I have just been browsing through the GIRM - a document which I am not hugely familiar with. In paragraph 299, regarding the positioning of the altar, it says:
“The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.”
In relation to this statement, I am wondering how this squares up with the concept of liturgy in Vatican II documents. I am not greatly familiar with such documents, having only read certain sections of a number of them - however, I was not aware that it was said that it was desirable wherever possible to celebrated the Holy Mass facing the people. I thought that Vatican II, while recognising the potential value of celebrating the Mass facing the people, wanted ad orientem celebration to remain the norm.
Regarding the building of altars apart from the wall - obviously this would not prevent ad orientem celebration of the Holy Mass, but in paragraph 303 it is stated that even in older churches which have an altar fixed to the wall “another altar…should be erected”. Again, is this the same vision that Vatican II had? I certainly know that neither the GIRM nor Vatican II gave bishops licence to smash the old altars as part of the reforms.
Finally, regarding the positioning of the tabernacle - the GIRM (paragraph 314), as well as English translations of Vatican II documents, say that the tabernacle should be in a part of the church which is “truly noble”. Pope Paul VI, for example, said that the tabernacle should be in nobilissimo loco - surely “nobilissimo” should be translated as “the most noble” or “most prominent”? Indeed, paragraph 310 of the GIRM states that the chair of the priest celebrant should be at the head of the sanctuary “unless, for example…the tabernacle is in the centre behind the altar”. I know there were situations before Vatican II where the tabernacle was not directly behind the altar, but there have been so many churches - old & new - where the tabernacle has been moved off to the side, and the priest celebrant’s chair has been put “in nobilissimo loco” instead.
So, how do these things square with the vision of the fathers of Vatican II?