Again, I am pleased to link you to the site of NLM which posted the full text of a presentation by the papal MC Msgr. Guido Marini delivered to the wonderful clergy conference for the Year of the Priest which took place in Rome.
The text is long and I won’t give it all here.
I said I would pull out a few sections in different entries and comment on them. I did that here on active participation.
Here is Msgr. Marini on an issue we have dealt with many times on WDTPRS, namely, the so-called "Benedictine arrangement", that is, in lieu of the real goal of ad orientem worship, there should at least be a crucifix at the center of the altar so that it and not the congregation, not the priest, will be the center of focus.
My emphases and comments.
2. The orientation of liturgical prayer.
Over and above the changes which have characterised, during the course of time, the architecture of churches and the places where the liturgy takes place, one conviction has always remained clear within the Christian community, almost down to the present day. I am referring to praying facing east, a tradition which goes back to the origins of Christianity.
What is understood by “praying facing east”? It refers to the orientation of the praying heart towards Christ, from whom comes salvation, and to whom it is directed as in the beginning so at the end of history. The sun rises in the east, and the sun is a symbol of Christ, the light rising in the Orient. The messianic passage in the Benedictus canticle comes readily to mind: “Through the tender mercy of our God; * whereby the Orient from on high hath visited us”
Very reliable and recent studies have by now proven effectively that, in every age of its past, the Christian community has found the way to express even in the external and visible liturgical sign, this fundamental orientation for the life of faith. This is why we find churches built in such a way that the apse was turned to the east. When such an orientation of the sacred space was no longer possible, the Church had recourse to the Crucifix placed upon the altar, on which everyone could focus. In the same vein many apses were decorated with resplendent representations of the Lord. All were invited to contemplate these images during the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy. [We are getting a precis of Joseph Ratzinger’s writing on this topic.]
Without recourse to a detailed historical analysis of the development of Christian art, we would like to reaffirm that prayer facing east, more specifically, facing the Lord, is a characteristic expression of the authentic spirit of the liturgy. [Does it therefore stand to reason that if we don’t pray facing the East in our liturgical prayer, then we are not praying according to the authentic spirit of the liturgy?] It is according to this sense that we are invited to turn our hearts to the Lord during the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy, as the introductory dialogue to the Preface well reminds us. Sursum corda “Lift up your hearts,” exhorts the priest, and all respond: Habemus ad Dominum “We lift them up unto the Lord.” [Quaeritur: Does this dialogue, when we are a) baptized and b) actively participating constitute an adequate interior orientation? Such that we don’t therefore need exterior orientation?] Now if such an orientation must always be adopted interiorly by the entire Christian community when it gathers in prayer, it should be possible to find this orientation expressed externally by means of signs as well. [Of course it should be possible. We know that it is possible. However… there is a question still hanging in the air.] The external sign, moreover, cannot but be true, in such a way that through it the correct spiritual attitude is rendered visible. [And since we are both body and soul this is a highly desirable way to pray. Put this another way. If we don’t think people need to face the liturgical East, then are we effectively denying the bodily dimension of the congregation’s humanity? Do we ask of people to do something that is unrealistic?]
Hence the reason for the proposal made by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, and presently reaffirmed during the course of his pontificate, to place the Crucifix on the center of the altar, in order that all, during the celebration of the liturgy, may concretely face and look upon Lord, in such a way as to orient also their prayer and hearts. [What we commonly call the "Benedictine Arrangement". However, His Holiness also, when writing of this, indicated that this would be a – how to put this – a second best choice. The better choice would be ad orientem worship by which congregation and priest actually face the same direction.] Let us listen to the words of his Holiness, Benedict XVI, directly, who in the preface to the first book of his Complete Works, dedicated to the liturgy, writes the following: “The idea that the priest and people should stare at one another during prayer was born only in modern Christianity, and is completely alien to the ancient Church. The priest and people most certainly do not pray one to the other, but to the one Lord. Therefore, they stare in the same direction during prayer: either towards the east as a cosmic symbol of the Lord who comes, or, [Nota bene…] where this is not possible, [get that?] towards the image of Christ in the apse, towards a crucifix, [thus the "Benedictine Arrangement"] or simply towards the heavens, as our Lord Himself did in his priestly prayer the night before His Passion (John 17.1) In the meantime the proposal made by me at the end of the chapter treating this question in my work ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy’ is fortunately becoming more and more common: rather than proceeding with further transformations, simply to place the crucifix at the center of the altar, which both priest and the faithful can face and be lead in this way towards the Lord, whom everyone addresses in prayer together.” (trans. from the Italian.) [There it is. But remember… the "Benedictine Arrangement" is proposed when the it is not possible for both priest and people to face the same direction. But there is a preference.]
Let it not be said, moreover, that the image of our Lord crucified obstructs the sight of the faithful from that of the priest, for they are not to look to the celebrant at that point in the liturgy! They are to turn their gaze towards the Lord! In like manner, the presider of the celebration should also be able to turn towards the Lord. [Note that he uses both "priest" and "presider".] The crucifix does not obstruct our view; rather it expands our horizon to see the world of God; the crucifix brings us to meditate on the mystery; it introduces us to the heavens from where the only light capable of making sense of life on this earth comes. Our sight, in truth, would be blinded and obstructed were our eyes to remain fixed on those things that display only man and his works.
In this way one can come to understand why it is still possible today to celebrate the holy Mass upon the old altars, when the particular architectural and artistic features of our churches would advise it. [This would be an understatement, right? If it is best to pray ad orientem then when where it is possible, it is desirable. The architecture always "advises it".] Also in this, the Holy Father gives us an example when he celebrates the holy Eucharist at the ancient altar of the Sistine Chapel on the feast of the Baptism of our Lord. [And anywhere else there is a main altar for ad orientem worship, right?]
In our time, the expression “celebrating facing the people” has entered our common vocabulary. If one’s intention in using this expression is to describe the location of the priest, who, due to the fact that today he often finds himself facing the congregation because of the placement of the altar, in this case such an expression is acceptable. [The expression might be, but the arrangement is sub-optimal.] Yet such an expression would be categorically unacceptable the moment it comes to express a theological proposition. Theologically speaking, the holy Mass, as a matter of fact, is always addressed to God through Christ our Lord, [And the point is, our actual physical orientation should reflect that.] and it would be a grievous error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is the community. [I like that "grievous error" part.] Such an orientation, therefore, of turning towards the Lord must animate the interior participation of each individual during the liturgy. It is likewise equally important that this orientation be quite visible in the liturgical sign as well. [Because we are not angels and we do not deny the physical dimension of our human nature.]
Here is an example of where the architecture does not make it possible that priest and people face the same direction.
The "Benedictine Arrangement" is perfect for this situation. However, in those churches where the main altar exists, or it could be repaired, the better option should be adopted.