Over at Vultus Christi Fr. Mark Kirby, OSB, is, with my editing, emphases (mostly) and comments…
Mass Facing the People: The Single Greatest Obstacle to the Reform [That is what the great liturgist Klaus Gamber thought. Turning altars around was single most damaging thing done in the wake of the Council.]
Here in Italy it is evident that churches were designed and constructed with an eye to the absolute centrality of the altar with priest and people facing together in the same direction. The placement, within perfectly proportioned sanctuaries, of secondary altars to allow for Mass facing the people has utterly destroyed the harmony, order, and spaciousness that the Sacred Liturgy, by its very nature, requires. [Isn’t it jarring to go into a church where the focus has been shifted?]
The Cheek-by-Jowl Ambo
Adding insult to injury, these versus populum altars are, more often than not cheek by jowl with a lectern (or ambo) that effectively impedes any movement around the altar, and positively discourages the incensation of the altar at the Introit and Offertory of the Mass. [Where there is a picnic table altar, yes.]
Crucifix, Candles, and Flowers
Here in Italy — and also in France — the traditional symmetrical arrangement of the candles and crucifix has all but disappeared in favour of a curious asymmetrical disposition that nearly always includes a bouquet of flowers place at one end of the altar, one, two, or three candles at the opposite end, and a crucifix somewhere in the sanctuary that may or may not be construed as having an inherent relationship with the altar. [Yes… this is a strange thing, very prevalent in Italy. I think it is a nun thing. At least it is a woman-decorating-the-altar thing.]
The Priest Magnified
Apart from these considerations, the most deleterious effect continues to be the magnification of the priest and of his personality. The theological direction of all liturgical prayer — ad Patrem, per Filium, in Spiritu — is obscured, while the priest, even in spite of himself, appears to be, at every moment, addressing the faithful or engaging personally with them. [The Novus Ordo tends to place more emphasis on the priest anyway, since he is constantly yakking at you. Then, make him face the people and you get… ]
It’s All About Me
Certain priests and bishops, marked by a streak of narcissism, abuse their position in front of and over the congregation to soak up the attention and energy of the faithful, attention and energy that, by right, belong to God alone during the Sacred Liturgy.
Placed in front of and over the congregation, priests an bishops all too easily give in to an arrogant liturgical clericalism, subjecting the faithful to their own additions amendments, comments, and embolisms. The faithful, being a captive audience, are subjected to the personality of the priest, which can and often does obscure the purity of the liturgical actions and texts that constitute the Roman Rite. [An even worse liturgical clericalism comes from the condescension behind clericalizing the laity.]
Translation and Business As Usual
The New English Translation of the Roman Missal will not, of itself, be enough to bring about an authentic reform and renewal of the Novus Ordo Missae. A deeper and broader reform is needed, one that must, necessarily, begin with bishops and with their priests charged with the care of souls. [Which is why we need wide-spread use of the Extraordinary Form: to teach us the Roman Rite again.]
Where to Start?
What concrete steps might be taken? It is fully within the authority of bishops to mandate and prescribe, for example, that two arrangements of the sanctuary will be allowed in their dioceses.
In churches possessing an ad orientem altar integral to the architectural genius of the original design of the apse or of the sanctuary, secondary versus populum altars should be removed, and the sanctuaries should be restored to the original order, harmony, and spaciousness that characterized them. [There was actually an editorial in Notitiae about that point many years ago, which I translated for Sacred Music. The point being, that for the sake of the unicity of the altar, you don’t put an ironing-baord in front of the main altar. Use the main altar, for pity’s sake.]
In churches possessing only a versus populum altar, that altar should be so arranged as to place the crucifix, with the corpus facing the priest, in a central position with three candles at either side, following the Roman practice. [The so-called “Benedictine arrangment”.] Ideally there should be a space of minimally five feet on all sides of a free-standing altar, so as to facilitate the necessary ritual incensations and so as to allow, whenever possible, the celebration of the Mass ad orientem.
A good way to start.
Let’s reclaim our altars and our orientation!