This came from a priestly reader:
I thought I’d pass along a piece of fan mail I received after instituting the Benedictine Altar arrangement in my parish. Never a dull moment!
Here is the note he received complaining about the "Benedictine" arrangement of the altar:
Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states that “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to the full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people’(1 Peter 2:9), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.”
How does the current configuration of the altar of Holy Cross Church encourage such participation? The laity must look through a screen of large candlesticks and face the BACK of the crucifix during the Offertory and Consecration. Since the 4th century, chancel or rood screens were placed in churches to denote a hierarchically differentiated space separating the clergy from the laity. Such enclosures served as a mark of the higher position of the priest and to minimize that of the laity. Most such screens were removed from Catholic churches during the 15-16th centuries.
Many now want to go back to pre-Vatican II but do we need to go back to pre-Counter Reformation?
I am rather interested to hear your responses to what that writer said.
The writer may be confused about his manner of participation at Mass, how the baptized share in Christ’s priesthood. He seems to think that distinctions between the priesthood of the baptized and the priesthood of the ordained somehow "minimize" the laity. That is, of course, not the case.
Clearly the writer has not looked at what Joseph Ratzinger wrote about this issue in The Spirit of the Liturgy. I would steer that person to that book and also to my PODCAzTs on the subject.
037 07-07-18 The position of the altar and the priest’s “back to the people”
038 07-07-25 Ratzinger on “active participation”; The Sabine Farm; Merry del Val’s music
043 07-08-23 Benedict XVI on Mass “toward the Lord” and a prayer by St. Augustine
Perhaps you might have your own reactions or counter arguments/explanations which both the writer and the priest could find useful.
We should be ready to explain these things, after all.