Must Altars be Freestanding?
already shown beyond any possible doubt that no mandatory legislation
exists commanding that the tabernacle must be removed from the main
altar. We shall now examine legislation concerning a freestanding altar
in the same way, i.e., whether it constitutes a permission, a
recommendation, or a command. The relevant legislation will be examined
in chronological order.
There is a
reference to the altar in n. 128, but it simply states that new
liturgical laws should refer to the worthy and well-planned
construction of sacred buildings, and the shape and construction of
altars. Once again, there is no reference to their being freestanding.
N. 127 requires bishops to ensure that sacred furnishings and works of
value are not destroyed as they are ornaments in God's House. Sadly,
this requirement has had no effect on prelates such as Bishop Lindsay
who had no hesitation in destroying the sanctuary of St. Mary's
Council had ended some priests had begun to place tables in front of
their altars upon which they celebrated Mass facing the people. This is
an example of the celebrated "spirit of Vatican II", in which practices
for which one can find no sanction in the official documents of the
Council are presented as in accordance with its spirit. It is also a
flagrant repudiation of the warning given by Pope Pius XII in his
Dei, that it would be
wrong to want "the altar restored to its ancient form of a table".
As I have
just stated, the manner in which the Consilium
did its work is made very clear in Inter oecumenici. N. 90 reads:
building new churches and in
repairing or adapting old ones care must be taken to ensure that
they lend themselves to the celebration of divine services as they are
meant to be celebrated, and to achieve the active participation of the
faithful (cf. Const. art. 124).
n. 124 of the Liturgy Constitution does not state this. The words in
italics do not occur in it. N. 124 mentions new churches only. But how
many of those who read Inter
oecumenici would have taken the trouble to verify the reference?
Throughout this century Catholics had taken it for granted that any
document coming from the Vatican would be beyond reproach. It would
have appeared almost unCatholic to so much as think of verifying a
reference in a Vatican document.
contains the first reference to a celebration facing the people in the
conciliar of post-conciliar legislation:
is better (praestat ut) for
the main altar to be constructed away from the wall so that one can
move round it without difficulty, and so that it can (peragi possit) be used for a
celebration facing the people.
carefully that Inter oecumenici
does no more than recommend the construction of altars away from the
wall so as to make possible a celebration facing the people. It does
not actually recommend celebrating Mass in this way, nor does it
command that new altars must
be freestanding, or that existing altars must be moved forward from the
east wall. No reference is given for n. 91, which is not surprising
since at no time in the history of the Church have altars ever been
constructed specifically to facilitate a celebration facing the people.
As I have already shown, there is no precedent in the entire history of
the Church for celebrating Mass facing the people as an act of
conscious pastoral policy. The
practice constitutes a radical break with Tradition, and has been
invested with an anti-sacrificial signification since its adoption by
Protestants as a sign that they believe their Lord's Supper to be no
more than a commemorative meal.