Ad Orientem – Toward the Lord

Holy Mass may be celebrated “ad orientem” or “versus populum” – that is, priest and the congregation facing toward “the East”, or the priest facing the congregation.  While most people are familiar with the Holy Mass being celebrated “versus populum”, “ad orientem” is both “ever ancient, ever new.”

In his homily at the celebration of Holy Mass on First Saturday in March 2019, at which were present two pilgrimage groups, Shrine Church Rector, Father Elias, FI, gives a thorough explanation of celebrating the Holy Mass “Ad Orientem”:


TOWARD THE LORD WHO COMES:  ‘Ad Orientem’ ⇒ ‘Ad Dominum’

Celebration of Mass ‘facing the East’

In his homily on the Patronal Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Cardinal Burke announced that the Holy Mass at the Shrine will regularly be offered with the priest facing the East… ad orientem [Homily in English; Homily in Spanish]. His Eminence offered a catechesis regarding the orientation of the priest and people during the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass. He explained that “the priest at the head of the congregation will, with the congregation, turn toward the Lord during the prayers and, above all, during the Eucharistic Prayer, in order to render more visible our recognition that it is Our Lord Himself Who inspires our prayer and Who acts during the Eucharistic Prayer to make sacramentally present His Sacrifice on Calvary for our eternal salvation. We all turn to Him; we all look to Him.”

One of the four Church Doctors who are honored at the Shrine, Saint John Damascene, writing in the 7th century, gives three explanation for the eastward stance of Christians at prayer[1]:

  1. Christ is “the Sun of Righteousness” (Mal 4:2) and “the Dayspring from on high” (Lk 1:78). Facing the light dawning from the east, Christians affirm their faith in Christ as the Light of the world.
  2. God planted the Garden of Eden in the east (cf. Gn 2:8). But, when our first parents sinned, they were exiled from the garden and moved westward. Facing east, therefore, reminds Christians of their need to long for and strive for the paradise that God intended for them.
  3. When speaking of his Second Coming at the end of history, Jesus 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). Thus, facing the east at prayer visibly expresses the hope for the coming of Jesus.

[1] St. John Damascene, An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, Chapter 12.

Additional Information/Sources

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