Crucifix in the center of the altar, corpus facing priest or facing people?

In regard to the photo posted here of the Holy Father saying Mass on Monday for his deceased predecessors, a question arose about the position of the Cross/Crucifix on the altar.

The altar is the "Altar of the Chair" in St. Peter’s Basilica.  Alas, this is no longer Bernini’s glorious altar, rippped out in the 1990’s when Card. Noe was in charge of the Basilica (I was there that morning and saw it happen).  The altar in use there is an awful picnic table altar set up during the time of Paul VI.  So, at this newer Altar of the Chair, the celebrant faces geographical East, when also "facing the people". 

A regular WDTPRSer, Roman Sacristan, sent a note to me about the placement of the Crucifix on the altar.

Here is what Roman Sacristan wrote (edited):

When Mass is ad orientem, this question really doesn’t arise, but when the priest says Mass "facing the opposite direction of the people" if there is a crucifix on the altar, is the corpus supposed to face the people or the priest?
Now, I hate to refer to the 2002 GIRM since it is either translated badly or ambiguous, but I have heard priests use #308 to say the crucifix has to face the people.

("308. There is also to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the altar or near it, where it is clearly visible to the assembled congregation. It is appropriate that such a cross, which calls to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations." [my emphasis])
It seems a bit ambiguous, since even if the corpus is facing the priest, the cross is visible to the people.  And I always thought the crucifix was more for the priest to have a visual "reminder" of what he is carrying out.  But I also have heard that the crucifix is to be a sign to the people of what is going on upon the altar at the Consecration.
I know it’s a minor technicality, but with these seemingly conflicting reasons that have been going on with the introduction of Mass "facing the people," I just want to know what the real liturgical principle is on this point.

Let’s take a look at what GIRM 308 really says (my emphases):

308. Item super altare vel prope ipsum crux, cvm effigie Christi crucifixi, habeatur, quae a populo congregato bene conspiciatur. …  Likewise, on the altar or near it there is to be a Cross with the likeness of Christ crucified, which is easily seen by the congregation. …

The problem in figuring out the Latin revolves around what that quae refers back to.  Since quae is feminine singular, it goes back to something feminine and singuar.  There are two options, crux ("Cross") and effigies ("likeness").  So, that thing which must be easily visible to the congregation is either the Cross or the image of the Lord on the Cross.  If quae goes back to effigies, then we should read this to mean that the Cross on the altar ought to be turned so the image of the Lord on it it is in the direction of the people.

However, I am sure that quae does not refer back to effigies.  It refers back to crux.  That little clause, cvm effigies Christi crucifixi, simply describes something specific about the object placed on or near the altar: it is to be a Crucifix and not just a Cross. Our quae must go back to crux because the adverb and verb bene conspiciatur goes back to the physical location of the crux on or near the altar.

In the PODCAzTs I did a while back, I read parts of Joseph Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy and Feast of Faith.  He describes the position of the Crucifix on the altar in the context of his discussion of why in the Roman Rite we ought to be facing the liturgical East (priest and congregation facing the same way, in expectation of the coming of the Lord).  So, Ratzinger suggests that even in those places where Mass is still going to be said "facing the people", the Crucifix should be placed on the altar between the priest and people so that It becomes the common point of focus … not the priest himself.  In that case, it seems to me that the image of the Crucified could be either way on the altar. 

However, I would prefer that it be turned so that it is toward the priest.   Why?

The role of the priest at Mass is of such importance that it is desirable for him to be firmly anchored in his focus on the Lord, and not on himself.  This proper interior orientation of the priest will affect the entire ars celebrandi (the manner, style, attitude of how Mass is celebrated).

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Prof. Basto says:

    Bring the old Altar of the Chair back!

    And, please, ready that fanon!

  2. Jason in San Antonio says:

    I have tried to find some information on the removal (?) of the old Bernini altar, but have been unable to track down anything.

    Don’t let this derail discussion of the main topic; but, please, little help here?

  3. Jason in San Antonio says:

    Nevermind. . .

  4. Different says:

    I love the tradition (at least in the US) of having a large crucifix usually hanging behind the altar on the back wall. Of course, when Mass is offered facing the people the priest cannot see this crucifix. In this case, I think a good idea is to have a second crucifix placed on the altar facing the priest (like in the picture).

  5. dcs says:

    Fr. Z. writes:
    I would prefer that it be turned so that it is toward the priest.

    My wife has a little handmissal that she was given after making her First Holy Communion that seems to have been made during a time of transition. The pictures are interesting — either taken in a very modern church or perhaps even a photography studio. The lector is a man. The two young people who bring up the gifts are Catholic school students, one boy, one girl, and the latter is wearing a headcovering. Last, the priest is celebrating versus populum but facing an altar cross whose corpus is facing him.

  6. Derik Castillo says:

    It is difficult to believe that Bernini’s altar was
    substituted by the one in the picture. The sedilia is
    in an elevated position, and the altar is in a lower
    position. This is the opposite to St. Peter’s church,
    where I attend Extraordinary Form.

    The Cathedral of Lexington (Ordinary Form) has a HUGE
    crucifix suspended on top of the main altar table,
    such that the congregation can see the effigy. The
    priest of course, cannot see the crucifix without breaking
    his neck.


  7. John Polhamus says:

    Bernini’s Chair is still there, and would be the difficult part to replace. The altar below it can be reconstructed in a trice. Personally, I think that day will come.

  8. Angelo says:

    Rather than speak of the beautiful altar Cross,
    I hear no disappointment regarding the pastoral staff
    His Holiness was using. Why use such an ugly & deformed

  9. Charles says:

    Opus Dei oratories, churches and chapels are always set in the classic way, with three candlesticks on each side, and the altar cross in the center, with no exception, on both altars (where they still retain them). On the altar “vers populum”, Christ faces the priest. In some cases, I have seen interesting altar crosses with a double effigy: a crucified Christ facing the priest, and another, in a “praying” position (hands together), facing the people.

    Considering that while at the altar the priest must focus on the cross, and not on the people, I guess that it makes sense to have the corpus facing the priest. Besides, the distance makes it impossible to see from the pews anyway.

    On a side note, Talleres de Arte Granda, great Spanish suppliers of classic liturgical items, engrave an image of the BVM on the back side, facing the people (

  10. Joshua says:

    It always faces the priest here in the NO.

    Of course we have a crucifix over the tabernacle that the people can see. Therefore, even if the GIRM did say the corpus should be ad populum, we could just say the permanent crucifix is fulfilling that.

    In fact most parishes have a large crucifix placed front and centre, usually behind the tabernacle around here so the altar cross can be towards the priest without any scruple.

  11. leo says:

    I was planning to introduce something traditional into school Mass at the end of this term and I had thought about ad orientum but wasnt sure if that is a jump to far for the present but now I know to insist on crucfix and big six which I have on an altar in my classroom but havent used them in public worship yet

  12. AM says:

    1) If there a Crucifix is the principal motif of the reredos, does that meet the requirement of the IGMR #308?

    2) If an image of Christ, alive, with his arms stretched out in an open, welcoming gesture, is superimposed on the Cross, does that meet the requirement of the IGMR #308?

    (For the latter is the situation in my parish except during Lent, when the priests take down the welcoming image and put up in its place the older crucifix.)


  13. Fr Ray Blake says:

    Since Lent, when the Holy Father started speaking about “looking on the one who was pierced” I have had a crucifix on the altar. The reordering of the Church was done leaving the tabernacle with the throne and crucifix above it, behind me, when I face the people. I treat the one on the altar as “mine” and the one behind me as the peoples, thus it is that one which gets incensed.
    The problem is that it is not really a satisfactory arrangement, though it gives me a focus when praying at the altar, and bowing at the Holy Name during the prayers, it still introduces two crucifixes, a “multiplicity of images”, which obviously we should avoid.
    When celebrating “ad orientem” I remove the altar crucifix and we all face the one direction, obviously that is the ideal.

  14. Daniel Muller says:

    The clauses’ syntax is a little clearer in Latin, but in any case the description of the cross as a crucifix is a “nonrestrictive clause” and is inessential to the structure of the sentence. So I agree with Father Zuhlsdorf that, quae cum ita sint, the sentence clearly refers to the cross’ visibility, not the corpus’.

  15. Brian Crane says:

    If you watch the EWTN daily Mass, you will see that they have an altar crucifix with a corpus on both sides — so that both the priest and the people see the crucified Christ during the celebration of the Mass.

    I think they had theirs specially made. It would be nice if one of the suppliers started offering a cross like this so that more places could have one.

  16. TNCath says:

    The picture of the altar at the Altar of the Chair definitely has a different crucifix on it than the crucifix there previously. It also has different candlesticks. The crucifix formerly on the altar was a dark, bronze-like, squatty-styled crucifix with matching candlesticks equally squatty. The altar looks better than I\’ve ever seen it. Bravo, Msgr. Marini! Keep it coming!

  17. Nik says:

    Back when the crucifix was placed in the middle of St. Peter’s high altar the corpus faced the celebrant. For centuries there was no need to have a cross with an image of Christ crucified on both sides.

  18. Regarding the altar that used to be under Bernini’s Cathedra Petri I’m afraid you’re all mistaken if you think the older altar that was there was “Bernini’s altar”. Prior to the rather ugly modern bronze free-standing altar that is there now the altar that Cardinal Noe had dismantled had only been installed at St. Peter’s under the Bernini sculpture since the 1930’s! Prior to that there was no permanent altar there. Rather, an altar was set up each time it was needed. Bernini didn’t design an altar to go beneath the cathedra Petri as a) it would have detracted from the focal point of the apse, namely, the reliquary for the chair and b) Bernini designed the altar of the basilica to be the main altar and c) it was understood that the space below the cathedra Petri would be wear the papal throne was set up for pontifical masses in St. Peter’s as used to be the case prior to Vatican II.

    So, while the newer altar may not be that attractive (although that’s easily solved by means of a frontal) and it also doesn’t “go” with the architecture it did not replace some baroque masterpiece. Cardinal Noe simply removed a relatively new altar in order to have a free-standing one in accord with the dictates of Vatican II. Since the apse of the basilica now functions as the “main altar” for everyone else except the Pope (that is to say all the prinicipal masses are said there each day) the need for a free-standing altar is understandable.

    What I would like to see a return to is the placement of the papal throne in that space at pontifical ceremonies. The free-standing altar, which is moveable, could then be moved on such occasions rather than moving the Pope’s chair back and forth during mass as they do now.

  19. James says:

    Since I read Spirit of the Liturgy our school Masses have been celebrated at an altar with crucifix front and centre, corpus facing the people. A smaller (would normally be wall hanging) crucifix lies flat on the altar for the celebrant. Masses for smaller congregations are celebrated in our chapel which has recently benefited from a ‘big six’ and matching crucifix rather than tealights in balsa wood boxes which were in place before I started at the school…I like to think of myself as the stealth trad! Fortunately the East facing altar was never stripped out because it’s structurally integral (holding up the roof!) but I suspect it will be some time before it’s used for Mass – although the chaplain is happy for the portable altar to be moved for Benediction at which we use the BS throne on the ‘altar of greater dignity’

  20. Bernard says:

    Pope Benedict must be aware that the Paul VI Staff looks more and more out of plce.

  21. Johnny Domer says:

    I know that on EWTN’s televised daily Mass, there is an altar crucifix placed on their versus-populum altar, and it has a corpus on BOTH sides, one facing the priest and one facing the people. While somewhat strange, I think it’s a nice touch, personally.

  22. Fr. Paul McDonald says:


    But did no one notice the lace alb the Holy Father was wearing ?

  23. chris K says:

    If I may extend this directional question of the crucifix to what also the GIRM 308 implies re: a resurrected Christ vs crucifix….

    I have finally brought this question to the attention of our parish authorities who claim they never knew this and now, a bit peeved, they are arranging to at least change the processional cross (resurrected Christ) to a crucifix. We have a huge resurrected Christ monstrosity attached to the wall as well as that resurrected processional cross (now corrected). I have read interpretations that state that no resurrected Christ should overshadow the crucifix:

    Since the new church is 15 years old – before therefore the 2002 GIRM – I suppose what is is, no?

    Also, if the tabernacle is to the side but only several feet from the center where the presider chair sits, does that not also defy the either/or central position or attached private chapel? Are there no regulating diocesan boards to correct such positioning while the blueprints are in the design phase??

    And….what about the parish’s saint’s relic in rather elaborate reliquary with lions to either side, sitting on top of the tabernacle (showing more importance as far as exposition goes)??

    uh oh….too many rabbit holes?

  24. Michael Garner says:

    In regards to the crucifix on the altar for the EWTN Masses that have two effigies
    on it, I don’t think this is a good idea. For the first point the SRC I believe
    made a ruling stating that crucifix may not have two corpora on the cross and second
    it creates a very odd statement, wouldn’t you agree?

  25. Karen says:

    With all due respect, Fr. Z. — I’m not particularly sure why you need a crucifix on the altar when “facing” the people. I always think of the priest as “facing Christ” anyway, because that’s Who he has in his hands at the consecration. It really isn’t all about “you” “you” and “you.” Even in a NO Mass.

  26. Berolinensis says:

    Fr McDonald: For the “restorations” of Msgr. Marini check the post below

    Fr Selvester: Very interesting. I agree with much of what you said. However: to have a free-standing altar is certainly not required by Vatican II, and not even by the IGMR. This has been proven many times, and the SCR has issued a responsum. So, while the 1930s altar may not have been very ancient or of much artistic value, as you yourself say, it did, unlike the new ironing board, “go” with the architecture, and should therefore have been retained. If this was in the nineties, no one could pretend anymore that this was “mandated” by the Missal, let alone Vatican II.

  27. Berolinensis says:

    Fr McDonald: Also see this post post with the comments on the New Liturgical Movement:

  28. Henry Edwards says:

    Michael: it creates a very odd statement, wouldn’t you agree?

    I’m not sure what statement a “two-faced crucifix” makes. Nor that I really want to know.

  29. Dan O says:

    Fr. Z says. “Alas, this is no longer Bernini’s glorious altar …”

    Thanks to Fr. Selvester’s comment above, we now know that it never was Bernini’s glorious altar. It did look better than the picnic table that is currently there, however, it never rose to the greatness of a work of art. From the photos of it, it looks like it could be replicated by the Vatican construction crew in a week or two. Fr. Z, I hope you will edit your blog comments above to reflect the facts of the case. Sometimes we can get so nostalgic for the way things were that we turn mediocre objects into Bernini masterpieces.

  30. Michael Garner says:



  31. ** Matt ** says:

    I agree with Father Z that the Crucifix should face the priest. It doesn’t make any sense for it to face the people because there is already a Crucifix on the wall above the altar facing the people–unless the poor people are worshiping in a degenerated parish church. Pity.

  32. Michael says:

    Fr. Selvester: Regarding the altar that used to be under Bernini’s Cathedra Petri I’m afraid you’re all mistaken if you think the older altar that was there was “Bernini’s altar”. Prior to the rather ugly modern bronze free-standing altar that is there now the altar that Cardinal Noe had dismantled had only been installed at St. Peter’s under the Bernini sculpture since the 1930’s!

    That’s not true, and here’s a picture of Pius X in 1906 saying Mass at that altar to prove it. Whether or not the altar is portable, the gradine is EXACTLY the same (different candlesticks though). It wasn’t added in the 1930s.

  33. Daniel Muller says:

    It doesn’t make any sense for [the crucifix] to face the people

    No, it really does not, considering that in your average thousand-seater warehouse no one could clearly see the corpus anyhow.

  34. Michael – That is an interesting photo and I did say that an altar was often erected there when needed. As for the altar in the photo of Pius X I cannot say when that was installed BUT the one that Noe dismantled in the 1990’s dated from no earlier than the 1930’s. I am NOT mistaken about that much. Either way, it was not “Bernini’s” altar.

  35. Greg Smisek says:

    The Reverend Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university, addressed several of these questions in his follow-up column on altar crucifixes (ZENIT, 16 May 2006; his original column was published 2 May 2006).

    He begins by responding to a reader who cited GIRM, n. 308, and who concluded:

    “Since the concern here is visibility ‘to the assembled congregation,’ it would seem also that a crucifix on the mensa of the altar should be turned to face the people.”

    Fr. McNamara replies:

    I am not convinced of this interpretation. The mention of the figure of Christ in the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal was inserted above all to eliminate the nascent fashion for bare crosses. I believe that the visibility requirement refers above all to the cross itself.

    He gives here an additional reason for arguing that GIRM, n. 308, is not addressing the matter of whom the corpus faces. The prior GIRM, n. 270, stated: “There is also to be a cross, clearly visible to the congregation, either on the altar or near it.” The “clear visibility” condition predated the insertion of the phrase “cum effigie Christi crucifixi” into this norm, which occurred only in the latest (2002) GIRM.

    Then Fr. McNamara suggests the following guidance from the abrogated Caeremoniale Episcoporum:

    The rubrics of the Ceremonial of Bishops in use before the conciliar reforms already foresaw the possibility of the altar “versus populum.” This book, while mandating that the cross be visible to all, also prescribed that the corpus be placed toward the altar (“cum imagine sanctissimi Crucifixi versa ad interiorem altaris faciem”).

    A reader suggested “an altar crucifix designed with a figure on both sides” (as various commenters have referenced above), to which Fr. McNamara responded:

    Although there do not seem to be present norms to forbid this practice, it was not permitted in earlier times.

    He relates the following recommendations from manuals of old regarding what to do with the non-corpus (noncorporeal?) side of the cross when it faces the people:

    Some manuals recommended the use of other images on the side of the cross (facing the people) such as the fish symbol or even another image of the Redeemer such as the Good Shepherd or King of Kings.

    He also supplied some early legislation regarding the size of the altar cross:

    With regard to visibility many local synods established a minimum size of 40 centimeters (16 inches) for the vertical to 22 centimeters (8.8 inches) for the horizontal bar, although in practice the altar cross was often larger.

    While the following doesn’t address the question of a cross outside of the priest’s field of vision, Fr. McNamara supplied it regarding large permanent crosses at the altar:

    A decree of Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) also established that another cross was not necessary if a large crucifix was painted or sculptured as part of an altarpiece.

    Although this decree is no longer operative it helps us to give an affirmative answer to another question from Bloomington, Illinois, as to whether a large crucifix, suspended from the ceiling or placed on the wall behind the altar, is sufficient.

    Finally, Fr. McNamara quotes the present Ceremonial of Bishops on what to do with a processional cross if it’s not used as the altar cross in an usus recentior Mass:

    No. 129 of the present Ceremonial of Bishops recommends that the processional cross be used as an altar cross for the bishop’s Mass. If, however, a cross is already present, then the processional cross is put away until the end of Mass.

  36. Henry Edwards says:

    Michael: That photo of the “original” altar there — which according to Fr. Selvester was replaced in the 1930’s or earlier; why might that have happened? — is indeed interesting. I wonder if you or anyone else can tell us anything about the prostrate clerics there.

  37. Fr. Aidan Logan, OCso says:

    The esteemed Fr. Selvester beat me to the punch on the subject of the altar beneath Bernini’s Shrine of the Chair. However, we should not be too hard on Fr. Z. Even Homer nods!

    A few observations on the picture of the Holy Father celebrating Mass:
    1. The crucifix is clearly facing the pope, as one can see in all pictures of the papal liturgies at the high altar of St. Peter’s before Vatican II.
    2. The Cross and six candlesticks are arranged along the long axes of the altar. This is a marked return to tradition and a relief from the endless variation of cattycorner arrangements seen since the reign of Paul VI.
    3. The predella beneath the Shrine of the Chair is the correct position for the Papal Throne in St. Peter’s. The platform installed in front of the high altar and over the Confessio does violence to the architectural and liturgical integrity of the basilica. One is meant to see that the high altar is directly over the Niche of the Pallia and the grave of St. Peter beneath it. I get the impression that the current arrangement was devised with television in mind.
    4. I note that the new master of ceremonies’ surplice is trimmed in lace. Up until now only the Holy Father and his secretaries have appeared in lace. Though a minor point in terms of tradition this is an interesting development.
    5. Don’t let that fascinating picture of St. Pius X at the Altar of the Chair fool you. Though the altar looks substantial it could very well be wood painted in faux marble. The Italians are masters of this art and a keen-eyed stroll around St. Peter’s will reveal vast surfaces of the basilica decorated in this way.

    Fr. Aidan Logan, O.C.s.o.

  38. Michael says:

    If the altar was replaced, then it was an EXACT copy placed in its spot. Look closely. The distinctive band of marble on the gradine, the step for the candlesticks, is the exactly the same. I’d be more willing to believe that a new altar was added in the 1930s if I could see it in writing somewhere. To really answer the question would require a little research.

    Now I don’t know when that altar Pius X is using was built, but it was definitely before 1906. And it appears to be made of the same stone as the High Altar under Bernini’s Baldachino. I do remember learning years ago that Bernini designed a set of 7 candlesticks and a crucifix to go with his “Altar of the Chair,” which means that even is Fr. Selvester is correct about the altar being a later addition, Bernini still envisioned an altar (permanent or portable) as part of the final composition, the “Chair of St. Peter.” The throne was erected on certain solemn feast days, but what went there for the rest of the year? I’m tempted to say and altar, and a permanent one since it was presumably being used for something like 360 days of the year.

    The band of black marble that’s there today is incredibly distracting. Without an altar, there’s an enormous hole right at the heart of the composition. Right now, the sculpture is framing a flat band of stone against the wall. No artist would do that on purpose. Just look at the two photos and you’ll see what I mean. In the original arrangement, the chair is at the apex of the sculpture, the altar is at the heart of it.

  39. EVERYONE, especially Fr. Selvester: This is really interesting about the history of the Altar of the Chair.

    Today I have to write my weekly article for The Wanderer (to which you should all subscribe).  But when I am done, I will dig back into my back issues of La Basilica di San Pietro, which is a monthly publication of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office that maintains the basilica and surrounds.  I will see if they have anything about the history of the altar.  I suspect there is something in there and it will be definitive.

  40. ThomasMore1535 says:

    Re: the altar at the chair.

    I’m no expert, but the altar being used by St. Pius X appears to be a “temporary” one. I say this because it looks very similar to the type of “temporary” altar that the Pope used when celebrating mass in the Sistine Chapel prior to the reforms of the 60s/70s. Even though the Sistine Chapel has a permanent altar “to the wall,” they always put in a temporary altar that was larger over the permanent altar whenever the Pope celebrated in the Sistine Chapel. It would not surprise me one bit if this same sort of temporary altar was used for the “altar of the chair.”

    Here’s a link from Bl. John XXIII’s election to show what I mean:

  41. EJ says:

    Very interesting discussion. In light of the fact that this discussion was inspired by last Monday’s Papal Mass – I’m wondering if anyone could comment on the feasibility or the likelihood of restoring a permanent altar, in harmony with the Basilica’s architecture, from where it was dismantled in the ’90s? I’m sure that would involve some hefty red tape.

    I can’t wait to see how the Pope’s first Solemn Midnight Mass this Christmas at the High Altar turns out. The altar cross in the center and the traditional arrangement of the six candlesticks last Monday was a major step forward.

  42. Fr. Aidan Logan, OCso says:

    A very interesting picture of the cardinals making their obedoence to Bl. John XXIII! Note the difference in the Cappa Magna on the second cardinal in line.

    I believe that the temporary altar in the Sintine Chapel was erected for conclaves because the high altar is a Papal Altar – used only by the popes. Since there is no pope during a conclave and Mass was celebrated for the cardinals by one of their number the temporary altar was necessary. A similar arrangement for the same reason was used in St. Peter’s during the sessions of Vaticn II. A temporary altar was erected in front of the Confessio for daily Mass. The high altar was used on when the Holy Father celebrated.

  43. I don’t think people should get too wrapped up in the altar that used to be in the apse of St. Peter’s. My point in my first comment in this thread was that an altar erected by Bernini did not survive all the way to the late 20th C. only to be discarded like so much trash. The reason Cardinal Noe was even able to remove the altar that had been in the apse and replace it with the free-standing bronze one (which at times has also made an appearance in the piazza by the way) was that the altar dismantled in the 1990’s was not an original piece that had been there since the interior of the basilica was completed.

    For this same reason I doubt very much that another altar will be erected there because of the preferred placement of the chair (a papal chair when the Pope celebrates and a simple presider’s chair for everyone else) directly behind the altar and beneath the reliquary of the cathedra. For a long time they had taken to simply placing a decorative barrier in front of the old atlar so a chair could be placed in front of it. Why they felt the need to do more is beyond me but, clearly, they did.

    What is of more interest to me is the fate of the bronze free-satnding altar. Will it remain or be replaced with something which harmonizes better with the surroundings in the basilica? To me that seems a more likely next step.

    I’m surprised that no one has commented on the very decorative coverings for the antiphonally arranged seating the concelebrants were seated upon. Most of the time those seats are plain wood benches arranged like choir stalls. For last Monday’s mass they were covered in a very rich brocade. I don’t recall that being done in St. Peter’s for quite some time.

  44. If the priest and people are facing the same way, i.e. ad orientem, then the question of the crucifix doesn’t arise.

    The corpus faces both priest and people.

    If the altar has been positioned so as to make it impossible for the priest to celebrate as orientem, then move the altar.

  45. ThomasMore1535 says:

    Fr. Aidan,

    That’s an interesting observation, and I know what you mean about that “temporary altar” during Vatican II, but I think that that temporary Altar was used in the Sistine even when a Pope celebrated mass there. I’ve seen images of St. Pius X doing episcopal ordinations in the Sistine Chapel, and the same portable altar is visible. I’ll see if I can’t find more pictures.

  46. ThomasMore1535 says:

    While I can’t find any other pictures of that “temporary altar” in the Sistine Chapel, I did find a lovely photo very appropriate to this discussion. It’s a picture of the Papal Throne in the apse, below Bernini’s masterpiece, during Bl. John XXIII’s pontificate. You can see the candlesticks from the altar that Cardinal Noe later ripped out “peeking out” from above the Pope’s canopy. Would that the Holy Father would do something like THIS! :)

  47. Different says:

    Here is an interesting photo that shows both altars in the same shot. So, apparently there was a time when the free-standing altar was in place, but the older altar had not yet been removed.

  48. Berolinensis says:

    Fr Selvester said:

    I’m surprised that no one has commented on the very decorative coverings for the antiphonally arranged seating the concelebrants were seated upon.

    That is because I hadn’t noticed them – thanks for pointing them out, they look great.

  49. RBrown says:

    For this same reason I doubt very much that another altar will be erected there because of the preferred placement of the chair (a papal chair when the Pope celebrates and a simple presider’s chair for everyone else) directly behind the altar and beneath the reliquary of the cathedra. For a long time they had taken to simply placing a decorative barrier in front of the old atlar so a chair could be placed in front of it. Why they felt the need to do more is beyond me but, clearly, they did.
    Comment by Fr. Guy Selvester —

    Are you assuming that BXVI will not start the return to ad orientem?

    Have you read “The Spirit of the Liturgy”? He makes it very clear that he has no use for mass versus populum.

  50. Michael says:


    I think it’s going to be more complicated than that. The main altar in St. Peter’s faces East AND versus populum. If he started saying Mass facing the Chair, the same direction as the Sistine chapel by the way, people wouldn’t stand for it since the argument about turning towards the Lord wouldn’t hold.

  51. Different says:


    Saying Mass ad orientum should not require any change to the altar unless there is no room to stand ad orientum. It appears that there is.

    I would hope that historians could tell us what was originally there and it could be recreated so that the cathedra petri monument would be as Bernini designed it.

  52. Bernard says:

    Michael: That awesome photo of Pius X saying Mass at the Altar of the Chair. Is he not facing East? Or is it “liturgical East”. The more I read about this, it seems St. Peter’s should be the LAST place for Pope Benedict to celebrate a Tridentine Mass ad orientum.

Comments are closed.