Recently my bishop refused to let me celebrate a Solemn High Mass at the high altar of the Church, insisting altar that is used in the Ordinary Form should be used. So I celebrated the Solemn High on that altar, ad orientem, in obedience. [Praiseworthy.] The argument given was that GIRM #303 [Ooops!] says that once a new altar is consecrated the old high altar should no longer be used for offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Secondly the bishop wanted there to be an expression that though there are two forms, the substance of the Roman Rite is the same: the Sacrifice of Calvary.
I’m wondering if that means that the Extraordinary Form must be celebrated on the “Novus Ordo Altar”?
My first though is that this rubric is from the GIRM and thus is for the Ordinary Form of the Mass and not applicable to the Old Rite. [Exactly.] Secondly, most of the time the space around the high altar is better suited for the celebration of say a Solemn High Mass, because the space was designed for that form of Mass.
So my question: is the bishop right that the Mass must be offered on the same altar, as GIRM 303 says?
Short answer: The bishop is wrong and you are right. However, that might not be much consolation because the bishop, if he is a bully, can hurt you in a thousand ways and you are pretty much defenseless.
You are correct in that the current GIRM does not apply to the Vetus Ordo. The current GIRM applies to the Missal for which it was written, namely, the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The Rubricae Generales apply to the Missal for which they were written, the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
I assume that in this situation, there is an old “high altar” which has the requisite steps, and that the new altar, freestanding, is on the flat surface of the sanctuary. Priests something try to make this work by standing just outside the sanctuary for the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, so that then they can step up one or two steps onto the floor of the sanctuary and thus approach the freestanding altar. However, the former rubrics would normally not allow for a priest to be outside of the sanctuary once the Mass has begun.
Therefore, if there is an altar with the requisite steps, that is the altar that should be used for the Extraordinary Form, as that is the rubric which pertains to the EF.
The interpretive Instruction from the Holy See for the EF is Universae Ecclesiae. Let’s have a look.
24. The liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria are to be used as they are. All those who wish to celebrate according to the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite must know the pertinent rubrics and are obliged to follow them correctly.
27. With regard to the disciplinary norms connected to celebration, the ecclesiastical discipline contained in the Code of Canon Law of 1983 applies.
28. Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.
When it comes with ecclesiastical discipline, we follow the 1983 Code. For example, who has faculties to say Mass in the Latin Church, etc. When it comes to how the Mass is celebrated, the rubrics of the 1962 Missale (and now, it seems, previous – but not later editions) are to be followed. Hence, Communion may not be distributed in the hand during Mass in the Extraordinary Form, and those movements pertaining to the altar should be observed.
What do the rubrics really say? Let’s have a look.
VIII – The Various Parts of the Mass
A. The psalm Iudica me, Deus, the Confiteor and the incensing of the altar
424. The psalm Iudica me, Deus with its antiphon, and the Confiteor with the absolution, are said before the steps of the altar in any Mass, whether sung or low. [Two altars? One with steps and the other… none? Hmmm.]
XI – The Preparation of the Altar for Mass [For the rest, which does this more accurately describe?]
525. The altar on which the most holy sacrifice of the Mass is to be celebrated must be wholly of stone, and duly consecrated; or at least it must have a stone slab, or an altar stone, likewise duly consecrated, large enough to hold the host and the greater part of the chalice; or again, by apostolic indult, an antimension, duly blessed.
526. The altar must be covered by three cloths, duly blessed, of which one must be long enough to hang to the ground at the sides.
527. On the altar, at the middle, there must be a cross of adequate size with the image of the Crucified, and on each side of it candlesticks with lighted candles, to the number required by the kind of Mass. The so-called “tables of secret prayers” or altar cards are to be put on the altar also, but only for the time of the Mass; and, at the epistle side, a cushion or a lectern for supporting the Missal.
528. At the epistle side, on a table meant for this purpose, cruets of wine and water with a dish and a towel should be prepared, also a little bell, and a paten for the communion of the faithful.
529. Nothing whatsoever is to be put on the altar which does not pertain to the sacrifice of the Mass or to the adornment of the altar itself.
530. Where the custom prevails of lighting a candle, near the altar, from the consecration to the communion, that custom should be preserved.
Anyway, the local bishop appealed to the GIRM, which doesn’t pertain to the EF. He might have argued from the principle of the importance of the unicity of the altar in a sanctuary. That, however, doesn’t work very well in the Roman Rite in either form, given that the principle is regularly violated in Rome, the preeminent locus of the rite. That suggests a certain praxis which goes against what the bishop demands.
Also, when there are two altars and one of them is best suited to the EF and the other is not, insisting that the EF be at the less suitable altar is not only disrespectful toward the Mass itself, and its ends (to which the bishop made an appeal – renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary) but it’s just plain silly.
Meanwhile, I guess you have to tug your forelock to your clerical overload, because he holds power and you don’t.
Thanks for being diligent and trying to do the right thing!