PipeChat Digest #1046 - Saturday, August 28, 1999
Re: Free standing altars - long "official" Clarification
  by <JDeCaria@aol.com>

(back) Subject: Re: Free standing altars - long "official" Clarification From: JDeCaria@aol.com Date: Sat, 28 Aug 1999 03:04:27 EDT   Dear List:   As a former Roman Catholic seminarian with a very traditional order, I = feel that I am qualified, and furthermore have a duty, to clear up a few = things with regards to this "freestanding altar "business   Firstly, the first masses were celebrated in the catacombs under Rome, because of fear of persecution (the Roman emperor Nero was the most famous = of these). The bishops (back then, only bishops, or episcopii, could = celebrate the Eucharist) would consecrate the Eucharistic elements over the tombs of =   those who had been martyred. These tombs often took the form of recessed niches in the walls of the catacombs. It is important to note, however, = that the tombs of significant martyrs were located in central positions in the catacombs (think of a long box on the floor in the middle of the room). = These tombs also served as places of consecration. This is important to consider =   for the next point.   Later practice was for parish priests to consecrate (later called "saying mass") facing not away from the people, but in the same direction of the people, that is to say, facing the Eucharistic elements to be consecrated, = or facing those already consecrated and reserved in the tabernacle. HOWEVER, important churches have ALWAYS had free standing altars. The important churches, deemed Basilicas by the Most Holy Father, are echoes of those central chambers in the catacombs which held the tombs of important/significant martyrs. The free standing altars in Basilicas = reflect this.   The Caroline-Gregorian mass (the term "Tridentine" is somewhat of a = misnomer - the rituals date much farther back than the Council of Trent) does not require the priest and the people to face the same direction. For many hundreds of years, mass was celebrated in Basilicas throughout the world = with the priest facing the people (albeit, until relatively recently, this was = a privilege restricted to bishops)   Now, as far as the Rubrics for Modern times. In the years following the Second Vatical Council (indeed in many of the years previous) some = horrendous architectural "mistakes" have been made in the name of inclusivity. The =   Holy Father, some time before Vatican II had allowed all churches to have "free-standing" altars - let us use the term free-standing to denote only = an altar which allows the Sacrifice to be offered with the priest fading the people, not those which are simply not against the wall.   Some acoustically despicable churches have been constructed (can you = imagine a completely round church with the altar at the centre - what an = acoustical nightmare) to allow the whole congregation to "see" what the priest was = doing during mass.   The Second Vatican Council was truly a breath of fresh air. But this = fresh air was made rank and vile by the "progressive" bishops who distorted the meaning of the Council documents in order to please the vocal libertine activists (i prefer the term whiners). The fact the the entore Body of = Christ is the subject of the liturgy was often deformed by particular bishops to = the point where the local community became the self-sufficient subject of the liturgy. The result: they literally ripped out the High Altars (and side Altars for that matter), they tore down the galleries, often leaving no space to a pipe organ, they moved the Most Blessed Sacrament to insignificant "closets" they called chapels.   I wish to make this perfectly clear: nowvere in any of the Vatican II documents will anyone find a rubric that says mass MUST be celebrated = facing the people. The Sacred Constitutions on Liturgy of Vatican II say = onlythat the priest is to celebrate mass "cum popolo" - WITH, and not facing, the people. Thus it is perfectly licit to celebrate a Novus Ordo (new, vernacular) mass facing the same direction as the people. I grew up in a north Toronto parish that used the Novus Ordo mass in English and Italian, =   but mass was always celebrated at the High Altar, with the priest and the people facing the same direction.   The "inclusivity revolution", for lack of a better term, that occurred, particularily in North America distorted the meaning of the Council's decrees. When I look back upon this, I am reminded of the protestant reformation, and the great sin of iconoclasm commited by people such as Ulrich Zwingli in the 1520's. I would like to remind protestant readers, espescially my honorable Lutheran friends, that Martin Luther Humself condemned the destruction of sacred space, artifacts, and great works of = art in the name of inclusivity and libertarian paradigms.   Where do we stand today (pardon the pun)? The Roman Church is bitterly divided upon this, but from a purely legal aspects, there is not Cannon = Law, no rubric that prevents a priest from celebrating mass facing the same direction as the congregation. Indeed the Novus Missale Romanum contains several rubrics that direct the priest to turn and address the people. If = the priest is directed to turn and address the people, which way does the = Missale Romanum assume he is facing?   The Novus Missale Romanum is published only in Latin by the Vatican. It is = up to particular Eposcipal Confrences to publish their own translations. It = is an interesting note that the American and Canadian confrences made several =   errors and omissions when translating the rubrics - many of the directions =   for the priest to "turn to the people and say" were omitted or reworded. = in the Candaian translation however, some have crept through. I refer specifically to those General Instructions of the Roman Missal # 86 p.2, 107, 115, 116, 122, 198. These general Instructions can be found at the beginning of any Sacramentary (the book the priest uses at mass).   I hope that this information is able to clear up some confusion. I remain, =     your unworthy servant, Mr. (one day Fr.) Joseph Decaria