Priest facing the people

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: I read with some interest your January 18 blog which was forwarded to me by a brother deacon. 
However, you might wish to be aware that your assertion that “The General Instruction of the Roman Missal calls for the priest to face the people in no. 299” is not accurate. 

While the English rendering of GIRM 299 states that “…Mass can be celebrated at it [the fixed altar apart from the wall] facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible…”, that rendering is not accurate. One clue, even in the misrendered English, is the word “wherever” (ubicumque), as opposed to “whenever” (quotienscumque).

The Latin, which is authoritative, states: “Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.”

A more accurate rendering in English of this would be: “The main altar should be built separated from the wall, which is useful wherever it is possible, so that it can be easily walked around and a celebration toward the people can be carried out.”

GIRM 299 does not say that Mass versus populum is required or even desirable. It is certainly not required. Rather, it suggests that the sanctuary be arranged in such a way that makes both orientations possible, so that versus populum can” be carried out. 

Moreover, there is a Responsum dated September 25, 2000 from the CDW (Prot. No. 2036/00/L) (available in the original Italian here:, which affirms this. 

With every good wish and my assurance of prayers for you and your ministry, I am sincerely yours in Christ, 


A: Thanks for sharing this. I’ve read and reread this, along with the link, and still come to the conclusion that 299 prefers Mass with the priest facing the people, a position that the rubrics of other liturgical books clearly have in mind, and that has been faithfully practiced in the great majority of churches throughout the Catholic world for many decades.

But I respect your differing opinion.