Why has the altar changed?


Hi I was wondering now in most church’s or at least since Vatican to the altar now faces the people not the preist if you see what I mean. , so why is this ?

Thanks chuck


I would like to know this too. I eagerly await the answers.:popcorn:

I hope there is someone who can provide a real answer and this doesn’t just turn into cranky ramblings about how terrible things are now (I don’t disagree, it just isn’t helpful.)


That God is present upon the altar should be the focus of one’s attention, not in the Very Real Presence of the Way The Altar or Priest Is Turned or Not.


Vatican II did not "require’ the change of the priest from FACING the Altar to
Facing the People. That was done by people’s own voluntary decision without usually asking the Holy See’s permission and became WIDESPREAD and accepted.

There is no “sin” in it, but the Old way did have a valid reason behind it:

Historically, Christians faced EAST when praying the Divine Liturgy, the Mass.
The altar was at the east end of the church, and the priest, leading the people,
faced EAST, toward the altar, during most parts of the Mass.

Either Vatican II or a later document (and I don’t know the name, sorry)
did ask that altars be placed such that a priest could walk around the altar,
but it did not “require” him to face the congregation.

Personally, I prefer the priest facing the people, not because WE are the focus of worship, lord no, but because I can hear him better when he is reciting the prayers of the mass, and I can see the consecration occuring much more clearly etc. I’ve been to the Latin mass, which is BEAUTIFUL, where the priest faces the East, and during the consecration he has to hold the host WAAAAY up in the air for the congregation to be able to offer an act of adoration and be able to see it.

For those reasons, I prefer the new way. But the Church never “required” this.


To those who have questions - please watch these two videos, I’m sure most of your questions will be answered:

Weapons of Mass Destruction - Part I

Weapons of Mass Destruction - Part II



Here’s a link to



The V2 document on the Liturgy. It is time consuming and could be difficult reading. But if you want to move beyond opinion and speculation, a good understanding of the actual documents is essential.


Read the Church documents and listen to real teaching. The commentator in the videos listed above takes a grain of truth and uses it for his own purposes. He is sensational, inflammatory and stereotypes and smears groups of people.


You are most certainly welcome to have your own opinion on the presentation, but the research is sound. Please - do not turn this into a debate about the videos, that is not the purpose of the thread, and will not server to answer the questions posed by the OP.



Maybe then you should not post the videos. They need to be rebutted. This is not good Catholic stuff.


To the original poster:: Read Church teaching. Talk to your catechists, priests, listen to your bishops and pope. Listen to the Church, you can’t go wrong. I am with one of the other posters, the posture of the priest is not our focus at Mass.


According to needs and wants of the Church. The altar has undergone many changes in the past. There were altars before that were in the middle of a house, and people were all around it rather than one side of it.


I have the audios (of these video) on right now as I write this.
This speaker has not “smeared” anyone.
I have been reading about this for years, from GOOD sources, including the great
Dietrich von Hildebrand, Father Peter Stravinskas, JOSEPH RATZINGER,
the 1966 Encyclical on the Eucharist BY POPE PAUL VI denouncing the very same New “Mass theology” that exploded in the church after this New Mass was introduced,
and I can tell you that this speaker IS telling the truth, and is telling a heck of a lot MORE than a mere “GRAIN” of truth.

What he is describing is exactly how the New Mass was introduced and implemented.
This is well-documented. A great many of the Catholic prayers in the liturgy were
EXISED from the New mass. These very prayers were the prayers that EMPHASIZED the Sacrificial Nature of the Mass. There are a few left in the New Mass, that is true, but the majority of them were dropped. That can be shown by simply reading the English translation of the 1962 mass and the text of the New Mass.
THE NEW MASS IS VALID and sacrificed is affirmed, a couple of times, but it is not held in high relief as it once was. He is right to assume that this has weakened the correct Catholic understanding of the fact that the Mass is a SACRIFICE.

When I was in RCIA, when it came to Mass, we were shown ridiculous videos (I won’t say who produced them out of kindness, but it was a religious Order) that described the Mass for us Newbies. One was called “THE BREAD THAT REMEMBERS.” It left my head spinning. I got, from it, no HINT that the Mass was a sacramental re-presentation of Calvary with Christ, resurrected and glorified, literally made present on the altar. Not so much as a hint. It made the loaf into something almost magical that knew all your thoughts and stuff like that. Frankly, we in class looked at each other perplexed.
The other Video, at the beginning, the female announcer DID call the Mass “the body and blood” of the Lord, once, then proceeded to turn the video over to a lisping priest (I’m mentioning that deliberately) who informs us that going to Mass is the same as going to
a Thanksgiving Dinner, where you gather together (Gather us in, gather us in…), sit around the dinner table and the turkey and vegetables, tell each other your stories for the past few months since you’ve seen each other (what the heck does that have to do with the Sacrifice of the Mass???) and then you share “The Meal.” That’s it. The whole thrust of the video was that the Mass is the Catholic Faithful gathering together to share
a Meal. That was IT. No mention, at all, of a Sacrifice.
If I had not studied, ON MY OWN, books on what the Mass IS, including Paul VI’s intense 1966 encyclical REAFFIRMING, almost in anger, the True Nature of the Mass, my RCIA training would have convinced me that Mass is nothing other than a celebratory community Meal. We were NOT taught the truth.

I had to laugh in humor/anger when he mentioned in the video about a valid confession after which valid absolution, the priest tells the penitent that his adultery wasn’t really a sin because his wife is really not a nice lady. I laughed, not approvingly though, because that actually happened to me personally. I receivied a valid absolution, only to have the visiting liberal priest tell me bluntly to COMMIT sexual immorality. He did not consider it immoral. He told me to take up with someone in a non-marital sexual activity situation, and that if I confined it to just one person (outside of marriage, mind you!!!) that, to quote him, “THAT would not be morally objectionalbe.” I was horrified. What if he gave that damnable advice to impressionable teenagers in the Confessional??? I wrote to the Archbishop and reported him by name and what he told me. I later found out that he was confronted, SMARTED-OFF to the Archbishop in response, and was banned from our Diocese. I pray for his repentance.
Anyway, to those who denoumced these videos linked above, you have Denounced them.
But in no WAY have “rebutted” them, because the content is 99% Accuirate and nobody is being smeared at all. As for Annibale Bugnini, he denied being a Mason, but many HIGH RANKING Vatican Officials, who were men “in the know”, were absolutely convinced that he was. Now, some of the masons do lie, but Masonic leaders also in the 60s and 70s asserted that Bugnini was one of them. Paul VI apparently finally got very wary of him and shipped him off to be Nuncio to Iran, a country with all of about, oh, perhaps, 31 Catholics. And Paul VI himself wrote an encyclical on the Worship of the Eucharist vehemently re-affirming the Sacrificial character of the Mass, which was not clear at all in the GIRM when the new mass was first implemented and which was being denied, for the first time ever, by a HUGE number of Catholics. Paul VI was horrified by that.

I happen to like the New Mass, especially with the new changes by Benedict XVI, who himself has written frequently very unflattering remarks about the Original “New Mass” and about HOW it came about. Ratzinger, our pope, too, is “in the know.” He actually called the original new mass a spontaneous invention/creation. That’s NOT flattering analysis from a brilliant Pope like Benedict XVI.


I am truly sorry you had such bad experiences at RCIA. But bad catechesis or distasteful liturgy does not provide this commentator an excuse to attack other Catholics, who are part of the Body of Christ, like it or not. I’ve seen some of his other videos also and they are not very charitable. Some of those he criticizes have given decades of ministry to Jesus Christ.
BTW the meal and gathering aspect of the Mass is one of the most effective ways to present the theology to a novice. Perhaps your instructor was inadvertently talking down to you. Perhaps the sacrifice part was included and due to the offense you suffered, it got lost.

No person -has- the truth. It is not something that can be possessed. Being 99% accurate will get you some applause and maybe a big audience of adorers, but it doesn’t necessarily build up the Body in -THE TRUTH-. A person can have lots of correct facts and still not be speaking in truth and love. We can have a knowlege of it (we see dimly, as St Paul says). But to say that you possess it more fully than servants and ministers in the Church, and then use that soapbox to rake them over the coals, is a smear. He takes grains of truth, and the failings of some individuals, ascribes malicious motivation to them, and then foments divisiveness. It’s easy to take the negative and make it your own truth. And many people love it… they feel the world has gone all wrong, leaders are failures, bizarre motivations are conspiring against them. When he gets a theology degree and some authority from the Church he is tearing down, then maybe he will get some respect.

In the meantime, the words of JP2 might be appropriate here: “Be Not Afraid”. The Church will not be defeated by an evil army of liberals or conservatives. The popular culture will not prevail over the Church. The Church transcends culture and politics. Let’s not confuse culture and Church, one is temporal and one is eternal.


The high altar in the Vatican has always faced the way it does, and popes have always stood on the west side of it facing the congregation in the nave. No change whatsoever has been made to the positioning of the high altar at St. Peter’s.

As to the reason why it has become much more common to have altars elsewhere positioned such that the priest is able to face the congregation, I think it is because many priests were tired of saying Mass with their backs to the people, and many people were tired of having the priest say the whole Mass with his back to them as though it were an affair that didn’t concern anybody else at all.

There is of course a view that says that having the priest with his back to the people means that they are both facing the same way and thus the priest is “leading them towards God,” or something like that. That’s nice as an academic theory, but I don’t think history bears out that very many people thought of it that way. Too often, priests would sort of shuffle out from the sacristy, not even throw a glance at the people, do their silent business, and leave. A very conscientious and capable priest is able to make it work in a way that is liable to draw the congregation into the liturgical action, rather than making it feel like he is simply not facing them because what he is doing doesn’t concern them. But that is tragically not very common, which I suppose was why absolutely everybody was so happy to be done with that practice.

Anyway, to answer your original question, the high altar in the Vatican is the same as it was since it was built.


That is the configuration used in the Cathedral I used to go to when I was a teenager. The Church was shaped like a crucifix (aerial view) and the altar was at the crossing. People were on the front, back, and both sides of the altar.


Is it possible also that somehow people wanted eye contact when they heard something in their vernacular? I think society grew to view people turning their backs when talking as rather rude, but I might be wrong. Most of the Mass prior to the 60’s was said quietly and in Latin but one should have been able to follow the Mass by the rubrics (genuflections, bows, kissing, signs of cross, readings standing on the Epistle side/Gospel side, etc.) IOW, there was no real need of eye contact with the congregation back then.

I say this because one Christmas Eve my pastor tried saying the English Mass ad orientem but got heavily criticized and figured “What’s the point?” so he decided to say the EF every Christmas Eve going forward.


Did he bother to try to explain to everyone before hand WHY he was going to do that, and what the significance of it is, and why it’s important for the congregation to understand these things? Or did he just spring something new on everyone and expect them to “get it” and love it without understanding it?

Education goes a long way. If people truly understand something, they are much more receptive to change.



This reminds me of the point that one of the reasons of Vatican II to “*let in a little fresh air” *was the realization that the laity is every bit as much a part of the Church as the pope, the bishops, cardinals, priests and religious. As Mark said, this idea that the priest is leading the people to God is quaint but rather lacking in substance and does not have the theological support that some claim.


I agree but in today’s society you can’t even reintroduce a “Kyrie eleison” or “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” into the liturgy (or a conversation, for that matter) without someone getting upset. I feel for the pastor, who BTW runs a Catholic school and gives well-researched sermons.


The implication there is that “absolutely everybody was so happy” with the arrival of versus populum tables. That was, of course, not the case. Trust me when I say not “everybody” was all that thrilled. And we never will be.

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