I think the priest facing the same way as the people better expresses our unity as adoring God as one body (with the priest acting as the head of the body). There’s also less temptation for the priest to act like he’s on a stage performing for the audience. We face the same way when we pray to God as one, and the priest faces us and we face him when we talk to each other (Dominus vobiscum, etc.) It doesn’t make much sense to pray at each other.
There’s a reason why all Christians with a priesthood that offers sacrifice, from East to West, did it like this for almost 2000 years, and why every other rite still does.
This view has been discredited. Ratzinger’s “Spirit of the Liturgy” pages 74 to 84 has a good discussion on where this misconcemption came from, what actual house liturgies were like at the time. They were not on opposite sides of the table from the priest–they all were at the same convex side of a sigma shaped table.
I have been to a couple of masses my whole life that were done this way. I liked them. There are a couple of times, namely when inviting people to make the sign of peace (and one other , but I can’t recall right now) where since the priest was addressing the people and not God and not leading them in prayer, he turned around. That was a little awkward. But not a big deal. I think, in general, it would be a very good idea for it to be more widespread.
I’ve got a great idea. Just make all churches “in the round”, put the altar in the middle, and let every attendee choose whether he wants to sit in front or in back of the priest. Also, hang two crucifixes facing opposite directions so you can perceive the one you prefer in relation to where the priest is facing. Problem solved.
A no win situation I’m afraid. I don’t like churches in the round. If anything does remind me of being at the theatre rather than in a church is a church in the round. Even so I’ve never seen one that’s as you describe. There’s usually still a sanctuary-end of the church. I’m not saying they don’t exist but I’ve never been to one, seen pictures of one or heard of one.
I am a little skeptical that was the way it was designed in the 19th century. Yes, lots of churches were built in a cruciform fashion, but there were almost no free standing altars at that time. Indeed, it would be the only parish church from that timeframe that would have been built that way. Much more likely is that the altar was recessed into the top of the cross, the communion rail went across the front of the area, and all of the pews faced in one direction, even those on the arms of the cross.
The church was likely redone in the the wake of Vatican II, the altar area moved out to the mid-point of the cross and made free standing and the pews rearranged.
It simply would have been almost unheard of to be built the way you describe in the 19th century.
The modern round churches that were built in the 70s and 80s just do not work or function very well. The are completely out of style with new church’s being built. Even the folks who favor modern type designs (which I am sort of one) do not recommend those anymore to parishes building churches.
“Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit and affection to the sources of the sacred liturgy. For research in this field of study, by tracing it back to its origins, contributes valuable assistance towards a more thorough and careful investigation of the significance of feast-days, and of the meaning of the texts and sacred ceremonies employed on their occasion. But it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See”. —Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 62
I too have an idea. If at all possible, why don’t those who truly desire ad orientem, to try and seek out a Tridentine Latin Mass in their area. That way they can experience what Fr. Faber describes below.
"It is the most beautiful thing this side of heaven,” It came forth out of the grand mind of the Church and lifted us out of earth and out of self, and wrapped us round in a cloud of mystical sweetness and the sublimities of a more than angelic liturgy, and purified us almost without ourselves and charmed us with celestial charming so that our very senses seemed to find vision, hearing, fragrance, taste and touch more than ear can give.”
Fr. Frederick Faber describing the Tridentine Latin Mass .
The authority of the Church to modify the external aspects of the liturgical rites is not in dispute; however, these modifications must not be arbitrary, and we cannot revert to the practices of earlier centuries. Even if Mass was celebrated facing the people in the earliest days of the Church, by the fourth or fifth century at the very most, ad orientem was the universal discipline of the Church. And ad orientem remained the universal practice for over a millennium following the organic development from versus populum to ad orientem.
According to Catholic principles, this demonstrates that as the Church’s practices progressed and developed over the years, the Magisterium, guided by the Holy Ghost, came to realise that ad orientem worship is more conducive to the salvation of souls. If ad orientem worship were worse than versus populum, or not an improvement, then the Church would not have adhered to it for over a millennium following the change from Apostolic days.
This principle has been reiterated even as recently as 1990, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared the following:
“…it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church’s Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission”. —Donum veritatis
In addition, it is also interesting to note that even the GIRM was written with the Novus Ordo celebrated ad orientem in mind.
So as for being stuck in a moment in time, it is not the view I expressed (regarding organic development) which fits this description, but rather the views of those who constantly appeal to the practices of the early Church to justify certain changes to the liturgy which were never called for by either Vatican II or any subsequent directives. That is liturgical antiquarianism, and was reprobated by Pope Pius XII in Mediator Dei.