QUAERITUR: What to do about altars with huge Nativity scenes in front of them?

From a priest:

As I prepare to take some time away from the during Christmastide, it occurs to me that all of the altars in my home town will have large, practically immovable, Nativity scenes in front of them.
I intend to say the EF exclusively while I am away. Do you have recommendations on what to do in such a situation. My thought is that I will treat the tabernacle as the high altar and treat the altar, facing the nave, as a side altar. This will still force me to offer Mass with my back directly to the tabernacle. The only alternative that I can think of is to use an antemensium and set up a makeshift altar in my parents’ home.

Reverend Father, you just deal with it. There are rubrics for the Extraordinary Form for altars that are versus populum. There had to be, since some old Roman basilicas have altars oriented that way in imitation of the first and second St. Peter’s Basilica.

Just… cope.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. jbpolhamus says:

    …or you could find a side-altar, if the church is old enough, and if your mass is a private one.

  2. Phil_NL says:

    Interesting to hear that there are rubrics for such a setup – something you probably want to advertise more, as it makes life easier in parishes where an EF is desired, but another altar arrangement would be very cumbersome or too expensive. And if it’s easier, that takes care of yet another objection some might have.

  3. Ben Yanke says:

    Yet another reason not to put up giant flower displays or other displays in front of altars. Just put a nice frontal there, and nothing else.

  4. Altars should NEVER be adorned in such a way, even for Christmas, even if only used “versus populum.” They are the place of sacrifice, and by definition (to say nothing of, oh, maybe four millennia of precedent) must be free on all sides from gratuitious obstructions.

  5. One of the brothers at the chapel run by the Atonement Friars was lamenting the large nativity that will be placed in front of the altar in their sanctuary. Once a month we have a missa cantata there, and set up the altar so that the priest can face cum populo instead of versus populo (the tabernacle is at a side altar, so that isn’t the main consideration). I did point out to him that if we had to, we could have the priest celebrate versus populo, because, in addition to the rubrics that are in place for that, he would truly be celebrating ad orientem, as the chapel is built on an East-West axis, with the altar in the west end.

  6. tzard says:

    Perhaps the “Benedictine Arrangement” might be a good choice here?

    For while the alter is versus populum, the mass is directed towards Our Lord on the Crucifix.

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