From Mr Vincent Whitehouse Sir, Philip Fowke (March 23) suggests the High Altar in Westminster Cathedral be reduced depthwise by two feet, to accommodate its central position below the baldachino.
This would reduce its dimensions to resembling a "table" rather than an altar of sacrifice — the antithesis of its essential character.
The ostensible reason for reordering is to enable Mass facing the people. No relevant documents or instructions of Vatican Two require or even recommend this; but merely as an option where it is desirable to "go round the altar" in liturgical celebrations. The earliest Rubrics (1970) of the New Mass (Novus Ordo Missae) instruct the celebrant, at certain points, to "turn to face the people": a meaningless directive were he already facing them. Liturgists of repute now increasingly uphold the ancient custom, of ad orientem:: priest and people facing East; the opposite of versus populum, i.e. in different directions.
Contrary to the mistaken impression given by Philip Fowke, the High Altar is in fact in use, however seldom. It is utilised twice a year, by the Latin Mass Society, when permitted to celebrate Solemn High Mass, in the Traditional (so-called Tridentine) Rite, according to the 1962 Missal,whose rubrics require Celebrant and people to face the same way.
Yours faithfully, VINCENT WHITEHOUSE London SW20.
From Mr K H Kavanagh Sir, Cardinal Murphy O'Connor's plan for the reordering of the sanctuary of Westminster Cathedral seems to be sensitive both to the needs of the liturgy and the need to avoid the destruction of something beautiful in its proportions (March 9).
May we hope that those responsible for the Slipper Chapel in Walsingham will one day restore the sanctuary there to its original beauty.
In time for the consecration of the Slipper Chapel in 1938, local artists James and Lillian Dagless installed a beautiful reredos of perfect proportions. In the post war period, long before Vatican 11, it was decided to raise the reredos to accommodate a larger tabernacle. Miss Dagless declined to be involved and a crude strip of carved wood was inserted beneath the reredos completely destroying the perfect proportions of the sanctuary and giving the present "top heavy" look to the altar. With the Chapel of Reconciliation now the main area for the celebration of the liturgy the changes in question could surely be reversed.
Yours faithfully, K1-1 KAVANAGH Bedford.
From Miss Georgina Nestle Sir, I read with interest Luke Coppen's article "Cardinal to reorder Westminster Cathedral". What is proposed here seems reasonable or even an improvement! But the Article also stated that the bishops of England and Wales are expected to consider a new draft directory on the reordering of churches this autumn, whereby it is envisaged that "all new baptismal fonts be large enough for Baptism by immersion".
Our very small parish church has already undergone the turmoil and expense of harsh reordering, whereby our tabernacle is no longer within sight of most of the congregation and we no longer have a Lady Chapel; Marian devotion has been downgraded, with a smaller statue, confined to a niche of "Our Lady by the Wayside." The result is, that genuflection, if it takes place at all, is towards the bishop's or priests' chair on a raised dais in the centre of our main altar, the position in which many of the faithful world still like to see our tabernacle! Is this to be joined in future by a large baptismal Font the size of a bathtub? Since when has a font — only used once in a lifetime for most people —been an object for veneration?
The practical considerations need to be addressed too. Total immersion is very chilly in winter for adults and children. Most infants require to be Baptised as soon as possible after birth.
Those who favour total baptismal immersion should press for ecumenical cooperation over this matter so that if necessary they can use the facilities of other churches, who already have these expensive facilities in place. There seems to be a crusade to reorder amongst certain of our Catholic bishops and clergy which gravely affects the practice of our faith for those Catholics who still wish to follow the example of our Holy Father the Pope and Rome. Many believe that dissidents are taking us "a bridge too far" and away from practice of our true faith through all this reordering, which in many eyes also does nothing to enhance the beauty of many old churches.
Yours faithfully, GEORGINA NESTLE Hornchurch, Essex.