TLM – Part 1 – ad orientem

The mass comes in two flavors:  the ordinary form (also called the Novus Ordo or sometimes even the New Mass) and the extraordinary form (also called the traditional Latin mass (TLM) or Tridentine mass).

If you are of a certain age or younger, the NO may be all that you know.  In fact, many people thought that, after the NO mass came into being, the TLM had been abolished, but that isn’t the case.

Here’s a brief (and very superficial) history lesson.

In 1970, Pope Paul VI gave permission to various priests in the UK to continue offering the TLM.

In 1984, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments granted bishops the authority to allow specific priests within their dioceses to offer the TLM.

In 2007, Pope Benedict issued Summorum Pontificum which allowed priests to offer the TLM without having to obtain permission from a bishop.

[Full disclosure:  most of the time I attend the NO mass.  I have been to the TLM a few times, but there are no churches close to me where the TLM  is regularly offered.]

So, for the benefit of those who have never been to a TLM, what are some of the differences?

The priest and the people face the same direction.

This is ad orientem as opposed to versus populum in which the priest always faces the congregation.

Now, let’s clear up one common misstatement.  You will often hear people say of the TLM “The priest has his back to the people.”  That’s true but inaccurate.

Yeah, I know.  That doesn’t seem to make sense, but it’s a question of perspective.

If you went to a classical concert, would you complain that the conductor had his back to the audience?  Of course not.  It isn’t so much that he has his back to the audience as that he is facing the orchestra.

In the TLM, when the priest speaks to the people, he faces the people.  When he speaks to God, he faces the altar, the crucifix, the tabernacle…or, to put it technically, he faces liturgical east.


The church is supposed to be set up (if possible) so that, when the priest is facing the altar, he is facing east.  If isn’t y sefacing the compass point east, it is still called liturgical east.

Just as an interesting side note, the NO mass not only can be offered ad orientem, it should be offered ad orientem.  How can I possibly say that?

Well…here’s an excerpt from the instructions for celebrating the NO mass:

 1. When the people are gathered, the Priest approaches the altar with the ministers while the Entrance Chant is sung. When he has arrived at the altar, after making a profound bow with the ministers, the Priest venerates the altar with a kiss and, if appropriate, incenses the cross and the altar. Then, with the ministers, he goes to the chair. When the Entrance Chant is concluded, the Priest and the faithful, standing, sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, while the Priest, facing the people, says: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The people reply: “Amen.”

There are actually several parts of the mass where the priest is instructed to face the people.  Why is that instruction necessary?  Because it is taken for granted that the other parts of the mass will be said facing east, as has been the correct form for a very very long time.

So, why isn’t it done that way in most places instead of only a few?

That’s a great question.  I wish I knew the answer.

Have you ever been to an ad orientem mass, either the TLM or the NO?  If so, what did you think of it?



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