Thoughts about the “Benedictine arrangement”

At NLM there are photos of a “Benedictine arrangement” of an altar in Bogota.

Benedictine arrangment

The “Benedictine arrangement” is, of course, the placement of the Crucifix with candles at a versus populum Mass such that the Crucifix becomes the common focus, not the priest.

Fr. Ray Blake, on his excellent and recently-renamed blog, finds the photo of the setup in Bogota a bit silly.  He is not against the Benedictine arrangement per se.  He is concerned about the doubling of symbols and creating a barrier.

I am not concerned about creating a barrier (there is historical precedent barriers in liturgy in both East and West), and I think people are fairly smart and can handle more than one crucifix in view at the same time.    But, I must admit he is right.   Fr. Blake also comes to the obvious conclusion: just do it right.  And you know what I mean by that.

Fr. Blake correctly mentions the “Benedictine arrangement” as an improvement and also as the “next step” to getting the altar back the way it ought to be.

He adds:

It is interesting that in Spirit of Liturgy the Pope writes a great deal about facing East but falls short of saying definitively we should face East but is only the brave or eccentric priest who dares do it.

What did Joseph Ratzinger write in The Spirit of the Liturgy (pp. 83-84)?

A more important objection is of the practical order. Are we really going to re-order everything all over again? Nothing is more harmful to the Liturgy than constant changes, even if it seems to be for the sake of genuine renewal.  [Pope Benedict doesn’t like to impose.  He also remembers the chaos caused by the hamfisted way the “reforms” were inflicted.  He isn’t going to say “This is how it should be”, even as you have to conclude that that is what he is saying.]

I see a solution to this [If he is proposing a “solution” that means that he sees that something must be corrected.] in a suggestion I noted at the beginning in connection with the insights of Erik Peterson. Facing toward the East, as we heard, was linked with the “sign of the Son of Man”, with the Cross, which announces Our Lord’s Second Coming. That is why, very early on, the East was linked with the sign of the cross. Where a direct common turning toward the East is not possible, the cross can serve as the interior “East” of faith. It should stand in the middle of the altar and be the common point of focus for both priest and praying community. [Where it is “not possible”…. Where would that be, exactly?  I suppose it might refer to those places where the main altar was detached from its original position and moved forward , perhaps the edge of the step, so that it can’t be used ad orientem.  But what labor and money caused to be changed, money and labor can correct.  Of course it is possible, with the will, to change the position of the altar.   I have in mind something explained to me when I was in London.  Before the Holy Father made his visit to England, the papal MC Mons. Guido Marini scoped out the altar of Westminster Cathedral.  He said that, because of its position in respect to the columns of the baldichino, the Holy Father would not be able to go around the altar with the thurible.  The folks at Westminster panicked at the implication. They spent tens of thousands of pounds to shift the altar just a little so that there would be no excuse for the MC to have the Holy Father to say Mass ad orientem.]

In this way we obey the ancient call to prayer: Conversi ad Dominum, “Turn to the Lord!” In this way we look together at the One whose Death tore the veil of the Temple — the One who stands before the Father for us and encloses us in His arms in order to make us the new and living Temple.

Moving the altar cross to the side to give an uninterrupted view of the priest is something I regard as one of the truly absurd phenomena of recent decades. Is the cross disruptive during Mass? Is the priest more important than Our Lord?

This mistake should be corrected as quickly as possible; it can be done without further rebuilding. [In other words, this is an immediate solution.  That doesn’t rule out something more down the road.  At a certain point it will become obvious what has to be done, as with that chapel in Bogota.] The Lord is the point of reference. He is the rising sun of history. [And as far as the two Crucifix problem…] That is why there can be a cross of the Passion, which represents the Suffering Lord who for us let His side be pierced, from which flowed blood and water (Eucharist and Baptism), as well as a cross of triumph, which expresses the idea of Our Lord’s Second Coming and guides our eyes towards it. For it is always the One Lord: Christ yesterday, today, and for ever (Heb. 13. 8).

I am glad that Fr. Blake called attention to this.

I think the Holy Father really does want to have priests use this “Benedictine arrangement”, and use it right away.  It is a quick and easy way to begin a shift both in the priest’s ars celebrandi and also in the congregation’s perception of the true Actor at Holy Mass.

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31 Responses to Thoughts about the “Benedictine arrangement”

  1. Will D. says:

    I like the Benedictine arrangement, when it’s relatively restrained, but it’s near impossible to find the priest behind the welter of baroque candlesticks on that altar. Imagine trying to see the host and the chalice during the elevation.

  2. The Benedictine arrangement is used for the Masses at the parish I go to when Mass is offered VP. Though now that I think about it, it is kind of silly, why not just face the same crucifix?…it seems like the Benedictine arrangement would apply to the Basilicas in Rome and as mentioned, those places where Ad Orientem isn’t possible. Even in the places where the altar is a bit forward, adding a platform wouldn’t be such a bad idea to make Ad Orientem possible without doing the disastrous efforts that happened illegally post Vatican II.

  3. Sam Urfer says:

    “Where it is ‘not possible’… Where would that be, exactly?”

    I figured he was talking about “Liturgical East”, when the altar might be physically to the North, but it is East for purposes of the Mass. Maybe I am mistaken, though.

  4. Mrs Kate says:

    “The folks at Westminster panicked at the implication. They spent tens of thousands of pounds to shift the altar just a little so that there would be no excuse for the MC to have the Holy Father to say Mass ad orientem.]”

    Tens of whose thousands?
    Well I suppose it would be those of us who put money in the collection plate to help cover the expenses of the Papal visit to the UK. At least that’s what I thought we were putting the money towards…
    Disappointed, but not surprised.

  5. Will, with all respect, you highlight one of the problems that have arisen with Mass offered versus populum. It’s really not as important as many people believe it to be that we have good sight lines to the priest, or even the host and chalice.

    I agree with your assessment, Fr. Z, of what the Holy Father means by “where it is not possible” as a matter of architecture; e.g. where it would be necessary to “re-order everything all over again” in that sense.

    This begs a question that I have asked and wondered about many times before: Why oh why does the Holy Father himself take the half-step of the “Benedictine arrangement” when ad orientem is entirely possible? He himself identifies ad orientem as an incredibly important sacred sign…

    Perhaps an answer exists that I’m not wise enough to imagine, but it seems to me that this half step arrangement is dangerous because it lends a degree of credence ( inadvertently I suppose) to the value progressives place upon worship versus populum.

    Yes, I agree that “it is a quick and easy way to begin a shift both in the priest’s ars celebrandi and also in the congregation’s perception of the true Actor at Holy Mass,” but is it any less quick and easy to just do it correctly? I don’t think so.

    Even the Benedictine arrangement is wisely introduced in a given parish only when accompanied by much needed liturgical catechesis and explanation, no? So I wonder what that would sound like apart from making the case for a complete return to ad orientem… It would seem to me that one cannot possibly explain the “arrangement” without also pointing to the fact that ad orientem is really what should take place. How confusing this must be to the Catholic who is just starting to learn about this topic!

    Long story short, I for one can think of no reason whatsoever beyond the presence of considerable architectural barriers that would make the Benedictine arrangement a good idea.

  6. Childermass says:

    Do you think, Father, that ad orientem celebration is as rare as hen’s teeth (my archdiocese has hundreds of priests and parishes, and there is not a regular ad orientem NO celebration) because bishops would retaliate if a priest decided to do it?

    It’s sad that this talk of “turning toward the Lord” is still hypothetical in nearly all corners of the Catholic Church.

    I also would love to see another simple change. Move the priest’s “Captain Kirk” chair away from behind the altar in the center of the sanctuary. Too often I see this chair where the tabernacle used to be, or directly in front of the tabernacle itself. Does it make sense to have the priest sit with his back to the tabernacle? Why must the priest and his personality be the center of everything?

  7. Will D. says:

    Will, with all respect, you highlight one of the problems that have arisen with Mass offered versus populum. It’s really not as important as many people believe it to be that we have good sight lines to the priest, or even the host and chalice.

    I take your point, the priest isn’t the center of the Mass, but I can see no advantage to not seeing either the priest or, more importantly, the host and chalice at the elevations. Short of putting the rood screens or iconostases back, the priest and the elevations are visible either ad orientum or versus populum. If you’re going to put up a makeshift rood screen in the form of candles and the crucifix, just turn the altar around and simplify matters.

  8. southern orders says:

    It needs to be refined for facing the people. Perhaps the altar should be longer in the rectangular sense. It looks cluttered and silly for the priest to be behind this, and yes, it begs for the priest to be in front of it ad orientem. But in those places where facing the people is the norm, simply have lower more restrained candlesticks and a lower crucifix, especially if there is a huge crucifix already behind the altar which the people can see, the one on the altar itself is for the priest to see.

  9. I think the low camera angle in the photos makes it appear a bit more crowded than what would be seen by the worshippers.

    That being said, I’m all for a return to rood screens, curtains, and the iconostasis in imitation of the Holy of Holies in the Temple and of the Sepulcher. At Communion, Christ bursts forth to the world.

  10. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    “Fr. Blake correctly mentions the “Benedictine arrangement” as an improvement and also as the “next step” to getting the altar back the way it ought to be.”

    So is the Benedictine arrangement for the Liturgy like the condom is for the Prostitute :P

  11. templariidvm says:

    I always see the back of our priest, as our choir “loft” is oriented behind the altar (at the same level as the altar. I have no complaint with that orientation but that I see the back of the crucifix as well. When I am not singing/sitting in the choir, I almost feel like I am watching some type of entertainment or lecture, rather than participating in the liturgy. It feels as if ‘I’ am the focus of the priest’s words and prayers, rather than God. Seated behind the priest, it feels more like we are, all together, facing our Lord and offering the sacrifice together.

  12. “If you’re going to put up a makeshift rood screen in the form of candles and the crucifix, just turn the altar around and simplify matters.” Thanks, Will. Agreed. Just do it right!!!

  13. Southern Orders:

    “But in those places where facing the people is the norm…”

    I think we have to note, however, that facing the people is really just an aberration that has been tolerated for far too long, and at great cost at that. In other words, while it may be something that many people are used to, I would hesitate to grant it the status of a “norm.” In fact, the norm is ad orientem even as suggested in the Roman Missal itself (1970, 1975, and 2000).

  14. Kent says:

    Though I like the Benedictine arrangement, I have always had somewhat of a problem with the crucifix on or near the altar as a center of focus. The Eucharistic prayers are for the most part directed to God the Father. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to have a symbol of the Almighty Father (or even the Trinity) as the center of focus? After all Christ will be present shortly in His Eucharistic Presence. Of course the solution to the whole problem is “ad orientum”.

  15. Daniel Latinus says:

    Unfortunately, we have to deal with the propaganda and poor catechesis that was put out years ago, and the fact that many priests and bishops were formed in that atmosphere. It is going to take a while, and a good bit of trouble to undo that. The “Benedictine Arrangement”, which was used to an extent in the early phases of “The Changes”, represents a compromise that may be necessary in the current climate.

    I’m all for returning to ad orientem, and I agree that having two altars in the sanctuary is absurd, but for now, the “Benedictine Arrangement” may be the best that can be accomplished with the least trouble. If it does nothing else, it helps to draw attention away from the celebrant, which is a big problem.

    At the parish I attended in my youth, the altar originally stood under a canopy. When the altar was moved forward (and lowered), the tabernacle was moved to a stand the Epistle side, and the “presidential chair” was installed in the altar’s old spot, which was higher than the altar’s new position, and still higher than the tabernacle. This gave the “presidential chair” the appearance of a rather lofty throne, which, last I checked, was in violation of even current liturgical norms.

    (The parish later removed several rows of pews, and built a whole new sanctuary in front of the old, which is now used as a kind of chapel.)

  16. Daniel Latinus says:

    Though I like the Benedictine arrangement, I have always had somewhat of a problem with the crucifix on or near the altar as a center of focus.

    Would it help to think of the altar as a mystical Mount Calvary, in which the crucifix is not a representation of Whom we are praying to, but as a sign of what is being done?

  17. Athelstan says:

    “Fr. Blake also comes to the obvious conclusion: just do it right. And you know what I mean by that.”

    Indeed. Say it with me: “Ad orientem.”

    What really needs to happen is to mandate that the canon – all right, consecration, while we must put up with four eucharistic prayers – be celebrated ad orientem at every single novus ordo mass, with a fair grace period for altar adjustments where it would now be difficult.

    The Holy Father may well have concluded that such a mandate would be widely flouted, thus weakening the authority of the papacy. Perhaps he decided to work to build up a critical mass of clergy willing to implement it. If so, I would still at least like to see a more vigorous program of voluntary ad orientem celebration undertaken by key bishops. New appointments would be decided in no small part based on their appreciation of this necessity.

  18. Andy Milam says:

    Forgive me if I am echoing some others, but this is my view:

    I am in 100% support of the Benedictine Arrangement. By Benedictine Arrangement, I mean 6 candles sticks, three on each side flanking a crucifix in the center. If it impedes the view of the faithful, then so-be-it. It doesn’t really matter if the faithful can see what is going on. They should be worshipping in a manner that doesn’t rely on sight alone. All of the senses should be engaged and to be honest, seeing the action of the priest celebrant is minor in the sight of the worshipper. The appointment of the Sanctuary, the vestments, the actions of the ministers, and the beauty of the church building itself should be more important than WHAT the priest celebrant is doing. Included in that is the arrangement of the altar.

    The idea of worship is what is being missed when one starts quibbling about how the altar is appointed. When people understand how to PROPERLY worship then they will understand the importance of the crucifix on the altar. That being said, I would like to offer this. The crucifix on the wall doesn’t impose the crucifix on the altar of sacrifice. That is also an important part of this. There should be a crucifix on the altar of sacrifice. Since the altar of sacrifice is separated from the high altar, then it would stand to reason that having a “duplication” of crucifixes is necessary. I don’t find it to be a duplication at all. Duplication in my estimation would be if the High altar had a smaller cross under the crucifix on the wall.

    Now, understanding worship. The priest celebrant offers the Mass on behalf of the faithful who are gathered in the church. What he does in the sanctuary is secondary to the mentality of the faithful in the pew. Proper participatio actuosa is to enjoin one’s prayers internally to the re-presentation of the Sacrifice at the altar. To the faithful in the pew, they, primarily, should not be concerned with what they can and cannot see as to the priests actions. They should be concerned that the actions are being done properly, but not being able to see that doesn’t mean a hill of beans. There are ministers and the priest celebrant himself to attend to that.

    While I could expound further, the point is this: The faithful shouldn’t worry so much about whether or not they can see the actions at the altar. Their job is to worship. The arrangement lends itself to that more perfectly than the previous understanding of two candles and no crucifix (or whatever the arrangement would have been).

    Pray that this is really is only temporary and that we do return to the use of the high altar. That is where Mass belongs in the first place.

  19. I’m going to stop piling on here soon, I promise, but this topic (obviously) strikes a nerve. The more I read the responses the more I am disturbed by this “arrangement.”

    Question – Is it not just as contrived as versus populum? Just as much the invention? Sounds harsh perhaps, but it may seem so only inasmuch as we allow ourselves to be distracted by the good intentions that are attached to it; that of bringing the focus back to Christ. Consider this, however, those who promote “facing the people” have a bucket full of good intentions too, but at the end of the day good intentions don’t determine either one’s relative value.

    The reality is that ad orientem is a venerable, ancient and significant sacred sign that suffers under innovation – any innovation – be it versus populum or the Benedictine arrangement. No, all innovations are not equally as egregious, but in this case both are an assault on an important sacred sign that the Church has given to us. How can we applaud either one?

    And before anyone says that the Church has given us the “arrangement” consider this: In “Spirit of the Liturgy” the Holy Father makes the point that even the pope is not the master of the Mass but is rather its caretaker. With all due respect, the “arrangement” seems to contradict this, whereas a return to ad orientem alone in this instance would underscore it.

    Part of the challenge, it seems to me, is to think of the Benedictine arrangement for what it truly is and this requires removing the “good intentions” from the equation. It is not so much a solution to “facing the people” as it is an innovation of the norm (that never changed!) which is ad orientem. This is the reality of the situation.

    Kent – after reading your thoughts about how the Eucharistic prayers are addressed to the Father (so true!) it occurs to me once more how excellent ad orientem is as a sacred sign. The whole of the Mass is a prayer directed toward God, but only inasmuch as it is offered through, with and in Christ. The symbolism of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered on an altar above which stands the Crucifix – the instrument of redemption that opened the way for us to pray to God as His adopted children in Christ – is irreplaceable, and all attempts to substitute for it seem to fall woefully short.

  20. frdgss says:

    The so-called “Benedictine Arrangement” is, indeed, only ever going to be a half-way house. Fr Blake is right – it looks odd. The real issue here is about orientation (sic). Why is this so hard? To my brother priests reading this, JUST DO IT! Turn to the Lord and lead your people to the Cross. I did it 18 months ago and my people love it. Honestly, not a single grumble so far. Do everything up to the offertory from the Chair and the rest from the altar – and you’ve got the best of all worlds: fidelity to rubrics and tradition! [Do I hear and “Amen!”?]

  21. Andy Milam says:

    @ Louie,

    “Is it not just as contrived as versus populum? Just as much the invention? Sounds harsh perhaps, but it may seem so only inasmuch as we allow ourselves to be distracted by the good intentions that are attached to it; that of bringing the focus back to Christ. Consider this, however, those who promote “facing the people” have a bucket full of good intentions too, but at the end of the day good intentions don’t determine either one’s relative value.”

    Versus Populum isn’t the issue. The issue is the Rite itself. The OF is inherently flawed. The orientation of the priest matters little. If the EF is celebrated facing East and East happens to be versus populum, there is no issue.

    The issue is the OF. That is what we are to be working toward. The EF has to illuminate the OF. And it is my contention that the EF will become the OF and the OF will become the EF (and then simply fall out of use all together). I completely see this happening. I’ve been at the forefront of the traditional movment since the early 1990’s. I can tell you that once the EF took hold in 1984 and gained in 1988 and grew and grew until 2007, now it is exploding.

    We shouldn’t be so concerned about the orientation of the priest. If the priest is facing East and that is ad orientem, then great. However, if it means celebrating Mass versus populum, I wouldn’t be so concerned. The Church has never had an issue with it.

    Here is the caveat though. I fully support the theological idea of ad orientem, where regardless of the physical orientation of the building, the priest faces the rising Son, in the tabernacle. I actually prefer it.

    I would point you to http://www.ewtn.com/library/liturgy/smturned.txt . This article by Monsignor Richard Schuler speaks profoundly about my position. He says, “The cardinal explains further that the almost universal change to altars
    facing toward the people is not a decree of the II Vatican Council. Nor was
    it impossible before the council to offer Mass toward the people. A
    tradition of fifteen centuries of priests’ standing at the head of their
    congregations was swept away in a few years. That tradition admitted of
    exceptions. I, myself, probably had a record of celebrating Mass in Latin,
    facing the people, more than any other priest in the country before the
    council. The church where I had weekend duty had such an altar in the
    crypt, and I offered Mass twice each Sunday for nearly ten years, all prior
    to 1963.”

    The cardinal in question is Ratzinger who he cites in 1993.

  22. Thanks Andy – will check out link later. Off to a class sonn…

    “The cardinal in question is Ratzinger who he cites in 1993.”

    So? Without knowing a whole lot more about what he means by “such an altar” this says nothing about the value of versus populum as a common practice.

    .”I fully support the theological idea of ad orientem…”

    That would be my assumption. We do not look to a physical place as Muslims and Jews. Liturgical orientation as a sacred sign finds meaning beyond the compass, so we agree there.
    However, I cannot join you in saying that we shouldn’t be so concerned about it. We’ve seen the fruits of versus populum. Love to stay, gotta scoot. God bless!

  23. SuzyQ says:

    My pastor used the Benedictine arrangement for a while but he also was concerned about duplication of symbols. He stopped using the Benedictine arrangement and removed the freestanding altar. Mass is now ad orientem at the high altar. There were complaints but many people are happy with the ‘new’ arrangement.

  24. QMJ says:

    I agree with frgdss; the “Benedictine Arrangement” is only a half-way house. In the end, but not anytime soon, I believe their will be a return to ad orientem worship in the West.

    Kent –
    We only see the Father when we gaze upon Christ, and the greatest revelation of the Father’s love is the Crucifixion. When we gaze upon the Cross our attention is directed to the Father and, indeed, the Trinity because the Paschal Mystery is the saving action of the Trinity.

  25. Dr. Eric says:

    To answer the person who asked about instead putting an Icon/Statue of The Father on the Altar, I believe the 7th Ecumenical Council forbids representations of The Father (He never took on flesh like The Son) in Churches. (Spanish painters are free to do what they want to in their studios.)

  26. St. Rafael says:

    I cannot stand the Benedictine Arrangement and as the photo above shows, it is completely silly. You have the priest in the photo above, with his back towards the tabernacle and altar. Instead of facing the real Christ in the tabernacle, he is facing a symbolic Christ on the crucifix. Amazing! The priest is in between two altars for crying out loud!

    Versus Populum will always be a novelty introduced by Protestants to deny the sacrifice of the Mass in favor of a meal. A complete Protestant conception Versus Ad Orientem is the Catholic tradition and will always be the Catholic tradition.

    Catholic priests in America need to start celebrating Ad Orientem. Why are they so emasculated? Where is there manhood? You don’t need permission from anybody to celebrate it. You don’t need to wait for the Pope to give you the permission or signal to start facing the East. You don’t need permission from the local bishop. Just do it! Versus Populum is not a requirement, nowhere in the rubrics, nor is it even a law of the Church.

  27. Jon says:

    In my hometown, there’s a landmark called Devil’s Rock. It’s an immense boulder shaped like a mushroom. Pioneer legend had it that after the Fall, God chained the enemy to the rock, and he ran ’round and ’round it until he found his way to hell, thus the shape of the rock.

    The enemy’s had his revenge. Now we’re chained to that rock.

    Novus Ordo delenda est.

  28. Central Valley says:

    I haven’t seen the arrangment yet, with the exception of the two EF Masses in the diocese, in the Kern/Inyo Deanery of the Diocese of Fresno. I can think of a few priests in the diocese who may follow the lead of the Holy Father. Our Bishop has gone to his judgment and we await a new sheperd. Pray for those of us in the Fresno diocese that we will be given an orthodox sheperd who will follow the Holy Fathers directions and not the direction of the California bishops conference.

  29. edm says:

    I often approve of the Benedictine arrangement. However, in this case, the doubling up of the two crucifixes is a problem, both of the crucifixes are just too close for each other. Secondly, on an open, table-like altar the appointments look more like a display from an ecclesiastical purveyor than a sacred setting (“Father, would you like to have the set in gold or silver finish. We can have it delivered by next week”). Perhaps a frontal would help with that problem. Thirdly, and this is my strongest objection, in looking at the article in NLM we learn that this is in the BLESSED SACRAMENT Chapel of the cathedral. NLM shows a straight-on view of the sanctuary, looking in a direct line from the West end to the East. In that photo it is nearly impossible to see the tabernacle. How is that a liturgical improvement?
    Sorry, in my humble opinion, either place the candlesticks on the original high altarand have one crucifix or, if that is not possible, remove them altogether. In this chapel the Blessed Sacrament needs to be clearly seen.

  30. benedetta says:

    I grew up with only the priest facing the people and was basically taught that the old way was somehow offensive to the people’s dignity…that said I was once privileged to worship at a monastery in Europe that attracts many, many young people. I hesitate to mention them because they have been unfortunately sort of “coopted” in this country into the agenda of some. However, they worship ad orientam and in kind terms they state their reasons for it. Lo and behold, it is acceptable to huge numbers of believers who visit. So when I observed a priest in this country implement it in a way in very reverent, beautiful NO mass, I only thought of his humility in so doing. I certainly had no associations that it was somehow insulting to me and I felt a deep bond of solidarity with him and other worshippers, and admired him as our priest that much more for his acceptance of the great weight of the call to serve. I came to see him in the light of the Last Supper, of the One who washed the others’ feet, and felt that his overall persona and character traits (as nice as they were) diminish all the more. His homilies spoke to me more than before, they resonated. And I came to appreciate this as a gesture of humility, solidarity, goodness, service. It is yet again a bit of cognitive dissonance, the way in which the roles and the notions have become messed up, where the priest now faces the “audience” (!) — rather, the pray-ers — at all times and in some places even mugs and dramatically gesticulates in an exercise in high school drama. In many places the priest and choir compete to fill the space with their personalities and presences. And the entire focus, quite taken away from the living God.

  31. Centristian says:

    In the first place I’m not sure why this arrangement of an altar cross with three candlesticks on each side of it now becomes dubbed “The Benedictine Arrangement”, as if the arrangement originated during the current pope’s reign. That is the traditional candle and cross arrangement for a high altar; it didn’t originate with Pope Benedict XVI.

    I realize that Pope Benedict has replaced the large, baroque appointments of the high altar of St. Peter’s and has arranged them in their traditional places, but he has done just that: restored the appointments as they used to be. This is not a novelty of Benedict’s contrivance.

    At any rate, when the Pope celebrates ad orientem at the high altar of St. Peter’s he necessarily celebrates versus populum because the free-standing altar is so oriented. So if certain bishops or priests mean to emulate Pope Benedict by so arranging their altar appointments, they err, because when they do the same, they do not, therefore, celebrate ad orientam, as the Pope does. They simply celebrate versus populum, only now with six candles and a cross on an altar that is still not oriented.

    In my opinion, priests and bishops attempting to “reform the liturgical reform” could stand to use a little common sense when doing so. I am all for this “reform of the reform”, but it needs to be handled intelligently.

    Recently, Bishop Slattery of Tulsa made the decision to celebrate Mass ad orientem at his Cathedral. Marvelous. I am all for it. But what did he then do? Rather than celebrate at the original altar designed for that purpose, he celebrated ad orientam at the free standing altar erected after Vatican II in front of the original altar. It was absurd, in my opinion. To me, that would be akin to making a decision to dine in one’s dining room rather at a TV tray in the living room in front of the television, but then, having made that decision, purchasing new candlesticks and putting them on top of the TV tray, then setting up the TV tray in the dining room in front of the dining room table and eating at the TV tray, facing the table, instead of at the actual table.

    Why should we be so afraid of the original altars in our churches? Just use them. Especially if you intend to celebrate ad orientem, for heaven’s sake. Episcopalian and Lutheran clergy do it all the time. When they encounter an altar against a wall, they just use it as it was intended to be used. On the other hand, when a Catholic priest encounters an altar against a wall, he spends six figures to reconstruct the floor and to erect a table in front of it.