Priest facing the people

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q:  The GIRM does not give specific directions regarding the direction the priest faces in the Novus Ordo liturgy. I recently played for a wedding and the priest celebrating the Vatican II rite had his back to the congregation during the Eucharistic prayer. I’ve read many articles from those who advocate this practice who present the argument that Pope Benedict, Cardinal Sarah and others have presented talks and written articles on the subject promoting a Liturgical East. I thought the force of liturgical law came from the official ritual books. I look forward to your academic opinion on the subject.

A:  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states, “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” (299).

The GIRM also says that especially during the Eucharistic Prayer the priest “associates the people with himself in the Prayer that he addresses in the name of the entire community to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit” (GIRM 78). He can do this well when facing the people, engaging their shared participation in the prayer he offers on their behalf to God.

GIRM 307 says: “The candlesticks required for the different liturgical services for reasons of reverence or the festive character of the celebration (cf. no. 117), should be appropriately placed either on the altar or around it, according to the design of the altar and the sanctuary, so that the whole may be harmonious and the faithful may not be impeded from a clear view of what takes place at the altar or what is placed upon it.” This would only be an issue if the priest were facing the people from the back of the altar.
It is true that the Order of Mass gives instructions for when the priest and deacon should be facing the people, but this probably covers circumstances in historic churches where the altar is not freestanding.
A priest is probably within his rights to offer the eucharistic prayer with his back to the people, but it is not consistent with the GIRM or the architectural purpose of churches.