From a reader:
This is in response to your recent post about GIRM 299 and ad orientam worship.
I was just wondering, because of what 299 says do altars have to be built so one can walk around them? Or in a new church can you build a high altar the way they used to? I remember them saying that when they redo the chapel at Christendom College the altar would be attached to the tabernacle, the gradines and all the rest behind it.
We also had a discussion on ad orientem in the house in this seminary recently; it would be amusing if this was actually the same discussion spoken of in the earlier post.
My understanding is that new construction is to provide for a free-standing altar. This would apply also if there is significant reconstruction.
However, I know that this has been set aside in the case of several altars in churches that have been completely reconstructed their altars in the process of restoration or redecoration. Off the top of my head I can think of St. Agnes in St. Paul, back in the ’80s. Also, two churches of the Institute of Christ the King in the USA, St. Patrick’s in Kansas City, MO and St. Mary’s in Wausau, WI. I was at the consecration of the St. Patrick’s. Bp. Finn did the honors. It was an amazing experience, btw.
I am sure you readers can provide other instances.
Thus, I think that this is one of those situations where, beyond the architectural issues also play a role, the pastoral necessity is what counts the most. This is certainly what is suggested in the CDWDS editorial I have posted about here from time to time.
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. (Emphases added)
GIRM 299 is clearly a strong suggestion rather than an absolutely mandate.
Sometimes traditionalists will complain that legislation from the Church is not clear enough these days, that it doesn’t spell things out without ambiguity. Here is an instance in which this works to everyone’s advantage.