and the Second Vatican Council
Throughout the centuries the Catholic people have spared no effort and no expense to build sanctuaries which provided a worthy setting for the awesome Sacrifice, sanctuaries which provided a foretaste of the true Holy of Holies, Heaven itself. In the Eastern Churches the faithful are not even permitted to witness the most solemn moment of the liturgy as it takes place behind the ikonostasis. However, in the past three decades tens of thousands of exquisite Catholic sanctuaries have been destroyed-----in obedience, it is claimed, to the requirements of the Second Vatican Council. Before examining this claim it is necessary to make a brief examination of liturgical development in the Church.
The early Christians assembled for Divine worship in the house of one of their number who possessed a large dining room. The reason was, of course, that as a persecuted minority the Christians could erect no public buildings. A number of present-day churches in Rome bear the name of Christians in that locality who had dwellings where Mass was celebrated in the first centuries. Mass was also celebrated in the Roman catacombs on the tombs of the Martyrs, which gave rise to the practice of imbedding the relics of Martyrs in the altar when Christians were eventually allowed to build churches.
Our knowledge of the way Mass was celebrated increases with each succeeding century, since there is a gradual and natural development, with the prayers and formulas and eventually the ceremonial actions developing into set forms. The only liturgical book used up to the fourth century was the Bible, and we have no actual copies of liturgical books extant prior to the seventh century.
Historical factors played a crucial role in the manner in which the liturgy was celebrated. During times of persecution, brevity and simplicity were its principal characteristics, for obvious reasons. The toleration of Christianity under Constantine I [324-337] and its adoption as the religion of the Empire under Theodosius I [379-395] had a dramatic effect on the development of Christian ritual. Congregations increased in size, and benefactions for the building and furnishing of churches resulted in the enrichment of vessels and vestments. Those presenting such gifts would naturally want them to be the richest and most beautiful possible. In a parallel development, the liturgical rites became more elaborate, with solemn processions and stress upon the awesome nature of the rite. This elaboration of the liturgy during the fourth century came about throughout the Christian world as the result of the liturgy's change from an illegal and private ritual into a state-supported and public one.
THE MASS FACING EAST
The most important
in the building of churches and the construction of sanctuaries was the
fact that, in the East and in the West, Mass was always celebrated
eastward. The rising of the sun in the East each day was seen as a
of the Resurrection of the Saviour and of His Second Coming. St. John
An erroneous argument put forward by proponents of Mass facing the people is that "Christ, Whom the priest represents at Mass, did not sit with His back to the Apostles at the Last Supper." Quite true, but neither did He face them across a table. They all reclined on the same side of the table, facing Jerusalem, just as for nearly 2,000 years of Christian history priest and people have offered or assisted at Mass on the same side of the altar, facing the East. Nor, incidentally, was the Last Supper a vernacular celebration. The liturgical language of Hebrew was used, which was as different from the everyday Aramaic used by the Jews at that time as Latin is from contemporary French.
Archaeological research proves that from the moment the Christians were allowed to build churches, they always did so along an east-west axis. By the end of the fourth century, it was an invariable rule in the East that churches should be built with the apse [the semicircular end which houses the altar] at the east end, and the same procedure had been adopted in the West by the second half of the fifth century.
A small number of
ancient churches in the West, in Rome in particular, still had an apse
at the west end. But where this was the case, the altar would be
so that the celebrant could stand on the west side of it and thus offer
the Sacrifice facing the East. He would indeed be facing the people;
his purpose would not be to celebrate Mass toward them but rather to
the Eucharistic liturgy facing the East. During the first part of the
the Liturgy of the Catechumens, the people would face the altar to hear
the readings and the homily. At the end of the Mass of the Catechumens,
the celebrant would say, "Conversi ad Dominum" -----"Turn
toward the Lord"-----which meant "Turn to face
East." Then, for the duration of the Eucharistic liturgy, the people
turn to face the East, men on one side of the church and women on the
and hence they would have their backs to the altar.