MAY 2003
volume 14, no. 28

The Germs of G.I.R.M.

Part Seventy: New Order Alter vs. the True Altar

    " No altar cards, obviously. No Missal (that is placed near the 'presidential chair'). No covered chalice on the altar at the beginning of Mass. Indeed, no indication that a sacrifice is about to take place. A barren altar to reflect a barren and sterile theology, expressed to the minutest degree in GIRM. The past did not exist, and to the extent to which we admit it existed we have to be told over and over again how bad it was."

Paragraph 295 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "The sanctuary is the place where the altar stands, the word of God is proclaimed, and the priest, deacon and other ministers exercise their offices. It should clearly be marked off from the body of the church either by being somewhat elevated or by its distinctive design and appointments. It should be large enough to allow for the proper celebration of the Eucharist which should be easily seen."

Comment and Analysis: Again, ambiguity. The sanctuary can be "somewhat elevated" from the rest of the Church. However, it can also be separated from the body by a "distinctive design and appointments." There is nothing in this paragraph to prevent the sanctuary from being in the middle of the church as long as it is marked off in some distinctive way from it. The altar steps are gone, not in tune with the sort of egalitarianism (excuse me, unity of the holy people) desired by GIRM.

Paragraph 296 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "At the altar of sacrifice of the cross is made present under sacramental signs. It is also the table of the Lord, and the people of God are called together to share in it. The altar is, as well, the center of the thanksgiving that the Eucharistic accomplishes."

Comment and Analysis: Yes, sure, sure sure, the altar is the place where the sacrifice of the cross is made present under sacramental signs. More importantly, though, it is "the table of the Lord" where "the people of God are called together to share in it." Huh? Once the sanctuary is invaded by a plethora of lay people, what's the big deal about calling the altar the "table" where the people gathered together share in it?

Paragraph 297 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "In a place of worship, the celebration of the Eucharist must be on an altar. Outside a place of worship, a suitable table may be used, but always with a cloth and corporal, cross and candles."

Comment and Analysis: May an altar look like a table? That question is not answered in this paragraph. Further confusion is added in Paragraph 301. As a priest notes, "Is there any difference from a Novus Ordo altar and a 'suitable table?'"

Paragraph 298 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "It is desirable that in every church there be a fixed altar, since it represents Christ Jesus, the Living Stone (1 Peter 2:4; see Eph. 2:20) more clearly and permanently. However, in other places set aside for sacred celebrations, a moveable altar is permitted. A fixed altar is attached to the floor so that it cannot be moved; a moveable altar is one that can be transferred from place to place."

Comment and Analysis: It is merely desirable "that in every church there be a fixed altar"? There was no such option in the Mass of tradition. There was a high altar in every church, which usually featured a number of side altars. Each of the altars was permanent in nature. They were not freestanding. The priest who celebrated Mass on them did so "in conversation with God," that is, facing the altar, symbolic, as I have written about on other occasions, of the fact his personality is unimportant in that he is acting in persona Christi. His individual priesthood is important. His personality is unimportant. He is offering the Son to the Father in Spirit and in Truth in an unbloody manner in our behalf. We are united with him as each of us faces God with him as He offers the sacrifice. The making of a fixed altar merely "desirable" demonstrates just how unstable the new Mass is of its nature.

Paragraph 299 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "In every church there should ordinarily be a fixed, dedicated altar, which should be freestanding to allow the ministers to walk around it easily and Mass to be celebrated facing the people, which is desirable whenever possible. The altar should occupy its place so that it is truly the center on which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally focuses."

Comment and Analysis: Here you have it, neoconservatives. Any attempt to claim that Mass facing the people is not the norm desired by the Vatican has to read this paragraph and come to grips with simple reality. Monsignor Richard Schuler at the Church of Saint Agnes in Saint Paul, Minnesota, may think he is giving the people the true intent of Pope Paul VI with a Novus Ordo Mass in Latin, celebrated by a priest facing the altar. However, that is not simply normative in the new Mass.

   Mass facing the people is an absolute novelty in the Roman Rite. Yes, the revolutionaries can try to justify Communion under both kinds by pointing to the fact that this was permitted in the Roman Rite prior to the twelfth century. Mass facing the people, however, is a novelty that developed shortly after the time of Martin Luther, who imagined, falsely, that Our Lord faced the Apostles at the Last Supper. There is no liturgical rite in the East or the West in the Catholic Church prior to the 1960s where Mass was celebrated facing the people on a regular basis. Father Joseph A. Jungmann is quoted in Monsignor Klaus Gamber's The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: "'The claim that the altar of the early Church was always designed to celebrate facing the people, a claim made often and repeatedly, turns out to be nothing but a fairy tale.' Jungmann also warns us not to allow the mere approval to use the so-called altar facing the people to be made into 'an absolute requirement, and in the end to become the standard, readily accepted by all without due deliberation.' He identifies the primary reason why facing the people has become the one and only, the preferred way to celebrate Mass: 'Above all else, this represents an emphasis that has become so very popular and at the same time so very one-sided and exclusive: to see the Eucharist as a communal meal.'"

   Well, Paragraph 299 (100 paragraphs from the end of GIRM) mandates what so many people, including Pope Pius XII, warned in vain was wrong and irreverent and destructive of an understanding of the Mass as the Sacrifice of Calvary. Mass facing the people is an evil, not a good.

   "Perhaps the most devastating novelty of all, in my opinion," writes a priest who has moved from the Novus Ordo to the Society of Pope Saint Pius X, "is the priest facing the people over the altar. As my dear mother once said, afer experiencing the early changes already unleashed in the summer of 1964, 'When is Father going to start the Mass'?"

   Yes, the new Mass is all about the priest's individual personality, not about him as the alter Christus who offers up the unbloody representation of Calvary to the Father through the Son in Spirit and in Truth.

Paragraph 300 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "An altar whether fixed or moveable is dedicated according to the rite described in the Roman Pontifical; nevertheless, a moveable altar may simply be blessed."

Preliminary Comment and Analysis: As priest who has reviewed this analysis noted, "If you were wanting to know about any difference in the consecration of a church and altar in the traditional rite from the blessing/dedication in the Novus Ordo, it's just like the new Mass: unrecognizably different!"

Paragraph 301 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "According to the Church's traditional practice and the altar's symbolism, the table of a fixed altar should be of stone and indeed of natural stone. But at the discretion of the Conference Bishops some other solid, becoming, well-crafted material may be used. The pedestal or base of the table may be made of any sort of material, as long as it is becoming and solid. A movable altar may be constructed of any becoming, solid material suited to liturgical use, according to the traditions and customs of different regions."

Comment and Analysis: In other words, the national episcopal conferences have complete authority to permit the construction of altars or tables of any material that seems to be suited to local customs and/or needs. Contrast this continuing devolution of liturgical decision making to the national episcopal conferences with the description of the altar found in Father F.X. Lasance's The New Roman Missal: "The form of the Catholic altar has always been a table or a tomb. This double form has perpetuated through the ages the remembrance of the institution of the Eucharist and of the burial of Our Lord." (There is no hint of anything like this in GIRM, is there?) Continuing with the quotation from in the Father Lasance Missal, "the altar, the eucharistic table, the mystical tomb, is above all the holy mountain where Jesus transfigures and immolates Himself at the same time; raised as it is above the ground, it appears to us always as a Thabor [Mount Tabor] and a Calvary. Happier we than the apostle, for we can make for ourselves there a perpetual dwelling-place, even in the heart of the divine Saviour." As with everything else associated with the new Mass and the new religion it represents, this fuller expression of the meaning of the altar is lacking in postconciliar Vatican documents. What GIRM says in many instances is not wrong entirely on its face. However, what GIRM omits to say speaks volumes about its rejection of what is considered to be an "outdated" theology (see Paragraph 15 of GIRM).

   Also omitted from this paragraph of GIRM is any mention of the altar stone, described very well in the Father Lasance Missal: "Church law prescribes an altar of stone for the Holy Sacrifice. If the altar be made of wood or of materials other than stone then the Holy Sacrifice must be offered on an altar-stone set therein. The little rectangle in the front center of the Altar Stone is the sepulcher or tomb, a hollowed part in which are contained the relics of Saints and Martyrs. During the Mass the priest often kisses the middle of the altar. In this spot is a stone become, by the consecration of the bishop, a figure of Jesus Christ. Like the Word of God, it has received the same unction; like Him, it bears the mark of five wounds (five crosses are cut in the stone), and these are also made by the hammer and iron; like the Lamb of God, or Whom 'not one of the bones was broken,' the sacred stone is entire, cut from a single piece. He who loves Our Lord will understand these kisses so often repeated; the Church wishes to make reparation during the Holy Sacrifice for all the outrages of the passion - the derisive genuflections of the Jews replaced by the genuflections of the priest; the perfidious kiss of treason, by the respectful kiss of love. In the sacred stone is enclosed a little tomb, sealed by the arms of the bishop; herein with the relics of the saints are laid three grains of incense. Here again is a reminder of the burial, and the different perfumes which Jesus Christ then received from the piety of His disciples-the aromatic herbs of Joseph of Arimathea, of Magdalen, and the holy women." This is the sort of theological explanation lacking in GIRM, and left unexpressed by the prayers and the rubrics, and the art and architecture associated with the new Mass.

Paragraph 302 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "The practice of placing under the altar to be dedicated relics of saints, even of non-martyrs, is to be maintained. Care must be taken to have solid evidence of the authenticity of such relics."

Comment and Analysis: Fine. This "practice" is to be maintained. But why? We turn once more to Father Lasance for the sort of explanation that the authors of GIRM seem to be incapable at best or unwilling at worst of providing:

    "In his marvelous vision, St. John saw 'under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God' (Apoc. 6, 9). The Church militant, heir of their holy relics, has placed them under the altar of sacrifice. This custom, observed from the earliest days of Christianity, teaches us how we should receive Jesus Christ in holy communion. Our heart becomes an altar where Our Lord consummates his sacrifice, and upon this living altar He wishes to see the blessed wounds of a martyr. The saints have tasted in communion ineffable sweetness; recompense, we may be sure, of the immolation which they made of themselves each day. It is easy for us to experience this; let us prepare ourselves for such a solemn act by the sacrifice of our tastes, of our passions, as the Hebrews ate the paschal lamb with bitter herbs. The Eucharist will then bear in us the most abundant fruit; it will be the grain of wheat sown in our hearts, and to grow there till the resurrection, the day of blossoming and of harvest, the heavenly wine, which maketh virgin those hearts inclined to evil; the divine fire, which will give to the weak the courage of the lion."
Once again, what is omitted in GIRM is quite telling. How many priests are taught anything about the meaning of relics in seminary these days? How many ordinary Catholics know anything about the matter? Well, they're not going to learn it in GIRM or in the new liturgy.

Paragraph 303 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "In the building of new churches, it is especially important that a single altar be erected which signifies to the assembly of the faithful the one Christ and the one Eucharist of the Church. However, in churches already built, when an old altar is already so positioned that it makes the participation of the people difficult, or it is impossible to move it without detriment to its artistic value, then another fixed altar may be erected. It should be artfully made and dedicated according to the rite. The sacred celebrations should be performed upon it alone; and in order that the attention of the faithful not be distracted from the new altar, the old altar should not be decorated in any way."

Comment and Analysis: Well, occasionally GIRM lets its guard down and reveals quite directly its overt hostility to the Mass of tradition. New churches are to be built without any provision whatsoever for even the possibility of offering within it the Mass of tradition. Revolutionaries demand complete adherence to their ideological crusade. Not content with that dogmatic pronouncement, though, GIRM states, albeit implicitly, its desire that old high altars be demolished (using the euphemism "move" to mask its desire for the elimination of the "eyesores" from public view). Thus, gone from view should be altars where thousands upon thousands of Masses were offered for the living and the dead. If they have to be retained because it is too costly to remove them without damaging the infrastructure of the Church, then cover them with something, pretend they don't exist, don't put anything on them (including a tabernacle), and hope that there will come a day when fire destroys the church (necessitating the building of a new one without such trappings from the past) or that the old fogies who would find the removal of a high altar offensive will die off and that no one left in the parish will then care what happens to symbols of an outdated theology.

   As a priest who has reviewed this analysis notes, "How does a traditional high altar impede the active participation of the faithful? Because it's too beautiful? Because they know that's where the Mass should be said? Because the Tabernacle's on it ...?"

Paragraph 304 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "At least one white cloth should be placed on an altar where Mass is celebrated out of reverence for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and the banquet that gives us his body and blood. The shape, size, and decoration of the altar cloth sould be in keeping with the design of the altar."

Comment and Analysis: Again, a deficient explanation of the purpose of the altar cloth, stressing GIRM's insistence that the Mass is principally a banquet, not a sacrifice. Consider the explanation found in the Father Lasance Missal: "The cloth that covered the table at the last supper, the winding-sheet of the Saviour's embalming, are called to our love by the white linens spread upon it." There is no mention of Our Lord's burial, which took place following his immolation on the wood of the Holy Cross, in GIRM.

Paragraph 305 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "Moderation should be observed in the decoration of altars. During Advent the altar may be decorated with flowers with a certain moderation which conveys the character of this season but which should not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord. During Lent decorating the altar with flowers is prohibited. Exceptions are made, however, for Laetare Sunday (the Fourth Sunday of Lent), solemnities and feast days. The arrangement of flowers should always be modest, and placed around the altar rather than on top of it."

Comment and Analysis: Remember, the Mass of tradition and its ambiance was too triumphalistic and ostentatious. "Simplicity" is the rule of the day in the new order of things in the new religion and the new Mass which is its misbegotten child. The decorating of an altar with flowers is considered to be the remnant of the pietistic practices of the past unworthy of the sophistication of modern man. There is no indication that flowers are symbolic not only of beauty, but of the fact that we are expected to flower in sanctity as a result of that which we receive in Holy Mass.

Paragraph 306 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "On the mensa of the altar should be placed only those things required for the celebration of the Mass, that is, from the beginning of the celebration until the proclamation of the Gospel, only the Book of the Gospels, while from the presentation of the gifts until the cleansing of the vessels, only the chalice with the paten, the pyx as necessary, and finally, the corporal, purificator and missal."

Comment and Analysis: No altar cards, obviously. No Missal (that is placed near the "presidential chair"). No covered chalice on the altar at the beginning of Mass. Indeed, no indication that a sacrifice is about to take place. A barren altar to reflect a barren and sterile theology, expressed to the minutest degree in GIRM. The past did not exist, and to the extent to which we admit it existed we have to be told over and over again how bad it was.

Paragraph 307 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "Candles are to used at every liturgical service as a sign of reverence and of the festiveness of the celebration (see n. 117). The candlesticks are to be placed either on or around the altar in a way suited to the design of the altar and the sanctuary. Everything is to be well balanced and must not interfere with the faithful's clear view of what takes place at the altar or is placed on it."

Comment and Analysis: Another deficient explanation as to why something is included in the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Consider these passages from the Father Lasance Missal:

    "Doubtless they recall to us that the catacombs were the cradle of the Church and her first temple; that the divine mysteries were there celebrated by the light of torches. This touching reminder of the persecuted Church should not be lost sight of. But if it were merely as a reminder of the bloody period of the Church's martyrdom that candles were used, why demand wax for the altar-lights? The anxiety of the Church on this point shows us that there is here some mystery. 'Wax,' says Msgr. De Cony, summing up the teaching of all the liturgists, 'is one of the most expressive symbols furnished the Church by nature to express allegorically the holy humanity of Jesus Christ. The earliest Doctors dwell on the virginity of the bees, and the purity of that substance drawn from the nectar of the most exquisite flowers, and compare these things to the conception of the Saviour in the pure womb of Mary. The whiteness of the wax, laboriously obtained, signifies again the glory of Jesus Christ, the result of His sufferings; then the flame, mounting from that column of wax which it consumes, is the divinity of Jesus Christ, manifesting itself by the sacrifice of His humanity, and illuminating the world.' It is not, then, to lighten the darkness of the sanctuary, et us say with St. Isidore, that the altar-candles are lighted, because the sun is shining, but this light is a sign of joy, and it represents Him of Whom the Gospel says: 'He is the true light.' During the holy mysteries, when thick darkness clouds our souls, let us beg God, the eternal light, to scatter this gloomy night. If at the foot of this new Calvary our heart is indifferent and frozen, let us pray God, infinite love, to melt it in His fires. There will come a day when this blessed light will inspire my heart with such a profound horror of sin that I may escape the flames of Thy vengeance"

   GIRM has lost sight of that which Father Lasance says we must never forget. Indeed, GIRM obliterates the past with half-truths and slogans designed to evoke feelings of gladness and the numbing of right reason.

   Consider Father Lasance's description of the altar candlesticks, which GIRM thinks are possible obstacles to "viewing" the "people's" view of the altar.

    "The heavenly Jerusalem has her sacrifice and also her altar, St. John thus describes it: 'The altar of gold had seven golden candlesticks, and in the midst was the Son of man, shining like the snow by the whiteness of His garments and more brilliant than the sun by reason of the splendor of His face.' (Apoc. 1.) It is, then, reminders of heaven which the Church constantly places before the eyes of her children; how can we help thinking of it when all around us speaks of it: the altar, the candlesticks, the Eucharist."
Well, GIRM doesn't speak of it, does it?

Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.

For past installments of G.I.R.M. Warfare in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives

MAY 2003
volume 14, no. 28
The Germs of G.I.R.M.

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