From Mr John Beaumont
Sir, You report (March 9) that the high altar at Westminster Cathedral is to be brought forward to permit the celebration of Mass directly under the baldachin°. But, this is possible already, if the priest celebrates versus apsidem, i.e., facing in the same direction as the congregation, instead of versus populum, i.e., facing the people.
You report the administrator of the cathedral, Monsignor Stack, as saying that "the aim of moving the altar forward is to try to deal with the demands of the new liturgy", but there is no mandatory requirement that the revised rite of Mass be celebrated versus populum. The rubrics of the Novus Ordo Missae instruct the priest to turn to face the people at various stages and then to turn back to the altar.
What is more, as Fr Aidan Nichols reports in his book, Looking at the Liturgy (1996), "the Congregation for Divine Worship has admitted that eastward orientation, not versus populum celebration, is the tradition in possession in the Church viewed diachronically, across time".
This follows on from the findings of many scholars that this was also the norm in the early Church (see the review of the evidence in Cardinal Ratzinger's The Feast of Faith (1986).
What could be simpler than for Mass to be celebrated in this way in Westminster Cathedral? It would remove the need for much expense and eliminate the fears expressed in your article that the flooring would not be able to support the re-positioned altar.
It would also reclaim something that is so often missing in the revised liturgy. Celebration facing the people has contributed to a downplaying of the Mass as sacrifice and an over-emphasis being placed upon the Mass as assembly and meal. This exaggeration of "community" has undoubtedly led to a loss of the transcendent.
If the cathedral were "re-ordered" in the way set out above, this would respect, as no alternative could, "John Francis Bentley's vision and the architectural integrity of the building."
Yours faithfully, JOHN BEAUMONT [email protected]