Ad Orientem: Clarifying the History

Moderator’s note: Dr. Jared Staudt recently wrote (“Why is Ad Orientem worship so controversial?” in DenverCatholic) that “Churches were constructed throughout history … with the altar … oriented toward the East,” and that “Vatican II said nothing about changing the priest’s direction during Mass” and “there is no official liturgical document from the 1960s that directed it.” Pray Tell is happy to reprint, with the kind permission of DenverCatholic and Fr. Felix Medina’s response to Dr. Staudt. – awr

After reading Dr. Jared Staudt’s article “Why is Ad Orientem worship so controversial?” which appeared on this site on January 26, 2023, I more clearly understand “the necessity of an authentic liturgical formation” at all levels of the Catholic Church recently emphasized by Pope Francis.1 I agree with Staudt when he says that the practice of having the priest face the East (ad orientem) during Mass, with the altar touching the wall, arises “controversy” among the faithful. He wonders why it is so. Catholics could accept that, under certain cultural and historical circumstances, having everyone facing the same direction might be the only possible orientation that helped the assembly draw nearer to Christ during Mass. In this brief article, I point out why today’s Catholics should not accept Staudt’s arguments and reasons for such a re-orientation of the Eucharist.

First, stating that the Eucharistic orientation “until the 1960’s” was ad orientem (“throughout the entire history of Catholic worship”) is simply historically inaccurate. Staudt claims that “services facing the people arose during the Reformation,” but the “ancient” practice of the Church is ad orientem. Our Catholic Mass has not evolved from the Reformation, but from Christ’s “breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7) at “the table” (Mt 26:20; Mk 14:18; Lk 22:14. 21) used at the Last Supper. Most historians agree that “we do not know much about the specific details of the earliest eucharistic celebrations.”2 The available historical evidence on this important aspect of the liturgy is very fragmentary and does not show one single Eucharistic orientation in the Early Church. Theodor Klauser maintains that in the ancient Roman basilicas priests always celebrated “from behind the altar, facing the people.”3 Andreas Jungmann claims that the oldest Roman basilicas (St. Peter’s, the Lateran and St. Mary Major basilicas) were built with the apse towards the West, so that the priest may face the altar and pray the Eucharistic prayer ad orientem (facing the people) at the same time. However, due to the growing devotion to the rising sun-Christ cult, that eventually meant that the faithful turned away from the altar during the Eucharistic prayer. Given the centrality of the altar for the Early Church, by the fourth century, we witness the building of churches “with the apse towards the East, in accordance with what became general custom later on,”4 that is, everyone faced the eastward apse. Robin M. Jensen however describes many archeological examples of North African basilicas of the fourth and fifth centuries where the altar was in the main nave (in some cases at the center of the building).5 Joseph Ratzinger and Uwe M. Lang lay emphasis on St. Augustine’s charge “turn towards the Lord” at the end of three of his sermons, as an invitation to the assembly to physically face East for the Eucharistic prayer.6 But Jensen doubts such an interpretation, since it would mean that the faithful turned “nearly 135 degrees in a clockwise direction to face the right rear corner of the church building,” and argues for a turning “toward a symbolic or ‘liturgical east,’ “people should turn their hearts to the Lord and away from worldly things.”7 By the end of the seventh century, clear evidence of a more generalized ad orientem worship can be seen in the Ordo Romanus Primus.8

Second, it is not true that “no official liturgical document from the 1960s directed” celebrating the Eucharist with everyone in the assembly facing the altar, as the sign of Christ. Staudt erroneously claims that such a reform was done “without directives of a Council or even any deliberation from authoritative bodies.” He omits mentioning the history of the Liturgical Movement that originated in the 19th century and sought to restore the centrality of the liturgy in the lives of Catholics. Within the context of the Benedictine restoration in France, the new liturgical scholars discovered and edited the liturgical books of the Fathers of the Church, in which it was evident that the Christians of the Early Church participated in the liturgical actions of the Mass, and were not “there as strangers or silent spectators.”9 The liturgical theology of this movement was especially confirmed by the Magisterium of popes St. Pius X and Pius XII, influenced the teaching of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium, and guided to the post-conciliar liturgical renewal. “The particular leader to have emphasized the adoption of versus populum celebration was Romano Guardini”10 (1885-1968). A leading figure in the Austrian Liturgical Movement was Pius Parsch (1884-1954), who reordered St. Gertrude’s chapel in 1935 “to include an altar for celebrations versus populum.11 Guardini promoted this practice among the German-speaking areas where it became quite widespread. In 1956, the reform of the liturgies of Holy Week by Pope Pius XII constituted an “incipient” adoption of versus populum celebrations, which assured that the faithful saw the liturgical actions and participated in them during the Mass: rubrics 5 and 22 direct the priest to pray both the prayer of blessing of the palms before the Palm Sunday procession and a new prayer after it behind the table upon which the palms are placed versus populum;12 similarly, at the Easter Vigil, “Pius XII requires that the [baptismal] water be blessed not at the font but in the sanctuary where the faithful can see it” and “the blessing is recited facing the people.”13

Vatican II, much as the Tridentine reform, did not order the specific liturgical reforms, but established the principles that would guide the whole liturgical renewal process, which would later be executed by the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy: “In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.”14 Against what Staudt states in his article, there is an official document from the 1960’s directing the new Eucharistic orientation: “The main altar should preferably be freestanding, to permit walking around it and celebration facing the people. Its location in the place of worship should be truly central so that the attention of the whole congregation naturally focuses there.”15 Still during the time of Vatican II, the legitimate authoritative body responsible for the implementation of the teaching of a Church council inspired by the Holy Spirit prefers the central position of the altar, with the priest celebrating versus populum, so that the attention of all the assembly may be directed to the liturgical action. The 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal has become even more insistent on versus populum: “The altar should be built separate from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. Moreover, the altar should occupy a place where it is truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns.”16

Third, Staudt considers that the Mass ad orientem possesses “greater solemnity, transcendence, mystery and a common orientation toward God,” and erroneously attributes the celebration of the Mass versus populum as “more human-centered rather than God-centered” and “a congregation-centered posture.” If that was the case, why would the Congregation for Divine Worship under the authority of popes St. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis declare the new Eucharistic orientation “preferable” and “desirable”? If the Masses celebrated ad orientem lead people towards God, and the ones celebrated versus populum center us on humanity, why would the norms relating to the celebration of the Mass currently in full force recommend the latter? The Congregation for Divine Worship explained this issue in the following response: “Whatever may be the position of the celebrating priest, it is clear that the eucharistic sacrifice is offered to the one and triune God and that the principal, eternal, and high priest is Jesus Christ, who acts through the ministry of the priest who visibly presides as his instrument. The liturgical assembly participates in the celebration in virtue of the common priesthood of the faithful which requires the ministry of the ordained priest to be exercised in the eucharistic synaxis. The physical position, especially with respect to the communication among the various members of the assembly, must be distinguished from the interior spiritual orientation of all. It would be a grave error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is towards the community. If the priest celebrates versus populum, which is legitimate and often advisable, his spiritual attitude ought always to be versus Deum per Iesum Christum (towards God through Jesus Christ), as representative of the entire Church. The Church as well, which takes concrete form in the assembly which participates, is entirely turned versus Deum (towards God) as its first spiritual movement.”17

Fourth, the author questions the validity and legitimacy of such a fundamental pillar of the liturgical reform requested by Vatican II, and therefore adds a great amount of confusion and misunderstanding among the Catholic faithful, by going against the expressed desire of the Holy Father in his recent Magisterium on this issue. Pope Francis has legitimately taught: “the liturgical books promulgated by the saintly Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, constitute the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”18 Since the council of Trent, the final authority on liturgical matters has been reserved to the Holy See, and both the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the last pontiffs have used their authority on the liturgy to validate Vatican II’s liturgical reform. St. John Paul II teaches: “the liturgical renewal,” including celebrating the Eucharist versus populum, “is the most visible fruit of the whole work of the Council.”19

Celebrating the Eucharist ad orientem is certainly possible and legitimate today, but not for the reasons alleged in Staudt’s article. His opinions about the history of the Eucharist and the teaching of Vatican II and its liturgical reform should be understood within the context of two major difficulties in the implementation of Vatican II’s liturgical reform: appalling liturgical abuses, like priests placing themselves at the center of the Eucharist or not using the liturgical books approved by the Church;20 and the lack of a deeper desire in the pastors of the Church for an authentic liturgical formation of the faithful. Vatican II requested and St. John Paul II repeatedly called for such a liturgical initiation: “The most urgent task is that of the biblical and liturgical formation of the people of God, both pastors and faithful.”21 We cannot understand the Eucharistic orientation promoted by the Church after Vatican II without the entire conciliar teaching and the biblical, patristic and liturgical movements that prepared it. The new ecclesiology taught by Lumen Gentium presents the Church as “a sacrament for the salvation of the world,” a visible sign of Christ: “Really partaking of the body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with Him and with one another. ‘Because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread.’”22 In George Weigel’s vision of Vatican II, the Church is presented as “communion” with “Christ at the center” for the evangelization of the world.23 Such a missionary approach to the Church as “communio,” that is, a sacrament of the Mystical Body of Christ pulls postmodern humanity out of its “subjectivism,”24 but requires a renewed orientation in which all the faithful, Head and members, are formed by Christ’s Paschal mystery. In determining the position of the priest at the altar, more than the historical information, we need to consider the meaning of the Eucharist as a sacrament, as a visible sign of grace for today’s Catholics. Vatican II teaches: “The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God; because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called ‘sacraments of faith.’”25

Vatican II has offered us the rediscovery of the liturgical signs in the life of Catholics: the bread and wine are “taken” and placed on the altar; the prayer of thanksgiving by the priest over the bread and the wine; the bread is broken; the Communion. It is certainly beneficial for today’s Catholics to see, immerse themselves and be transfigured by Christ’s Eucharistic actions. Perhaps today, in a world flooded with artificial light, it is not so vital to turn toward the cosmic symbol of the East (i.e., the rising Sun), but “it is absolutely vital that all who celebrate the Eucharist face Christ and through their participation in the sacred mysteries proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again (see 1 Co 11:26).”26

  1. Pope Francis, Apostolic Letter “Motu Proprio” Desiderio Desideravi on the Liturgical Formation of the People of God (June 29, 2022), 62.
  2. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue, Liturgical Orientation: The Position of the President at the Eucharist. Joint Liturgical Studies, 83 (The Alcuin Club: London, 2017), 7. See also Pere Farnes, “Una Obra Importante sobre Liturgia que Debe Leerse en su Verdadero Contexto”, Phase 247, XLII (2002), 55-76.
  3. Theodor Klauser, A Short History of the Western Liturgy: An Account and Some Reflections. 2nd edition (London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 165.
  4. Andreas Jungmann, The Early Liturgy, to the Time of Gregory the Great. University of Notre Dame. Liturgical Studies, V. 6 (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1959), 138.
  5. Robin M. Jensen, ‘Recovering Ancient Ecclesiology: The Place of the Altar and the Orientation of Prayer in the Early Latin Church,’ Worship 89 (2015), 104-8.
  6. See Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 82-5; and Uwe M. Lang, Turning toward the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), 51-2.
  7. Jensen, “Recovering Ancient Ecclesiology,’ 117.
  8. Alan Griffiths, ed., Ordo Romanus Primus: Latin Text and Translations with Introductions and Notes, Joint Liturgical Studies, 73 (Norwich, UK: Hymns Ancient and Modern, 2012), 41.
  9. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium
  10. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1963), 48. Hereafter, SC. O’Donoghue, Liturgical Orientation, 31.
  11. Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy: The Principles of Liturgical Reform and Their Relation to the Twentieth Century Liturgical Movement Prior to the Second Vatican Council (Farnborough, Hants.: St. Michael’s Abbey Press, 2004), 111.
  12. Patrick Regan, Advent to Pentecost: Comparing the Seasons in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2012), 112.
  13. Regan, Advent to Pentecost, 211.
  14. SC, 21.
  15. Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction on Implementing the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy Inter Oecumenici (September 26, 1964), 91. Latin version: “Praestat ut altare maior exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit”.
  16. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 299. [Accessed on February 8, 2023].
  17. Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, ‘Response to Questions on the New General Instruction of the Roman Missal’, September 2000, quoted in Lang, Turning toward the Lord, 26-7.
  18. Pope Francis, Letter that Accompanies the Apostolic Letter “Motu Proprio” Traditionis Custodes (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2021).
  19. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988), 12; hereafter, VQ.
  20. See VQ, 13; and Baldovin, Reforming the Liturgy, 112.
  21. VQ, 15.
  22. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1964), 7. Hereafter, LG.
  23. George Weigel, To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2022), 291.
  24. Weigel, To Sanctify the World, 286.
  25. SC, 59.
  26. O’Donoghue, Liturgical Orientation, 68.

Where Peter Is, Cardinal Roche, and Traditionis Custodes

Wow. First The Pillar – a fine site I increasingly follow – published a hard-hitting piece suggesting that Cardinal Roche of the Dicastery for Divine Worship is overstepping his bounds, arrogating power to himself, and going beyond the Pope’s decrees limiting the so-called Traditional Latin Mass.

Then Mike Lewis at Where Peter Is scored a response from Cardinal Roche himself stating that this is an “absurdity.” Money quote:

“It is an absurdity to think that the prefect of a dicastery would do anything other than exercise the wishes of the Holy Father as clearly outlined in their mandate and the General Norms of Praedicate Evangelium. The article in the Pillar is not really an attack on me but on the Pope’s authority which for Catholics is an astonishing act full of hubris.”

Okay, I suppose he could have stated that a bit more gently. But it seems safe to say that the Pope has Roche’s back and supports his application and enforcement of Traditionis Custodes.


How to Sanctify the World

Since 1584, the faithful have heard these words on Christmas before the Mass during the Night in the announcement of the birth of Christ according to the Martyrologium Romanum :

Iesus Christus, aeternus Deus aeternique Patris filius,
mundum volens adventu suo piissimo consecrare…

Rendered in the current English translation:

Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence.

While the calculation of dates in the Martyrologium, formerly based on ancient ‘historical’ dating of events stemming from late antiquity and the Middle Ages, was adapted to the current state of knowledge with the renewed text of 2004, this key phrase remained the same: Mundum volens consecrare.

Wouldn’t “save” or “redeem” have been far enough? Consecrare (as well as the closely related sanctficare) derives from the Latin sacer, meaning “divine,” “justified,” “consecrated/cursed,” “sacral.” It means set apart for the sacred, reserved for God as the only possibility of encountering the Holy One. The “profane” (from the Latin pro fanum, meaning “before the sanctuary”), on the other hand, is the realm of the non-divine, the worldly, and ultimately of sin. So did Christ come into the world to make it a sanctuary as such? To transform it into a place where humans can draw near to God, where God can be recognized and honored?

According to Council theologian Herbert Vorgrimler, Christianity carries out its existence in the world, and thus does not need a sacred realm removed from the world in order to communicate with God:

“The central ‘cultic’ performance of Christianity, the Eucharist, in which the ‘profane’ life and death of Jesus are made present and impulses of the Holy Spirit are gained for life under the promises of God’s reign in the world, is not a sacral act in which a matter or persons become ‘worldless.’ All the less can ecclesiastical persons and institutions, which are always also shaped by the ‘spirit of the world’ and cannot deny this at all, become sacral. The two terms [cf. sacral and profane] can therefore contribute nothing to the clarification of the Christian understanding of the world and of itself.” [1]

Loosely translated into the poetry of Josef Philipp Neumann set to music by Franz Schubert, this reads, “In all places is your temple, where the heart devoutly consecrates itself to you.”[2] Yet we erect church buildings and reserve places, devices, and times ‘for’ God – or more aptly for us to appear before God as his people. Terms such as sanctify, bless, consecrate, etc., are familiar to us in the worship life of the church, as is the liturgical treatment of the sacred in sacramental celebrations. So where is the sacred to be found? In a world that is able to recognize it only as created people can do?

“In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) says Paul at the Aeropagus about the “unknown God.” Neither does the liturgy add anything to this omnipresence nor (and certainly not) does it dispose of it. Its proprium is that God makes himself perceptible to the celebrators in the here and now. This “special” presence[3] requires special creaturely conditions, for example the time: “distinguished” by God they are “holy/sanctified” (cf. Genesis 2:3); humans on the other hand “offer” (Latin offere).[4] That this offering (Latin oblatio) of gifts for blessing is also called “blessing,” “consecration,” or “benediction” reveals both the speech act and the effect of their (temporary or permanent) separation and offering, but not the power of disposal over them. The Jewish blessing (beracha) permits humans the use and enjoyment of God-thanked gifts; the Christian blessing in turn intends to consciously appropriate something or someone to God – the two sides of the same encounter event between giver and recipient. Moreover, consecratio can denote both the event of sanctification and the sanctified itself. “Sanctification” is thus an equivocal term primarily for God’s working of the Spirit both on elements and people and through them. The (not only in German) on the one hand imprecise terminology lets on the other hand many dimensions resonate.

Liturgy: God’s Sacred Dialogue with Humanity
As a place of encounter, liturgy is “holy ground” (cf. Ex 3:5) – not an exclusive, but a privileged place of knowledge and place of experience of the sacred, the sanctified and the sanctification:

“Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work [the Paschal Mystery] wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified … To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations … In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs” (SC 7).

In worship “the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God … is achieved in the most efficacious possible way” (SC 10). In particular, “the purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God” (SC 59). And further “there is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God” (SC 61). In these and similar word pairings (sanctification-glorification, sanctification-praise, sanctification-worship, salvation-glorification, sanctify-glorify), the Second Vatican Council repeatedly affirms the dialogic-communicative basic structure of the liturgy, which, after centuries of cultic narrowness, again both allows and requires a broader and more comprehensive understanding. This also applies to the sanctifying acts of consecration (Eucharistic Prayer / “Hochgebet”) and communion.

Can one “increase” sacramentality?
Sanctification is accomplished in and through created things. The Bible testifies to the experience of God in and through his creation, which finds its climax in the incarnation of the divine Logos. Christ, in whom God has promised himself to the world, is the divine gift of himself, the sacrament/mysterion par excellence. It underlies the ecclesial understanding of sacramentality, for “what was visible in our Savior has passed into the sacraments (mysteries) of the Church” (Leo the Great in his Homily on the Ascension). This is especially but not exclusively true of the celebrations of the sacraments in the narrow sense (fixed since the High Middle Ages at the number of seven). Rather: “From the liturgy, therefore […] as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us” (SC 10), in that Christ gathers the faithful in his mindful presence to communicate himself to them, to bring them into his discipleship – and to make them similar to himself.

This happens verbally and non-verbally under material “sensual” signs (water, oils, bread, wine, ashes, light, etc.), whose interpretation as gifts of salvation is combined with thanksgiving (anamnesis) and the request for the coming and working of the Spirit of God (epiclesis). With Augustine, this speech act has received decisive importance: Not until the interpreting-thinking-petitioning word does an element become a sacrament. In a narrow understanding, however, the misunderstanding could spread (not only in the Middle Ages) that a correctly and permissibly spoken wording (of a blessing formula and also of the Words of Institution) would simply make “holy matter” out of things. The spiritual, and above all, the protective power, which was expected from it, led to the manifold use, and sometimes abuse, of blessed things (even the host). Such practices may be in the past, but the conception of the availability and feasibility of the sacred is still to be found.

On the other hand, blessed things want to reveal something of their hidden good origin (creation) and not-yet-finally revealed restoration (redemption) in a world experienced as contradictory. As symbols, they are “transparent” to the divine world and, by virtue of their material quality and properties, allow us to experience their own dimensions of God’s closeness and salvific activity. Whether being immersed, anointed, nourished, touched and clothed, whether morning light and evening star, fire, warmth or refreshment, whether sprouting, blossoming, harvesting and perishing, whether human being, element, living being, or any thing – in blessing (Latin benedicere, “to say well”), God is acknowledged as owner and giver of the blessed and the friendship with God is requested. Blessed things – as coming from God and belonging to him – are made explicit and become the “place” of his experience. This is how the Constitution on the Liturgy sums it up:

“For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event in their lives … they are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ, the font from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power” (SC 61).

What follows from this?

“The goal […] is certainly not the abolition of the [cf. their] distinction […], but on the contrary the right – starting from the individual performance and corresponding to it – classification in a stepped cosmos of symbolic performances, which make the one great mystery/sacrament of God, Christ in his life, death and resurrection in history perceptible and experienceable: in the different situations of life and in the different areas of the world – above all also […] the material, bodily world, which is the only medium of the experience and encounter of God. In all ‘sacramental celebrations’ the transparency of the world as creation, that is, as the place of encounter with the Creator, Lord and Owner of the world, can be experienced symbolically, admittedly in graded spiritual density and intensity. At the center of this multiplicity of symbolic acts are the church-founding acts of baptism and Eucharist, from which and toward which all others are to be understood.”[5]

What is the aim of this encounter – the heart of any act of worship? It works no less than the sanctification, consecration, and transformation of our existence.

Consecrated by Baptism
The irreversible beginning from God for an existence as a Christ-shaped “saint” is set in baptism: “The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood“ (LG 10). An interpretation of what consecrantur means here is given by Paul in Romans 6:5, when he literally speaks of “growing together with Christ in the likeness of his death and in that of his resurrection.” This sanctifying growing together with the divine (Latin con and sacer) determines and enables – “consecrates” – a paschal life in the Risen One and with Him: spiritually-open-hearted (“prophetic”), carefully-caring (“royal”), and ready to give oneself for the sake of others (“priestly”). Those “consecrated” in baptism are dedicated and appropriated to God.

Consecration by Eating the Lord’s Supper
“Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall …“ At the latest with these words, Catholic believers give their concentrated attention to the events at the altar during the celebration of the Eucharist. Many honor the special presence of the Spirit of God by kneeling. It is the ecclesiastically identified (for doubtful emergencies) “moment of transubstantiation” when the assembly almost holds its breath in the face of the visualization of the mystery of its redemption. But what is the actually breathtaking? Far more than the sometimes almost miraculously reduced verba testamenti. Admittedly, the experience of the unity of the consecratory Eucharistic Prayer is difficult due to its usual ritual staging, that is disrupted several times.

Despite this, no longer (only) bread, no longer (only) wine, but in it “my body, my blood, for you” are prepared. The earthly gifts received with thanksgiving, set apart and prepared for the Lord’s Supper, offered to Him in the praising invocation of God, filled with His Spirit, and destined for consumption as “the Sacred to the Saints”: “Take and eat, all of you drink!” The Sacred, yes. But to “the Saints”?

“The Sacred to the Saints” (Latin sancta sanctis) is an ancient Church exhortation, common in the Eastern Churches to this day, which invites the faithful to Communion. It affirms what the Eucharistic Prayer asked for and what participation in the meal will redeem: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ … Humbly we pray that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.” Although these two phrases – unlike the early church model of the so-called Traditio Apostolica, which asks the faithful to be filled with the Spirit by receiving the Spirit-filled gifts – are separated from each other in the contemporary version, the invocation of the Spirit (epiclesis) over gifts and faithful remains a single one.

The transformation of the gifts is to bring about the transformation of the believers; those who receive Christ in the bite of bread and a sip of wine do so in readiness to be conformed to him. This communion is realized in the flesh, i.e. “perceptible to the senses” (SC 7) –  gratia supponit naturam – in the very symbolic acts that signify it: Broken bread, not solitary “self-bread” means and brings about, as sharing in the one bread and the one cup, sharing in the one Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16). To be shared in order to be eaten is the destiny (Latin substantia) of daily bread as basic food; the wine, on the other hand, is a means of enjoyment and a symbol of the feast. They stand for “life and life in abundance” (cf. John 10:10). In the breaking of bread and drinking from the one cup, both the devotion of Jesus, who allowed himself to be broken for the people and shed his heart’s blood, and the eschatological communion of life and meal in the Kingdom of God are realized. Going to communion is a commitment to the Paschal Mystery of Christ, through which he has won us back to God, so that we may follow in his footsteps as best we can: Like him, we are to be nourishing, tasty and filling for one another; like him, quickening, inspiring and thirst-quenching; like him, generous and unifying; ready to share what we are and have, and to pour out our strength; ready to do so, yet hoping not to come – like him – bent, broken and bled to our limits. Our Amen underwrites our consecration, for “your mystery is on the Lord’s table: you receive your mystery” as Augustine in a homily reminds the newly baptized before they go to the Lord’s table for the first time, exhorting: “Be what you see, and receive what you are!”[6]

Sanctification of Everyday Life
“In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims” (SC 8). Worship is that time set apart, sanctified for the sake of human beings, reserved for the ritual-symbolic encounter with the Holy One. It is a foretaste of what is accomplished, but not manifest. Creation, long-suffering men and creatures still groan (cf. Romans 8:22). The liturgy neither relieves those celebrating of their concrete needs or problems, nor does it send them back to them after the service. Rather, it sensitizes those who celebrate to the sacramentality of creation, its permeability to the encounter with God in everyday life, at every turn, in good times and in bad. Humans can become aware of it and will reveal it with thanksgiving and praise (“blessing”). Whatever people “sanctify” in this way, they connect with their Creator and Preserver. Times, places, things, living beings, elements are not charged with self-effective powers, so that they could be made usable as means of magic or banishment. Instead, they proclaim in their own way how “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard.” (Ps 19) Not heard unless humanity understands creation’s message and makes it sound in its own languages.

[1] Neues Theologisches Wörterbuch, „Sakral“, Neuausgabe 2008, 6. Aufl. des Gesamtwerkes, Verlag Herder.

[2] As is still popularly sung in many Austrian parishes.

[3] Cf. Article 7 of the Constution of the Sacred Liturgy.

[4] Cf. Reinhard Meßner, “Sakramentalien,“ TRE 29, 1998.

[5] See note 4, 656.

[6] Augustinus’s Sermon to the Newly Baptized Sermo 272.

From the Wires: The Church’s Authority to Revise and Suppress Preconciliar Rites

Author David Gordon has blogged on church and liturgy at OnePeterFive and Church Militant. This piece is reprinted with the kind permission of Where Peter Is, where it was originally titled “Is It Time for the TLM to Go Away?”

In This Issue: Ex Fonte 1 (2022)

Ex Fonte: Journal of Ecumenical Studies in Liturgy

As a new journal for liturgical studies, Ex Fonte is an international and ecumenically oriented platform for a dialogue between liturgical history and liturgical theology. The multifaceted historical dimensions of Christian worship enrich a present-day liturgical-theological discussion. In this way, the journal accentuates and affirms the contribution of liturgical studies to a renewal of ecumenical efforts. For more information, or to read the latest, visit

Welcome to Ex Fonte!
Florian Wegscheider, Elias Haslwanter

“All you have created rightly gives you praise”:
Re-thinking Liturgical Studies, Re-rooting Worship in Creation

Teresa Berger
This essay challenges interpretations of Christian worship that have constricted the understanding of who worships in starkly anthropocentric ways. In conversation with some hitherto largely ignored early Christian ritual texts, the essay seeks to return liturgical studies to an earlier, arguably more foundational and primordial interpretation of worship, one that re-roots worship in principio, i.e., in God’s primordial activity in creation. Recovering this understanding of worship is driven by contemporary realities, namely life (and worship) on a planet now clearly in peril, a peril that is anthropogenic no less.

From Mosul to Turfan:
The ḥūḏrā in the Liturgy of the Assyrian Church of the East

A Survey of its Historical Development
and its Liturgical Anomalies at Turfan

Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Awa Royel III
The “Upper Monastery” at Mosul was an important centre of liturgical development and reform of the Assyrian Church of the East. There, the liturgical book called ḥūḏrā received its form as it is presently known. After a discussion of the genesis of the ḥūḏrā in general, this paper examines fragments found in Turfan, China, which provide valuable insights into the spiritual and liturgical richness that shaped the Rite of the Assyrian Church of East. These fragments are particularly noteworthy in light of Anton Baumstark’s assumption that mission stations far from the place of origin (such as Turfan) tend to preserve older customs. Therefore, an exploration of these fragments will allow for a fuller understanding and appreciation of this rite and its development.

Der liturgische Vorsteherdienst im monastischen Kontext:
Gleichzeitig ein Beitrag zum Verständnis des Abtsamtes
Stefan Geiger
The monastic liturgy of the Regula Benedicti was realized within two poles: the Divine Office and the Eucharist. The former grows out of the community itself and is constitutive of it, while the Eucharist is externally related to it. The understanding of the role of the abbot is not sacramental, but charismatic. The role of the abbot finds its value in a horizontal hierarchy, as first among equals. The liturgical-sacramental substratum realised in the Divine Office is that of baptism, which aims at the unity of liturgy and life in the sense of a “liturgical” lex vivendi or form of life in and from the liturgy.

Theology and Liturgy as Life in Community and Shared Spirituality
Ioan Sauca
Theology and Liturgy are two important dimensions of the Christian faith. Since faith can only be thought of in a holistic way, both Theology and Liturgy must have a place in the lives of the faithful. Theology as a reflection on faith is not a science that uses only methods of empirical sciences, but is first and foremost the experience of communication with God. The fundamental form of communication with God, however, is Liturgy. Therefore, Theology as well as Liturgy must always be practised in community as “church”. The Ecumenical Institute at Bossey aims at such a holistic approach of Theology, Liturgy and life in communion. This per-spective has implications for the upcoming 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Karlsruhe, Germany.

The Barcelona Papyrus and the Opening Dialogue of the Christian Anaphora: Resituating Egyptian Scribal Practices Amid Scholarly Anaphoral Re-constructions
Arsany Paul
Inscribed within the liturgical portions of the manuscript commonly known as the “Barcelona Papyrus” (MS P.Monts.Roca Inv. 128–178, 292, and 338) are various acclamations consisting of Εἷς Θεός, among others. Previous scholars studying these phrases have argued that they represent a part of the liturgical formulary, generally replacing the staple opening of the anaphoral dialogue of the celebrant’s “The Lord be with you”, and the congregational response, “And with your spirit”. In this paper, I demonstrate, through a detailed paleographical analysis of the phrase Εἷς Θεός with its various appendages in the liturgical portions of the said manuscript, and in comparison to other literary and material, visual cultural sources within Egyptian Christian customs, that these invocations are scribal practices rather than part of the pronounced prayers and thus are “marginalia” that function externally to the liturgical formulary.

Warum Kartäuserinnen Stola tragen:
Zur Übergabe der Stola an Kartäusernonnen bei der Jungfrauenweihe nach der Pratique de la bénédiction et consécration des Vierges von 1699 und dem Rituel Cartusien de Consécration des Vierges von 1986
Daniel Tibi
Nuns of the Carthusian Order receive a stole at their consecration as virgins. Initially, this rite was practiced only in individual houses, but in 1699 it was extended to the entire Order, and this remains the case even today. Since the liturgical reform following the Second Vatican Council, Carthusian nuns even wear the stole at certain liturgical functions. This article presents the rite of reception of the stole at the consecration of virgins according to the Pratique de la bénédiction et consécration des Vierges of 1699, which was used in the Carthusian Order until the liturgical reform, as well as the Rituel Cartusien de Consécration des Vierges of 1986, which is used today. It attempts to interpret the rite in light of the way of life of the Carthusian nuns, and to propose a model of diaconal service for women.

A Tradition of Invention:
Rites and rituals surrounding the death and funeral of Queen Elizabeth II
Daniel Lloyd
Queen Elizabeth II died on 8 September 2022. Her death, after a reign of over 70 years, set in motion a series of events, political and constitutional, religious and ceremonial, which both conformed to a long-established pattern while also introducing new elements. The death of the monarch, the proclamation of the successor, and the mourning and funeral rites are, as they always have been, vehicles for more than the bare protocol itself contains. Choices are made, even – and perhaps especially – when the desired impression is one of continuity; the very presentation of these events requires decisions to be taken and plans to be made which project a certain aura, and attempt to direct the ways in which they are received. This article places those rites in their liturgical and historical context, and asks what meaning can be discerned in the liturgical and other choices made.

Propettive ecumeniche nella Sacrosanctum Concilium
Pietro Ventura
The present contribution provides some reflections on the path marked out by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council towards the visible unity of the Church of Christ, starting from the main outlines indicated in the very first document that was promulgated: Sacrosanctum Concilium. The intimate connection between Liturgy and Ecumenism is evident from the very beginning of this document: “to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call all mankind into the Church’s fold. Accordingly, it [the Council] sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy” (SC 1). For this reason, the article sets out the principles out-lined in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that could favor this reform and argues that it is necessary to maintain a lively dialogue with those principles, so that the Liturgy can manifest itself as a place of encounter, culmen et fons (SC 10), for all Christian Churches.