From a reader:
I’m a student at ___, studying Psychology and Theology. First off, IMy name’s __, and I’d like to thank you for your blog. I’ve learned a lot that I’ve been able to share with my friends about the Sacred Liturgy.
The topic of ad orientam worship seems to come up a lot on your blog. Personally, I would prefer that Holy Mass be celebrated that way, but while studying the GIRM (I was in the seminary for a 3 semesters) I ran across paragraph 299:
“The altar should be built apart 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…”.
You speak a lot about following the rubrics and the GIRM, saying mass the way Holy Mother Church commands us to. You’ve cited the GIRM to encourage things like chalice veils. How can you reconcile your endorsement of ad orientam worship in the Ordinary Form with your insistence on “Say the Black, Do the Red”? Not attacking you of course, Father, just wondering what your rationale is?
I have written about GIRM 299 several times. Here is a good link to one entry: What Does GIRM 299 Really Say?
The short answer is that you have been duped, probably on purpose.
The English translation you reference, even though it might be on an official site or in a document, is wrong. It does not accurately translate the Latin of the GIRM, which is a serious problem. As you will see… it caused you confusion.
It is sad when we cannot trust entirely the translations of important paragraphs in important documents. But the folks who put that together didn’t like what the Latin expressed.
Briefly, here is the skinny.
This is what GIRM 299 really says:
Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.
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.
Before the USCCB put out their document Built of Living Stones, with the incorrect translation you cited, the Congregation for Divine Worship responded to a question about this very paragraph and actually explained the Latin grammar. I unfold that in the entry I linked.
Here is the meat of the CDWDS’s response about that which, I repeat, was made before the USCCB issued Built of Living Stones.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in n. 299 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which the position of the priest versus absidem [facing the apse] is to be excluded. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:
Negatively, and in accordance with the following explanation.
The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account. First, the word expedit does not constitute a strict obligation but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum (detached from the wall). It does not require, for example, that existing altars be pulled away from the wall. The phrase ubi possibile sit (where it is possible) refers to, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc.
I hope that clear up your question!