'EIGHTEEN months after Vatican approval was given, fewer than one in ten British parishes are yet celebrating Mass facing the people.
A survey conducted by the CATHOLIC HERALD has revealed that in one diocese, no single parish celebrates Mass in this way. In another, 50 per cent of the parishes do so regularly.
But the survey showed that in those parishes which have made the change it is "tremendously popular with the people".
Birmingham is a diocese where altars facing the people are "appreciated and recommended in new churches and in old churches which can be reorganised effectively and appropriately," a spokesman for Archbishop Dwyer said. In general the Archbishop leaves it to his priests to decide if their church is suitable.
In Portsmouth diocese, Bishop Warlock himself almost always offers Mass in this way.
Of the 81 parishes in his diocese 41 have put up, temporary altars for regular use and another five use them occasionally. In addition. most schools and religious chapels celebrate facing the people. Fr. Raymond Lawrence. the Bishop's secretary, described it as "very popular".
In Clifton, Bishop Rudderham's diocese, there is no general permission for temporary altars to be erected, and at present no parish is saying Mass facing the people. The Bishop does grant permission for it to be done on special occasions.
In other dioceses the attitude to the celebration of Mass facing the people varies.
A diocese where it has been widely accepted is Shrewsbury. Bishop Graser is keen to encourage parishes to take it up, Fr. Francis Rice. his secretary, said.
Half the parishes in the diocese now have Mass facing the people at least once a week, and this, according to Fr. Rice is all part of a move to bring the people more closely into contact with the liturgy. Bishop Grasar recently concelebrated with 20 other priests in the Cathedral and the people "lapped it up".
Two parishes in Northampton diocese have permission to "experiment" with Mass facing the people, and the report they give will decide the future for the rest of the diocese. "In general," a spokesman for Bishop Parker said, "the Bishop feels that where there is a permanent altar against the wall, Mass should be said at it."
The new diocese of Arundel and Brighton has Bishop David Cashman at its head. According to a spokesman, "the Bishop does not like temporary altars," although Mass facing the people is allowed and several churches do celebrate it in this way.
Westminster diocese has blazed the trail for its parishes by erecting a temporary altar in the Cathedral. The Bishop of Brentwood has no objections to priests putting up temporary altars as long as they conform with the instructions on Sacred Liturgy. In Nottingham diocese Mass facing the people is "most popular" and allowed anywhere.
Only a few
"Not many" parishes are doing it in Middlesbrough or Liverpool, though a recent concelebratiofi facing the people in which Archbishop Beck took part was "wonderfully received" by the people, his secretary said. "Some" are doing it in Lancaster and, commented a spokesman, it is "accepted". "Only a few" is the impression the authorities get in Plymouth where all priests must get permission from the Bishop or Vicar General.
"Quite a number" in Hexbarn and Newcastle where it has been welcomed by the people. Where possible Bishop Cunningham likes to concelebrate facing the congregation, the bishop's secretary added.
In Southwark, Archbishop Cowderoy does not encourage temporary altars, but prefers permanent altars facing the people to be erected, providing that the plans to re-organise the church are passed by the proper authority. Where ,altars have been turned round the people "appreciate the new way of celebrating the liturgy," a spokesman said.
A leading liturgist clarified the Church's position on Mass facing the people: "This way of celebrating Mass is encouraged by the Church," he said. "So far permission has not been given for permanent altars to be dismantled, though temporary altars are allowed, and indeed encouraged in some dioceses."
Can a Bishop refuse permission to celebrate facing the people? "As far as I know, the only reasonable grounds for a Bishop to refuse permission would be if the temporary altar was not decent. Unsafe perhaps."
The survey showed that many priests would introduce Mass facing the people when instructions to do so came from the Bishop of their diocese.