A listener named Sherri calls in to the Radio Show and asks Father Dave, “Why does my priest say Mass with his back facing the people?” She explains that the Mass is exactly the same as usual, except during the Eucharistic prayer, when the priest turns his back to the people.
Father Dave explains the ordinary form of the rite, which is the way that most churches celebrate Mass. He tells Sherri that there is also something called the “extraordinary form of the Mass.” The extraordinary form of the Mass is very similar to the way the Mass was prior to the liturgical reforms at the Second Vatican Council. The big things we typically notice in the extraordinary form is that the readings and prayers are typically in Latin, and the Mass is celebrated “ad orientem,” which is the Latin term meaning, “facing East.” Father Dave says: “We say that because almost all churches are literally built so that when you’re facing the Crucifix, you are facing toward the East, which traditionally has been the place where we look to God or to Heaven.” He goes on to explain that If the priest is facing that way, he is facing in the same direction as the people of God, and we are all together praying toward God or to God.
“Many would argue that in some ways it is more respective of the actual words and prayers that are being said during the Mass that the priest is facing in the same direction as the people, acting as the leader of the people,” Father Dave says. “As opposed to facing the people, or the Latin, Versus populum, meaning toward the people or opposed to. Versus populum is what we are used to when the priest is almost always facing the people. There were great arguments for that at Vatican II, chiefly being the full, active, and conscious participation on the part of the people.”
There are usually two reasons why a priest will celebrate Mass ad orientem, Father Dave explains: “One: If that particular Mass at that particular parish has been designated [ad orientem] by the bishop. Pope Benedict pointed out that the extraordinary form of the rite was never officially repressed after the Second Vatican Council, and since then, there have been more churches that celebrate the extraordinary form of the rite. Two: He’s doing the ordinary form, but the altar is not separated from the wall, which doesn’t give the priest any other option but to face away from the people.” (Original Air 01-08-18)