Thursday 24 June 2010

Liturgical Geography

In the old days, Churches were built to conform to the quite clear and specific requirements of the liturgy and the various other ceremonies which had to take place in them, so that – even if they were small – one could be more-or-less certain that the liturgy could be performed in accordance with the rubrics

Unfortunately, in recent years many older churches have been ‘reordered’ to allow them to be used for the modern form of Mass; and of course many new Churches have been built with no thought of the rubrics at all – and this can cause problems for those of us who are concerned with the Traditional Mass.

Let me give an example. I recently acted as thurifer at a Missa Cantata in a church where, at some point, the High Altar has been moved from its original position in order to allow celebration versus populum, and now stands about four feet further forward than it originally did.

The addition of temporary gradines, and the rebuilding of the Sanctuary Floor to restore the necessary steps, means that this causes no particular problems for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form . . . or does it ?

Well yes, actually : because in the Traditional Mass there are occasions when the Celebrant has to be censed from the Epistle end of the altar; and that is done by two people standing side-by-side. Unfortunately, the effect of having moved the altar forward is that the exact place where they need to stand is occupied by a large (and structural) pillar !

This is obviously not disastrous; the MC and Thurifer simply stand to one side of the pillar, and work at a slight angle – as does the Celebrant. Similarly, the pillar on the other side meant that the Thurifer could hardly get between the Acolytes at the Gospel; but again, standing to one side is acceptable, if not quite what Mgr O’Connell would have preferred.

As you can see; none of these solutions is difficult : but what they do show is that prior thought and preparation is essential . . . something which is a good idea in any small sanctuary, but absolutely crucial in sanctuaries which have been ‘reordered’.

So : unless the sanctuary is obviously spacious enough to ensure that there can be no difficulties, make sure of your geography before the Mass begins, in order to ensure that necessary modifications are planned, rehearsed, and known to everybody – a fundamental requirement for seemly and decent liturgy at any time, but particularly in the Traditional Rite where one has detailed directions with which others are familiar, and on which they may be relying.

If you do not do this, your improvised solution to a problem may have a knock-on effect which makes the whole Mass look disorganised and sloppy; which is not a happy result, and certainly not something for which you want to be responsible.

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