The Catholic Sanctuary
and the Second Vatican Council

 by Michael Davies

Protestant Hatred of the Mass 
and Smashing of the Altars


Before examining what Vatican II mandated concerning the sanctuary, reference must be made to a widespread abandonment of the eastward celebration of the Eucharist which took place 400 years before this Council was convoked. This was a step taken by the Protestant; Reformers in the sixteenth century. The use of the word "Reformers" for these people is certainly a misnomer. In reality, they were not reformers, but revolutionaries of the first order-----men out to overthrow the existing religion and replace it with one which they had fabricated themselves on the grounds that it conformed to the teaching and practice of primitive Christianity. 

The Protestant Reformers were united in abolishing the eastward celebration of the Eucharist because they understood, quite correctly, that the eastward direction signified sacrifice, and the denial of the sacrificial nature of the Mass was an axiom upon which the entire Protestant heresy was based. Martin Luther regarded the concept of any true sacrifice in the Mass as an abomination, and he expressed his viewpoint in the forceful manner for which he was noted:

      It is indeed upon the Mass as on a rock that the whole papal system is built, with its monasteries, its bishoprics, its collegiate churches, its altars, its ministries, its doctrine, i.e., with all its guts. All these cannot fail to crumble once their sacrilegious and abominable Mass falls. [Martin Luther, Against Henry, King of England, 1522, Werke, Vol. X, p. 220.]
   This viewpoint is put even more forcefully by John Hooper, the Anglican Bishop of Gloucester in the reign of Edward VI [1547- 1553]:

I believe and confess that the popish Mass is an invention and ordinance of man, a sacrifice of Antichrist, and a forsaking of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that is to say, of his death and passion; and that it is a stinking and infected sepulchre, which hideth and covereth the merit of the blood of Christ; and therefore ought the Mass to be abolished and the holy supper of the Lord to be restored and set in its perfection again. [J. Hooper, Later Writings (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1852), p. 32.]

Because Protestants believed the Mass to be a sacrifice of Antichrist, they did indeed abolish it, replacing it with a communion service, a mere meal, a Lord's Supper in which Our Lord is present only in the minds of the congregation. The Real Presence was replaced by a Real Absence.

In order to eradicate any memory of the hated Mass from the minds of the faithful, the Reformers resolved to obliterate every vestige of it from their communion services and from the sanctuaries in which the Sacrifice had been offered for centuries. The program of Thomas Cranmer, the apostate Archbishop of Canterbury, in the reign of the puppet boy-king Edward VI [1547-1553], has been summarized perfectly by Dr. Eamon Duffy in his recent and remarkable book, The Stripping of the Altars. This book has been universally acclaimed as a classic of historical research, and all who read it have been struck by the fact that it could be describing what has happened throughout the Catholic world since the Second Vatican Council. Dr. Duffy writes:

At the heart of the Edwardine reform was the necessity of destroying, of cutting, hammering, scraping, or melting into a deserved oblivion the monuments of popery, so that the doctrines they embodied might be forgotten. Iconoclasm was the the central sacrament of the reform, and, as the programme of the leaders became more radical in the years between 1547 and 1553, they sought with greater urgency the celebration of that sacrament of forgetfulness in every parish in the land. The church wardens' accounts of the period witness a wholesale removal of the images, vestments, and vessels which had been the wonder of foreign visitors to the country, and in which the collective memory of the parishes were, quite literally, enshrined. [E. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 480.]

The replacement of altars by tables was the first objective of the English Protestants, and this was fully in line with what had taken place in continental Europe. Calvin taught that since Christ has accomplished His sacrifice once and for all, God "hath given us a table at which we are to feast, not an altar upon which any victim is to be offered: he hath not consecrated priests to offer sacrifices, but ministers to distribute the sacred banquet." [J. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, xviii, n. 12 (London, 1838), Vol. II, p. 526.] This was of course a direct contradiction of the traditional Christian teaching, handed down from the Apostles, that the Eucharist is a sacrifice-----the renewal of the one Sacrifice of Calvary-----as well as a sacred banquet. In the New Testament St. Paul uses the term "altar" [Heb. 13: 10] as well as the term "table of the Lord" [1 Cor: 1: 21] when referring to the Holy Eucharist.

On November 24, 1550, the King's Council ordered the destruction of all the altars throughout the kingdom. In the future the "Lord's Supper" was to be celebrated on a table covered with a cloth of linen. [P. Hughes, The Reformation in England, Vol. II (London, 1950), p. 121.] The most notorious altar-smasher in England and Wales was Nicholas Ridley, the Anglican Bishop of London. A letter sent to Ridley by the Council in the name of the King included certain "Reasons why the Lord's Board should rather be after the form of a Table than an Altar." Among the reasons given were the following:

First, the form of a table shall more move the simple from the superstitious opinions of the Popish mass unto the right use of the Lord's Supper. For the use of an altar is to make sacrifice upon it: the use of a table is to serve for men to eat upon. [Thomas Cranmer, Works, Vol. II (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1846), pp. 524-525.]
A descendant of Bishop Ridley states, in a biography of his reforming ancestor, that the destruction of the altars was considered as sacrilege by the ordinary people and shocked them into a realization of the full extent of the revolution which had taken place. J. G. Ridley writes:
The removal of altars brought home to every subject in the kingdom that the central object which had stood in the churches for over a thousand years, and which they had watched with awe every Sunday since their early childhood, was condemned as idolatrous and thrown contemptuously away by adherents of the new religion which had been forced upon them. [J. G. Ridley, Nicholas Ridley (London, 1957), pp. 218- 219.]
How sad it is that countless Catholic bishops in our time have emulated Nicholas Ridley and thrown away contemptuously the altar which the faithful of their dioceses have watched with awe every Sunday since their early childhood. Commenting on the destruction of the consecrated altars of the Christian sacrifice throughout England and Wales, Fr. T. E. Bridgett writes:
 Wherever church wardens' accounts exist, we find entries similar to this of Burnham in Buckinghamshire: "Payd to tylars for breckynge downe forten (14) awters in the cherche." It is only from such scraps of history that we can rebuild and repeople in imagination the interior of the desolate old churches where countless Masses were once offered. [T. E. Bridgett, C.S.S.R., A History of the Eucharist in Great Britain (London: Bums & Oates, 1908), p. 63.]
Is it not heartbreaking that since the Second Vatican Council, in countless churches and cathedrals, there are entries in the accounts stating that vast sums of money have been spent in destroying beautiful altars on which countless Masses have been offered?


The rite of Mass which had once been celebrated in the devastated sanctuaries was destroyed by the Protestant Reformers as ruthlessly and totally as the altars upon which it was celebrated. The sublime Latin prayers of the traditional Mass, which dated back to the sixth century and beyond, into the mists of antiquity, were replaced by an English service from which every specifically sacrificial prayer
had been removed. Because the Mass is a solemn sacrifice offered to God by the priest in the person of Christ, many of the prayers----- addressed directly to God----- had been spoken inaudibly. The Protestant Lord's Supper was not a mystical sacrifice, a mystery, but a meal and a service of prayers and instruction, so it was mandated that every word spoken was to be heard by all the people. 
Communion on the tongue was replaced by Communion in the hand to make it clear that the bread received was ordinary bread and that the minister who distributed it was an ordinary man, not a priest. Communion under one kind was replaced by Communion under both kinds, because in every meal there should be both food and drink. Above all, the never-to-be-sufficiently-execrated eastward position of the celebrant at Mass was to be abandoned forever.

   One of the most appalling consequences of the change from a Latin to a vernacular liturgy was that it cut the Catholic people off completely from the entire liturgical and musical heritage of Western Christendom. Dr. Eamon Duffy comments:

      The switch from Latin to English immediately rendered obsolete the entire musical repertoire of cathedral, chapel, and parish church. Not least of the shocks brought on by the Prayer Book at Whitsun 1549 must have been the silencing of all but a handful of choirs and the reduction of the liturgy on one of the greatest festivals of the year to a monotone dialogue between curate and clerk. [Duffy, op. cit., p. 465.]
   Has not this also happened today? At a time when young people in the West are flocking to record shops to buy compact discs by the million of our Gregorian musical heritage, that heritage has been banished from almost all the Catholic churches in the English-speaking world-----despite the fact that Vatican II mandated it as the norm for sung Masses. ["Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy," Art. 116]. One wonders why so many bishops claiming to be loyal to the Council do not obey it in this important matter.

The Reformation in England by Msgr. Philip Hughes is the most authoritative account of the English Reformation yet written. Msgr. Hughes proves beyond any doubt that the faith of the Catholic people was destroyed primarily by liturgical changes, and he insists Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer was a prime instrument in this destruction:

Once these new sacramental rites had become the habit of the English people, the substance of the doctrinal reformation, victorious now in northern Europe, would have transformed England also. All but insensibly, as the years went by, the beliefs enshrined in the old, and now disused, rites, and kept alive by these rites in men's minds and affections, would disappear-----without the need of any systematic missionary effort to preach them down. [Hughes, op. cit., p. 111.]
   Monsignor Hughes is referring here to a principle fundamental to every form of liturgy: Lex orandi, lex credendi-----"The law of prayer is the law of belief." This means that the manner in which people pray will determine what they believe. As Msgr. Hughes has explained, when the traditional Latin liturgical rites were replaced by new vernacular services, when the altars were replaced by tables, and when the celebrant turned to face the people, then almost imperceptibly, as the years passed by, the people, who were praying as Protestants, began to believe as Protestants.


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