Visiting a great and ancient cathedral where perspective, proportion, sculpture, painting point to a particular sacred focus, the altar or the tabernacle something absurd seems to be being said when a priest quite literally turns his back on it all and says Mass on an ill suited johnny-come-lately liturgical carbuncle of an altar.This ridiculous practice is championed by those W S Gilbert described in the Mikado as: "the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone, all centuries but this, and every country but his own".
In the comments Dom Mark Daniel Kirby of the Benedictine Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle in Tulsa, Oklahoma writes:
Last week I concelebrated Holy Mass at the Pontifical Marian Sanctuary of La Madonna del Rosario di Pompei. (I concelebrated because not a single one of the many, many lateral altars, each one of remarkable beauty, was equipped for Holy Mass. Every one was bare. Although at home I offer Holy Mass according the usus antiquior I have discovered that, here in Italy, the 1962 Missale Romanum is made available nor can one find complete sets of vestments, altar cards, etc.) My point, however, is that the basilica of Pompei was designed so as to orient all eyes toward the image of the Madonna del Rosario above the altar. This disposition of things is a visual declaration of the commemoration of the Mother of God in the Canon of the Mass: Our Lady is present at every Holy Mass just as she was present at the foot of the Cross on Calvary. Today however when priests offer Holy Mass at Pompei they are obliged to turn away from the high altar in order to face the people. The practice makes absolutely no sense. I found it very distressing.I too have found myself in just such circumstances on many occasions and "distressing" is definitely the word. When visiting somewhere and suggest Mass at a side altar and request a Latin Missal, let alone a 1962 Missal, there is often a reluctance to accommodate. Yet when visiting priests come to your own parish, say to concelebrate a Requiem, and refuse point blank to wear the black vestments laid out - in complete conformity with the Church's liturgical law - I am the one who has to politely give way.
Anyway, surely, it makes sense to use altars - side altars or high altars - for their intended purpose. Particularly in shrines and churches where the altar is built directly over a Confessio. In so many churches, Mass is offered not on the altar actually connected to the relics of the saint but twenty feet in front of that. How bizarre!
Dom Mark Daniel's experience also called to mind some words in Universae Ecclesia:
17. § 1. In deciding individual cases, the pastor or the rector, or the priest responsible for a church, is to be guided by his own prudence, motivated by pastoral zeal and a spirit of generous welcome.
18. Even in sanctuaries and places of pilgrimage the possibility to celebrate in the forma extraordinaria is to be offered to groups of pilgrims who request it (cf. Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, art. 5 § 3), if there is a qualified priest.
1. Here to stay!
2. Should be made available and popularised
even where it may not have been directly requested.
3. Has something to offer and teach ALL the faithful.
4. The experience of celebrating it should enrich the celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.