Facing the people

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q:  I think the frequent phrase “facing the people” in the GIRM and the Order of Mass indicates that the presider (or other ministers) may not have been facing the people previously, which, to my understanding, allows the celebrant to lead/pray parts of the Mass versus populum and turn to the assembly where directed. Do you know if the phrase “facing the people” was included in the GIRM after the Council to reinforce that Mass is to be celebrated facing the people? I suspect not.


A:  Instructions for the priest to face the people appear in the Order of Mass at times such as when saying, “The Lord be with you.” There are no instructions in the Order of Mass for the priest then to turn back around. I conclude from this that the indications to face the people remain only for those circumstances where the priest presides at historical churches where the main altar or side altars are against a wall. Priests in other situations are already facing the people, so the instructions are superfluous.

Paragraphs 299 and 303 make it plain that the GIRM envisions mass facing the people. The GIRM does not repeat the instructions from the Order of Mass.

The evidence for this preference is explicit or implied in other places. My article about these can be found here: http://paulturner.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Amen-Corner-Ad-Orientem.pdf

I neglected to mention in that article that the order of dedicating a new church and altar also cites GIRM 299 to aid in the positioning of new altars; and that in funeral rites, the Catholic church maintains that the coffin of a deceased cleric is to be positioned in the way he was in life at mass: facing the people.