Talk about an ALTARation!

You must watch this video.  I tip my biretta to FA and to NLM. 

This is a 5:25 length video of the transformation of a typical modernistic free-standing altar into a very beautiful ad orientem altar.  The setting is a church in France where the FSSP are able to work.  The French text says the transformation took 15 minutes.  The video is accelerated. 

This could be VERY instructive for priests in parishes.  VERY instructive.  I recommend you make this little video known and loved.

Here is a link to the site.  To the video page.

I eventually got the plugin to embed this.  Enjoy!

[dailymotion 6KC7l5ZGhlh5dbNnm]

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Te_Deum says:

    Fr. Z – just hit the “Dailymation” in the corner of the video and it will take you to the originating site where there is an embed code you can copy into the html side of your blog.

    Fascinating video – resourceful.

  2. Te_Deum says:

    I’m sorry – by “html side”, I meant to say html editor.

  3. Tim Ferguson says:

    I am reminded of when I was a child, growing up in the Catholic Church of the 70’s (in one of the more liberal parishes of one of the most liberal dioceses – Saginaw – in the country) we would be subjected two or three times a year to a short movie in lieu of a homily. The movie was a depiction of a family gathered for a meal – it started with wine being poured into a glass and a loaf of bread placed on a platter, then it flashed to the making of the wine, the baking of the bread, and back to the table where more bread and wine were brought out and more people gathered around the table. There was no dialogue, only a musical soundtrack and it culminated in the glass of wine being lifted up and the loaf of bread being broken.

    Perhaps, in the near future, my old parish will be showing this video to the liturgy committee, not during the Mass, but as a preparation for the Mass. Deus lo vult!

  4. Te Deum: Alas, WordPress does not work that way, or would have done it.

  5. Janet says:

    Seeing this leads me to a question: my parish church ‘faces’ northwest, not east, so if the altar is changed to ‘ad orientum’ the priest will be facing NW. Is there a problem with this, or should ‘ad orientum’ always mean facing east?

  6. Janet: It means that the priest and people are both facing the same direction, without regard to the compass point.

  7. Henry Edwards says:

    Here is a picture taken at an indult Mass in our diocese:

    It shows a free-standing altar similarly (but a bit more simply) converted for ad orientam celebration. You can see on the Epistle side a fitted wooden box on which the candles sit, and which has a ledge on the front (where you can see something sitting just to the right of the deacon’s head). In this photo you cannot see (because of the priest) the similar box on the Gospel side, nor the brass Tabernacle that sits in the center of the altar between them.

  8. matt says:

    Thanks Father for posting that video!

    Any idea as to the music that is playing? I really enjoyed that as well………

    Thank you for your work,


  9. catholiclady says:

    This video may serve as a “how to” instruction if the Tridentine becomes more accessible to more wreckovated parishes

  10. Michael says:

    Hi Father, I see my directions did not work. Try entering the Embeddable Player code from the Video Page again, making sure to enter it on the “Code” page, not the “Visual” page. My first directions may only work for WordPress blogs hosted directly on This way worked on a blog hosted elsewhere.

    Kindest regards.

  11. Michael: I have been through this before. I think I need a plugin.

  12. Joshua says:

    I know at San Buenaventura Mission they moved the old altar foward, on top of the front steps, so that there is no foot space at all in front of it. No problem. Right before the Mass they assemble stairs in front of the altar, and place matching red carpet on it. Only drawback is that now there isn’t enough room to celebrate a High Mass easily

  13. Alan Phipps says:


    I been to Cardinal Mahony’s weekly indult at the San Buenaventura Mission a few times when I lived in California. Did they ever have a high mass there? My recollection was that it was always a low mass anyway, though occasionally the sacred music choir from the local junior college would provide music.

  14. David Deavel says:

    Regarding East and Liturgical East, I must say that East is preferable when building a new church. I visited an Orthodox chapel once at Antiochian Village, an Antiochian Orthodox summer camp in Southeastern PA and was amazed by my morning visit, seeing the sun come through the windows behind the altar and iconostasis. I would have loved to attend the Divine Liturgy there some time. Natural symbols are powerful.

  15. Lynne says:

    Excellent! (and beautiful)

  16. Charles Ryder says:

    A transformation devoutly to be wished.

  17. dcs says:

    Exactly what I needed to start my day this morning. C’est magnifique!

  18. MikeJH says:

    Father, do you know any of the history of how/when free standing altars came into use? Is this something that was copied from another denomination? I once heard that the practice of distributing both the Body and the Blood came from Lutherans after the reformation. Did something like this also happen with free standing altars?
    Thanks, Mike

  19. Henry Edwards says:

    I believe it’s true that many current practices were initiated previously during the reformation — and (in my view) with similar intentions — but my understanding from what little history I’ve read is that free-standing altars date back much further. And, indeed, may have been common or even standard until some time in the medieval period when they began to be replaced by “shelf altars” pushed back against the wall. But I’d be interested in a summary by someone who actually knows this history.

  20. Maureen says:

    Beautiful! I got a kick out of this video. :) They love Jesus. Made my day. Thanks Father for showing it.

  21. ThomasMore1535 says:

    I would like to point out that St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran, and St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls ALL have freestanding altars. Even the earlier (pre-Rennaisance) version of St. Peter’s had a freestanding altar. This is not something copied from protestants.

    Also, the remark that distributing both the Body and the Blood came from the Lutherans is false. Attend any Eastern Divine Liturgy. They have always diestributed under both species, and St. Thomas Aquinas himself notes that this was once done in the Latin Rite, but eventually fell out of use.

  22. Ryan says:

    Also re: freestanding altars, the altar under which St. Nicholas’ bones are buried in Bari, Italy,
    is freestanding. I think it dates from the 11th century. It also faces the people (which is east),
    though I’m not sure if the people faced the same direction as the priest.

  23. Free standing altars: The oldest extant altars are all freestanding, and that was the practice from the earliest times (1st century). That the main altar be against the wall is not only very modern (post-Reformation) but probbably not according to the mind of the old missal.

    You can see a 6th century free standing altar in San Vitale Ravenna (I don’t know of an older one); a 12th century one in the duomo of Modena; more modern ones can be seen under baldichinos all over the Latin world (including St. Peters). Eastern Christian altars are all freestanding (except, perhaps, some Latin inspired ones among the Malabars).

    The old rule for the main altar, as I understand it, was that if it was attached to the wall, you still had to be able to go around it for its consecration–even if this meant you had to go out and and back in through doors on the two sides of the altar and pass through the sacristy behind the “wall”. This seems universal in older churches I have seen in the U.S.

    The altar attached to the wall seems to originated in the later middle ages (post 1300) for *side* altars–in consideration of space. Even secondary altars were originally free standing and oriented just like the main altar. You can see such against pilars in the “Plan of St. Gall” (800s) for a model monastery; or in the middle of the nave at Sant’Appolinare in Classe, Italy.

  24. Jordan Potter says:

    This is very beautiful.

    So is the music. Can anyone identify it for me? Thanks.

  25. Jonathan Bennett says:

    Fr. Thompson,

    If freestanding Altars are the older tradition, was it ever acceptable in the middle ages or before that time for Mass to be said versus populum? And note that I am not reffering to ad orientem versus populum, but with the express purpose of facing the people in the nave?



  26. Paul, South Midlands, UK says:

    During the English Reformation, Archbishop Cramner brought in Various innovative practices. The Amazon website reviews the late Michael Davis’s book “Cranmer’s Godly Order: The destruction of Catholicism through liturgical change

    The review quotes the book as follows:

    “Cranmer abolished Latin because he believed that English people should worship in their own language and have much availability in participating in worship in Mass.” (Active participation anybody?)

    “The altar and tabernacle were done away with and a table was placed in its former place”…. “with the introduction of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper celebrated by the Anglican minister facing the congregation and conducted in the English language” For anyone doubting Michael Davis I quote from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer:

    “The Table at the Communion time having a fair white linen cloth upon it, shall stand in the body of the Church, or in the Chancel, where Morning and Evening Prayer are appointed to be said. And the Priest standing at the north side of the Table shall say the Lord’s Prayer, with the Collect following, with the people kneeling” (Book of Common Prayer 1662

    Table in the chancel, only a linen cloth on it, priest no longer ad orientem, service wholly in the vernacular, sound familiar?

    “Communion in the hand was enforced”

    Cramner reinstated the ancient practice of people receiving communion in the hand and enforced it, as he felt that if people received communion on the tongue they would be more inclined to the “idolatory” as they saw it of people believing in the real presence.

    For precisely this reason, I will NOT receive communion in the hand.

    “communion under both species of bread and wine was allowed.”

    One grain of the host is enough. But if its not real, just symbolic then people need to share fully in the symbolism. Cramner wasn’t stupid.

    I don’t receive communion under both kinds very often either!

  27. Open Book several days ago reported than she (Amy W.)had been told by a woman that she had been told by a prominent american laywomen that she had asked the Pope when he was going to release the MP,and he replied in May.When I read this I wondered what laywoman could getan audience with Benedict when Justice Scalia could not.I thought Alice vonHildebrand,whom the Holy Father knows well.The Remnant reports that it was her and she says that the Holy Father told her May 5. Now this is a rumor with a name attached. Your anti-spam device sometimes rejects the actual words.

  28. Henry Edwards says:

    Cramner reinstated the ancient practice of people receiving communion in the hand and enforced it, as he felt that if people received communion on the tongue they would be more inclined to the “idolatory” as they saw it of people believing in the real presence.

    Just as in our own time the practice of receiving in the hand has been instigated largely by people wishing to de-emphasize belief in the Real Presence (and similarly for receiving while standing). Although perhaps followed by hordes of lemmings not having this or any other clear reason or thought process behind their behavior.

  29. ThomasMore1535 says:

    I just want to make a comment on the argument that having communion under both kinds diminishes belief in the Real Presence. I certainly agree that there is the possibility that this could happen if people are not properly catechized. However, I have trouble with the argument that we shouldn’t do since Our Lord is fully under both species, and receiving him under the appearance of bread is sufficient.

    To me, such an attitude reflects a minimalist approach to the liturgy that we should stay away from.

    Here’s what I mean: according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Mass is both a Sacrifice and a Sacrament. It both symbolizes, and makes present, Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. In other words, it makes present the very thing that it symbolizes. Many traditionalists seem to forget this symbolic element. Our Lord also requires the wine to be consecrated in mass in order to SYMBOLIZE his blood being shed on the cross, even though it is now not separate from His Body.

    Likewise, the Priest, in both the Old and New Rites, drops a particle of the consecrated Host into the Chalice of the consecrated Wine. Numerous commentators have made the obvious observation that this symbolizes the rejoining of Christ’s Body and Blood in His Ressurection.

    Now, why should we do this, if Christ is already fully present under both species? Droping the particle into the chalice doesn’t change anything. The reason is to SYMBOLIZE the REALITY–that Christ’s Body has been reunited with His Blood.

    Likewise, I would argue that under limited circumstances, the laity should receive under both kinds, not because they have to, but rather to SYMBOLIZE the GREATER REALITY that when we receive communion, even under one kind, we ALWAYS receive Christ’s Body and Blood in full.

  30. amy says:

    Fr. McAfee:

    I didn’t say *I’d* spoken with her – a friend of ours in Rome had spoken with her. I was hesitant to name her because it was second hand, but I trusted the friend enough to report the gist – and it was, indeed, Alice von Hildebrand. May 5 makes a whole lot of sense!

  31. Robert says:

    Thank you, Father. I’m nearly in tears. Would that we could have this everywhere it was desired. Happy Easter

  32. Rev Fr Kim Holland says:

    What is with the artificial gradines and tabernacle? An exercise in nostalgia, not good liturgy.

  33. Tim Hallett says:

    Indeed not an excercise in good liturgy, but rather, the Best!

    No longer need we hang or heads in shame when we visit our Eastern cousins!
    No longer will we hide our lord away, as an ill reminder and an unwelcome guest!
    “We will have the mass in Latten, we will have the Blessed Sacrament hung over the hyghe aulter, and there be worshypped as it is wont to be, and for those who whould not have it so, we would have them dye like heretykes to the one true, catholique faith.
    As for the new service, we will not receive it, for it is like onto a Christmas game”

    From the demads of the Catholic rebels to Cranmer

  34. Dear Jon,

    No there is no evidence that the Mass was celebrated “in the
    round” — with priest and people in a circle around the altar
    at any time until the 20th century. As you probably know
    the “versus populum” altars (e.g. St. Peter’s in Rome) face
    east, and the best evidence (collected by Pere Bouyer in his
    books) indicates that the congregation turned to face the
    doors (i.e. East) during the collects and canon. This does
    not in any way, however, suggest that it would be better that
    the principal altar be attached to the wall–which, as I
    wrote does not even seem to be the mind of the old missal.

    On another post. With all respect to Mr. Davies (RIP), I do
    think that his writing on the Cramnerian reforms were no
    done with sufficient care. Certainly Cramner was the most extreme sort
    of Zwinglians in his theology and believed the only presence of
    Christ in the sacrament was in the remembrance of individual
    believers. And his liturgy reflected that. The minister
    stood, not in back of the altar facing the people (which he
    considered smacking of sacrifice), but at the north side of
    the altar, out of the way, in no sense as a presiding priest.
    Cramner considered “ad populum” celebration “sacrificial” and
    so it was forbidden in the Anglican books.

    In fact, the Oxford Movement leaders (including Cardinal
    Newman while still
    Anglican always celebrated from the north side. This was also
    true of the Catholicizing Caroline Divines. Because they were
    scrupulous about obeying the rubrics of their books. This, even,
    though the Carolines and Newman probably already had a
    “sacrifical” understanding of the Eucharist. See David Dix,
    _Spirit of the Liturgy_, esp. the appendix on the Anglican
    service on this.

  35. techno_aesthete says:

    amy, Fr. McAfee didn’t say that you had spoken to her, either.

  36. Jonathan Bennett says:

    Thank you for the information Father Thompson. Much appreciated :)

  37. Fr. Holland: Since in the video it appear that the Blessed Sacrament is in the tabernacle, it would be a real, not artificial tabernacle, wouldn’t it. Also, since a gradines is a little “step” on which to put things, and since that is what those things they placed in the altar were, they would be real gradines, not artificial.

  38. Opps. I was tired when I replied last night. The book I referred to should have been Gregory Dix, Shape of the Liturgy, not David Dix, Spirit of the Liturgy . . .

  39. Woody Jones says:

    So, looks like we may have TWO things to celebrate this Cinco de Mayo down here in Tejas.

    Viva Cristo Rey!

  40. Zach says:

    If any of you want some excellent historical info on free standing altars and ad orientem, I would highly recommend the book “Reform of the Roman Liturgy Its Problems and Background” by Msgr. Klaus Gamber. This book is just a wonderful history book, period. As a matter of fact, it’s so full of well documented and referenced history I would recommend it to be used for a liturgical history class.

  41. Father Bartoloma says:

    You know, that really was an inspiring video!

    I was especially struck by:
    a) the “communal” aspect: clergy and laity worked together so nicely
    b) the careful precision of how they backed up a few times to makes sure that the candles, flowers, etc. were all symetrical.

  42. Jon says:


    Here I go violating the 11th commandment again, but if you haven’t noticed, the same fellow who let the cat out of the bag regarding “pro multis,” Father Tim Finnegan, has posted a copy of the new Mass translation over at his blog.

    As the translation was pulled from the Internet some time ago, it’s been impossible to find. I thought many of your readers, who’ve expressed a desire to have a copy, would be interested in seeing it.

    Feel free of course to deep-six this if you think it proper.

  43. SMJ says:

    There should have been an advisory message at the beginning: “No French Bishops were hurt during the making of this film.

  44. Jon: ehem… Fr. Finnegan let the cat out of the bag about pro multis did he? o{]:¬)

  45. RBrown says:

    I would like to point out that St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran, and St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls ALL have freestanding altars. Even the earlier (pre-Rennaisance) version of St. Peter’s had a freestanding altar. This is not something copied from protestants..

    1. The high altars in those churches are not used for daily mass. Daily mass is said in side chapels which have no free standing altar. Although the high altar in Santa Maggiore is used on Sunday, in St Peter’s it is seldom used. When it is, there are people in all four directions.

    2. The architecture must be considered:

    a. The early churches were often built in the Basilican style, and the choir stalls were placed in the apse. The high altar, therefore, is located between the choir stalls and the nave, meaning that the celebrant would have his back to one or the other.

    There are various reasons for such arrangement, among which: First, the pagan basilica was used as the model. Second, the high altar was placed over a martyr’s tomb (e.g., St Peter), which was centrally located for the sake of pilgrims.

    b. My understanding is that c. 7th century the choir stalls began to be moved between the high altar and the nave. The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament was often centrally placed in the apse, sometimes with other altars also in the apse. It was not the practice in these churches to have the celebrant facing everyone.

    Also, the remark that distributing both the Body and the Blood came from the Lutherans is false. Attend any Eastern Divine Liturgy. They have always diestributed under both species, and St. Thomas Aquinas himself notes that this was once done in the Latin Rite, but eventually fell out of use.
    Comment by ThomasMore1535

    Not exactly. In Eastern liturgies the hosts are broken and place in the consecrated wine. At communion a spoon is used to dip out a portion of the host from the chalice.

    Obviously, there is no communion in the hand.

  46. Somerset '76 says:

    I’m afraid there’s another matter to consider when concerning oneself with the envisioned motu proprio that hasn’t gotten enough attention yet: the implications for the Vatican II concept of “collegiality,” i.e., just how the bishops are going to be dealt with in this matter.

    Recent commentaries in the SSPX’s official press agency DICI point out that Benedict, ever the man of Vatican II, has been consistently devoted to its concept of “collegiality” in other matters, including in the recent Sacramentum Caritatis. Indeed, the question of implementations at the episcopal level is where any half-decent thing coming out of Rome gets turned into a meaningless document.

    Building on this, commenters on the “Angelqueen” forum have pointed out that the likely consequence for any priest who takes advantage of whatever a MP would concede is to become victim of any number of subtle (and not-so-subtle) acts of retaliation on the part of his neo-Modernist bishop … which persecution will leave him twisting in the wind as Rome provides no redress, citing — you guessed it — “collegiality,” in the premise of the right of the local bishop to govern his diocese. And I’m afraid that these skeptics have their point.

    The real proof-in-the-pudding will come in considering (1) whether this motu proprio will have provisions for the safe-conduct of priests with respect to their antitraditional bishops, and more importantly still, (2) whether the Holy See has the courage and determination to actually penalize bishops who persecute priests for making use of the MP’s provisions.

    The SSPX doesn’t think the will is really there, based on what’s been seen so far on the collegiality front in other matters. And until I see otherwise, I have to admit, I don’t either.

    I fear the crisis will continue.

  47. Joseph says:

    I wanted to repose a question asked by Matt, one of the first posters….”Any idea as to the music that is playing?” it dosen’t come through terribly clear, and I seem to have stumped an entire university music department. Best guess they came up with was a more modern composer writing in a baroque style given the instrumentation…but again, it dosen’t come through so clear with the audio quality.

  48. Elisabeth says:

    About the music you hear, it’s a Te Deum composed about three years ago by a young French woman, Jeanne Barbey.

    Related links :

  49. Kieron Wood says:

    Actually, the best way to find out about the Jeanne Barbey CD is through the English-language version of the canons’ website at

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