is likely to continue.

My question in this context is: Are there any Roman Catholic rites (other than the Syro Malabar and Syro Malankara rites) traditionally following the Ad Orientem liturgy in any part of the world?

  • I don't understand the question. The norm for all Western Catholic Rites is ad orientem, even if the majority of indiidual parishes and communities celebrate versus populum.
    – jaredad7
    Aug 17, 2023 at 13:47
  • Thanks, jaredad7, you can comprehend the question when you come by the literature on the controversy that has taken place in the Syro Malabar Catholic Church of Kerala, southern India. The clergy and the faithful who stand for Versus Populum are agitated that the forgotten Ad Orientem is being forced in them, especially when majority of the universal church is being allowed to continue with Versus Populum. Aug 18, 2023 at 1:35

2 Answers 2


Do any Catholic Liturgical Rite follow the Ad Orientem form of Holy Mass?

The short answer is yes.

The tradition of ad orientem worship is apostolic in origin. But despite that fact, there are more than a few Latin Catholics who are wary of such a tradition. This practice is still permitted in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. This in fact was not changed by Vatican II.

Obviously, the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is still celebrated ad orientem*. Additionally, ordinariates created under Anglicanorum coetibus celebrate the Anglican Use Mass ad orientem.

Many of the Eastern Catholic Churches, specifically those of the Byzantine Rite, exclusively worship ad orientem.

When you hear certain Latin Catholics express their dislike of traditional liturgical staples like ad orientem worship, or sacred chant, elaborate vestments, and the use of incense, all things that constitute the norm in the Byzantine Rite, how does it make you feel when your own fellow Catholics say these things? - A Byzantine Look at Worshipping Ad Orientem

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches actually asks theses Catholic Eastern Rites to preserve this tradition.

Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches

  1. Prayer facing the east

"Ever since ancient times, it has been customary in the prayer of the Eastern Churches to prostrate oneself to the ground, turning toward the east; the buildings themselves were constructed such that the altar would face the east. Saint John of Damascus explains the meaning of this tradition: "It is not for simplicity nor by chance that we pray turned toward the regions of the east (...). Since God is intelligible light (1 Jn. 1:5), and in the Scripture, Christ is called the Sun of justice (Mal. 3:20) and the East (Zec. 3:8 of the LXX), it is necessary to dedicate the east to him in order to render him worship. The Scripture says: 'Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and he placed there the man whom he had formed' (Gen. 2:8). (...) In search of the ancient homeland and tending toward it, we worship God. Even the tent of Moses had its curtain veil and propitiatory facing the east. And the tribe of Judah, in as much as it was the most notable, encamped on the east side (cf. Nm. 2:3). In the temple of Solomon, the Lord's gate was facing the east (cf. Ez. 44:1). Finally, the Lord placed on the cross looked toward the west, and so we prostrate ourselves in his direction, facing him. When he ascended to heaven, he was raised toward the east, and thus his disciples adored him, and thus he will return, in the same way as they saw him go to heaven (cf. Acts 1:11), as the Lord himself said: 'For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be' (Mt. 24:27). Waiting for him, we prostrate ourselves toward the east. It is an unwritten tradition, deriving from the Apostles."

"This rich and fascinating interpretation also explains the reason for which the celebrant who presides in the liturgical celebration prays facing the east, just as the people who participate. It is not a question, as is often claimed, of presiding over the celebration with the back turned to the people, but rather of guiding the people in pilgrimage toward the Kingdom, invoked in prayer until the return of the Lord."

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, described the eastward orientation as linked with the "cosmic sign of the rising sun which symbolizes the universality of God." He also states in the same book (The Spirit of the Liturgy) that:

Despite all the variations in practice that have taken place far into the second millennium, one thing has remained clear for the whole of Christendom: praying toward the east is a tradition that goes back to the beginning. Moreover, it is a fundamental expression of the Christian synthesis of cosmos and history, of being rooted in the once-for-all events again.

Syriac and Arabic Christian apologetics of the 7th century explained that Christians prayed facing east because "the Garden of Eden was planted in the east (Genesis 2:8) and that at the end of time, at the second coming, the Messiah would approach Jerusalem from the east." Saint John Damascus taught that believers pray facing east because it "reminds Christians of their need to long for and strive for the paradise that God intended for them" and because "Christians affirm their faith in Christ as the Light of the world" by praying in the direction of sunrise.

  • Thanks, Ken Graham. It will be useful if you can explain how to determine if the Altar of a church is facing east. For instance, if the rays of the rising sun falling on the Altar is taken as a standard, the main entrance needs to be between the Altar and the rising sun. But then, the celebrant who faces the Altar will be facing west ! If the rays of setting sun falling on the Altar is the standard, the Altar with the entire church, faces the east, with no entrance at the eastern side. Which one is the correct standard for the Altar facing east ? Kindly elucidate. Aug 17, 2023 at 3:11
  • @KadalikattJosephSibichan traditionally, Christian churches were built with the front door on the West side of the building, so that when the people look at the Tabernacle, they are praying towards the East. Though that practice eventually changed, the Tabernacle is a sort of "spiritual east" within the consecrated space. The East is natuarally identified with the rising Sun, as Ken paraphrased Benedict XVI saying, which (the rising Sun) is spiritually identified with Christ, who is the light to enlighten the whole world (Luke 2:32).
    – jaredad7
    Aug 17, 2023 at 13:52
  • There are churches which are definitely not oriented east-west: churches next to the sea usually have their axis perpendicular to the shoreline (with the altar end nearest the sea); the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral is actually north-south because that fitted the site better. However, the "east" end is still called "east", even though it's not actually east. Aug 17, 2023 at 16:52
  • @AndrewLeach Exceptions always exist because of some historical or other factors (geographical) are involved. There exist a Doctor of the Church who explains this in the 16th? century.
    – Ken Graham
    Aug 17, 2023 at 17:22

Even though this is just a very particular situation, maybe it adds a little colouring to the answer of Ken Graham:

In the parish where I started as a deacon, the priest and I really studied on both forms of the Mass, first of all to integrate the roll of the deacon correctly. So we studied the extraordinary form, in Dutch called the Tridentine Mass, and the ordinary form. We found that in some English speaking countries the extraordinary form is sometimes called the Latin Mass, but in fact Latin is also the main language for the ordinary form. And more interesting for this topic: the ad orientem-form is still the (or a) normal form in the ordinary form.

We started to celebrate the ordinary form ad orientem (that is to say, he celebrated and I assisted) and for what it is worth, we experienced some great benefits from this. It did some getting used to for the faithful, but after a short while people began to understand how we as clergy were just like everybody else facing the Lord, and guests at His feast, not the host.

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