Turning around the altars

I wonder if anybody can help me, here. Please, let’s **not **let this become a debate about the relative merits of, or historicity of, ad populum versus ad orientam!

Does anybody know exactly when and how people began to believe that Vatican II had instructed churches to rip altars from the walls, or set up second altars so the priest could celebrate ad populum? Many people, wrongly as most of us know, think that the Council or the Pope, etc., mandated this. It is not in the rubrics of the Novus Ordo, either. So - was there some specific publication, or statement, or whatever kind of influence it may have been, that caused this to begin happening? Or was it some much more vague impulse?

I am not talking about freestanding altars that had altar rails all around them, like at St. Peter’s Basilica, or in other churches like the one in the picture below.

Am trying to pinpoint how and when this got started :confused:

At the time, that is how people read the rubrics. They said “This is what we’re supposed to do.” In many churches, a table was built in front of the original altar. That is probably the most common change and can be seen in countless churches today. In other churches, the old altar was removed, on the basis that it would distract people from the new table.

No one said “we’re going to destroy the church for the heck of it, because vandalism is fun.”

They claimed that they were following Vatican 2.

The general instruction states the altar should be free standing to allow for mass facing the people. However, it was not mandated that the old altars be removed.

Thanks to both of you who have replied so far - I know what you have said is true. The Instruction relates to new churches, as people should realize (sadly, they often don’t)… I am still wondering where exactly this trend came from… I am guessing it started c. 1967-1970. But I know there were liturgical-movement related debates about it prior to 1962.

You’re very welcome.

Your time period is correct - it began to be noticeable in the early 1970s, and continued throughout that decade. Of course, it still occurs now, as Milwaukee Cathedral shows.

The new ideas in Church architecture can be traced back at least to the 1930s - see the sketches for the church in (I think) Ditchling, England designed by Eric Gill. The exterior is traditional - even neo Romanesque, but the altar arrangement is contemporary.

Some new church designs began to be bauhaus influenced in France in the 1950s, like Corbussier’s Ronchamp church.

I think you have to look at two distinct trends from the 20th century: one anti tridentine, the other is pro modern. Their common denominator is an inauthentic “primitivism,” inspired in part by the colonial experience and in part by levelling impulses that were a reaction against the culture in the wake of two world wars.

There was also a sense that “Jesus present in the assembly” wasn’t being honoured in the ad orientem style of mass.

The ad orientem mass is a model of the Church militant. The newer configurations represent the Church communal - except the community is leaving/has left in droves.

The newer architecture also represent two moments in the mass:

[LIST]
*]the Liturgy of the Word in the synagogue

*]the Liturgy of the Eucharist in the upper room.
[/LIST]

For one piece of evidence, see my post here and the subsequent comments (esp. nos. 9, 12). Now that was 1965, while the Council was still in session, and it seemed to be taken as a given that this would be done. My sense is less that people felt they were being told to arrange altars for versus populum as though it were some sort of imposition, and more that many of them simply wanted to and now were given the opportunity.

I like how you express this. :thumbsup:

Peace
James

Thanks - I have long had the impression this was likely the case… it seems to be part of the “enthusiasm” for change (for change’s sake) of the period.

Bolding Mine…

I think that your comment here is a bit overly simplistic. Surely in the various diocese there were varying numbers of “people” who “simply wanted to” (turn the Altars)…More important, early on, would be the particular bent of the local Bishop.
I recall in our parish I can recall the changes being rather precipitous - more imposed from above than “granted”.
Even though I was a child at the time, a personal experience of mine might serve to illustrate. At the time, I was training to be an Altar Server. so I had a lot of Latin to learn. I studied hard, along with my compatriots and learned all the prayers and responses, all of the movements etc. Then came the day that Father tested us…put us through our paces and gave us all his approval…I then waited to serve my first Mass. However, in the two weeks between Father’s approval and serving my first mass…they changed to English. I never served a single mass in Latin…:bighanky:
It is obvious from this (and my mother confirmed this to me recently) that the change was not something planned out, or under discussion in the parish for a long time. It was simply an instruction that came from our Archbishop - boom…

Other changes, while maybe less precipitous, seemed to come quickly and sometimes confusingly. Installing the new “Ad Orientum” Altar being one of these.
It was a very difficult time to be an older member of the parish…

Anyway - in evaluating the supposed “desire for change”, we should not over estimate the desires of the “people” (laity) nor underestimate the desires of the Bishops and Clergy…who certainly had the authority to override any desires of the people who “simply wanted change”…

Peace
James

Thanks - I have long had the impression this was likely the case… it seems to be part of the “enthusiasm” for change (for change’s sake) of the period.

I’m not sure it was all for change’s sake though.

I went to mass for years in long cold churches (as a kid), with everyone in their overcoats, women praying their rosaries and men trying to sleep through the sermons (or slipping out back for a quick “fag”), and no-one knowing anything about what was happening. You couldn’t hear the priest: he was whispering.

The bells rang during the Eucharistic prayer, not to praise God but to wake everyone up, and alert them that something was about to happen, 'cos otherwise we had no idea 'cos we (in my case) were fighting with a sibling, or in granddad’s case because he was asleep.

The first mass that felt alive to me was the mass the priest said, “Good morning” and stepped down from the altar to say the opening prayers in the middle of the aisle. We were all gobsmacked! And we could understand what he was saying too. It was the first mass in English I went to.

The Eucharist came alive for me as a kid at that time. Soon I was lucky enough to go to a new school that had it’s own (new style) chapel and the headmaster was a priest. He said mass early every morning before school and I left home early to make it on time.

It’s only now years later that I see that since that first awakening post Vatican II some elements of the faith have slipped. I’m not sure that’s the mass’s fault (which is ALWAYS the perfect sacrifice, and a participation in the heavenly banquet), but teaching - or lack of it.

Or the communion rails, or the kneelers and even in some cases the pews, or the holy water fonts, or the statues, or that they can now consecrate in glass and baskets…etc.

All of which took place in the diocese I lived in during especially late 70’s - late 80’s and didn’t start being turned back until early to mid 90’s.

No, I tend to doubt that it was particularly enthusiasm for “change for change’s sake.” If you read what people were writing at the time, especially in the first half of the twentieth century, many people felt enthusiastic for a liturgy in which the congregation was not pressed into the all-too-common mode of serving as spectators while the priest and a couple of boys shuffled out to the altar from a side door to the sacristy, transacted their holy business, and left. I don’t think too many priests even cared for that style, which was why there was so little protest over this change and, on the contrary, so much enthusiasm for it.

One must remember, I think, that the widespread and repeated calls for “active participation” did not arise in some sort of a vacuum and were not an invention of Abp. Bugnini. I do not mean, of course, that it was thought that the congregation all needed to be (as people say) running around and carrying things, but rather that they were almost totally excluded from the sacred actions, even to the point that the readings were not proclaimed facing the congregation and were often not repeated in the vernacular, and the priest’s Dominus vobiscums and Misereatur vestris were conceived as directed to the altar servers.

There’s certainly room for educated differences of opinion – and for different preferences and personal spiritualities, too – on many of these issues, but blindly ascribing the changes of the times to an infatuation with “change for change’s sake” is really missing something.

Fr. Z asked this very question of his readers some time ago and the resulting discussion was informative. wdtprs.com/blog/2010/08/quaeritur-where-did-mass-facing-the-people-come-from/

ewtn.com/library/LITURGY/TURNTABL.TXT

It’s a great read and on the EWTN site.

I would disagree that most Catholics of the period wanted the altars changed. They proved it by voting with their feet.

Again I’m not sure that’s 100% accurate.

Lot’s left because the Church no longer taught mortal sin, and that everyone is good (which is true… but), and that there’s lots to learn in the world (which is also true, but with caveats). So many went off on their merry way.

Very interesting thread, I’ve learned a lot.

One reason for moving the altars around that hasn’t been mentioned (or if it has, I missed it): a desire to ape protestant practices. This was IMHO a very big influence in the other things that happened to (removing altar rails, for example).

I don’t think so. If that were the case, then you would have seen primarily the conservative Catholics leave, and you would have seen widespread discontentment and protests about the change, people flocking to churches where the altar had been kept ad orientem, people cutting off donations unless the priest put things back as they had been, etc. None of that, though, seems to be the case.

No, this isn’t right either. I think the motivation was to move toward a different conception of the laity’s participation in the Mass on its own terms – which, independently, Protestant groups had adopted long before. In the same way, even though Protestants used the vernacular, the shift in the Catholic Church to the vernacular wasn’t to “be like the Protestants,” it was merely so that people could understand what was being said. The Protestants had simply been able to make the change sooner, since their liturgy was not “in the hands of a strictly centralized and purely bureaucratic authority” which “completely lacked historical perspective,” thereby keeping it “embalmed in the status quo” and calcifying it into “a rigid, fixed, and firmly encrusted system” (J. Ratzinger, Theological Highlights of Vatican II) which, for us unlike the Protestants, took an event like Vatican II to shake up.

In any event, I have never heard anybody say, “We should turn the altars around so that we can be more Protestant.” They say, “We should turn the altars around so that the people can see what is going on and participate more fully.” Likewise they say “The altar rails are a useless barrier and cause undue clericalization,” not “Hey, by getting rid of altar rails it can help us look more Protestant.” Now, those claims may or may not be true and it is all certainly quite arguable, but attacking the motivation (as is so popular in this strain of argumentation) is just an attempt to avoid having the real discussions on the merits. Besides which, I don’t know of any evidence that most priests and laity in 1960 would have had the slightest idea what Protestant services were like to begin with, still less the remotest desire to emulate them. Do you? That is especially true in countries like Italy, where there aren’t any Protestants to begin with and yet people were just as happy to make the same changes.

Part of the reason you did not see these things was because there was a very different mind-set among much of the laity in those days. The majority of the people had been raised with a very different mindset about the Church…You simply did not DO some of the things you mention above.
Of course, like anything, this was not universally true. There WERE some who did question the changes. There were others who - strongly opposed - formed the schismatic groups that we see today.
But many - having been raised and taught that the Church was unchanging and unchangeable - were simply unable to incorporate these sudden changes that they saw but did not understand. They were taught that you did not question the priest and bishop and so had little recourse. In many cases not even the priests were all that comfortable with the changes and so they could not give good answers to those who DID ask.

The biggest problem, as I see it, with what happened immediately after VII, was that the changes were put in place without sufficient thought given to the need for recatechizing the parish priests and laity. As I expressed in my small example earlier, changes were introduced precipitously with little or no warning and with little or no explanation.
In most cases, because of the aforementioned mindset of the laity not questioning things, I believe many/most of the more liberal minded bishops expected a mostly quiet acquiescence to the changes. They were not prepared for the fallout that these changes brought about and they, again because of this older mindset (that they were raised in too) they were slow to recognize and act on the danger signals that began to surface.

They seem to have learned their lesson though…Look at how long and how much time the Church spent preparing the faithful for the recent and relatively minor changes in the Mass.

I’m sorry to ramble so. It’s early and I don’t seem to be able to organize my thoughts that well.
Long story short…The parishioners ability to protest were very limited because of mindsets and training. As a result, the only real “protest” available to most was to simply stop going to Church altogether.

No, this isn’t right either. I think the motivation was to move toward a different conception of the laity’s participation in the Mass on its own terms – which, independently, Protestant groups had adopted long before. In the same way, even though Protestants used the vernacular, the shift in the Catholic Church to the vernacular wasn’t to “be like the Protestants,” it was merely so that people could understand what was being said. The Protestants had simply been able to make the change sooner, since their liturgy was not “in the hands of a strictly centralized and purely bureaucratic authority” which “completely lacked historical perspective,” thereby keeping it “embalmed in the status quo” and calcifying it into “a rigid, fixed, and firmly encrusted system” (J. Ratzinger, Theological Highlights of Vatican II) which, for us unlike the Protestants, took an event like Vatican II to shake up.

In any event, I have never heard anybody say, “We should turn the altars around so that we can be more Protestant.” They say, “We should turn the altars around so that the people can see what is going on and participate more fully.” Likewise they say “The altar rails are a useless barrier and cause undue clericalization,” not “Hey, by getting rid of altar rails it can help us look more Protestant.” Now, those claims may or may not be true and it is all certainly quite arguable, but attacking the motivation (as is so popular in this strain of argumentation) is just an attempt to avoid having the real discussions on the merits. Besides which, I don’t know of any evidence that most priests and laity in 1960 would have had the slightest idea what Protestant services were like to begin with, still less the remotest desire to emulate them. Do you? That is especially true in countries like Italy, where there aren’t any Protestants to begin with and yet people were just as happy to make the same changes.

(Bolding Mine)

Agree with this completely. None of the decisions were made to “ape the protestants”.

Peace
James

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