Altar and Church, presented by Stefan Heid in his latest book
By Christoph Matthias Hagen
When, fifty years ago, the liturgical reform of Paul VI. for which the Pope appealed to the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, it was often and gladly argued, that it was nothing different from what happened more than 400 years before, when Pius V. issued his Missal on behalf of the Council of Trent. In fact, both councils relied on the norm of the fathers, which they would use to restore the liturgy. The Council of Trent had brought the Tridentine Missal of Pius V, where the II Vaticanum was followed by the Missale Romanum of Paul VI. In fact, both books have the same Latin name: Missale Romanum, and the number of the typical editions begins again after Vatican II.
If one looks at the Roman liturgy in its rites and texts before and after Trent, one immediately recognizes continuity and the closest possible agreement, where, after the Second Vatican Council, two different liturgies, one old and one new, are strikingly distinguished. Too different are apparently the understandings of history and the working of both councils and what it is they each understand of the Standard of the Fathers and how far they reach to the Fathers’ title.
Stefan Heid, who works in Rome as a professor of liturgical history and Christian archeology, was editor of an anthology entitled Operation am Lebendem Objekt in 2012 [Operating on a Living Object], in which there are contributions that show where in fact similarities of post-Tridentine-Pian and post-Vatican-Paul liturgical reform lie. These can hardly be found in dealing with rites and texts, but in the field of church construction and sanctuary design. It was not the software that determines how the liturgy comes to life in a similar way, but both Councils have installed new hardware, so to speak. Similarly, almost identically, is in both cases also the reason for this reorganization and redesign of the liturgical place and its equipment as an educational-catechetical motif.
Heid dedicates this issue to a large-scale monograph just published by Schnell & Steiner in Regensburg: Kirche und Altar. Prinzipien Christliches Liturgie.
Two altars before Trent, two altars after Vatican II
While in the liturgical reform of Paul VI. above all, it requires the people can see the altar, so a second altar was set up in front of the high altar, there was in pre-Tridentine times the rood screen, which separated the presbytery from the nave, where the faithful arrived. Behind the rood screen in the choir was the high altar in cathedral and monastery churches, which the laity, however, could not see, and therefore, in front of the rood screen there was the so-called cross altar, both of which were oriented. Masses were celebrated at this altar, in which the people were directly involved, in this sense, it could even be regarded as a kind of people’s altar.
Choral side of the rood screen of the Cathedral of Albi (view from nave).
In post-Tridentine times, the rood screens were removed, which sometimes took a hundred years, and no longer erected in new churches to clear the view to the high altar. The altar that had become superfluous in this way merged with the high altar, so to speak, or it came to an altar fusion, so to speak. The communion rail remained a relic of the former choir barriers, as it were, a shrunken or miniature rood screen.
After the Second Vatican, the new altar (Josef Andreas Jungmann SJ) was added in the sanctuary, behind which the priest now stepped to celebrate. The Communion rail disappeared as well, so basically the difference between the sanctuary and the nave was lost.
Celebration versus Populum in the Liturgical Movement
It should not be forgotten, however, that already in the 1920s and 1930s in liturgical circles the establishment of modern people’s altars took place, such as in the crypt of the Benedictine Maria Laach in the East Eifel or from 1926 in the Cologne Basilica of the Holy Apostles. This was believed to be in accordance with early Christian custom and with the findings that archeology had brought to light, so was just convinced, not to introduce any innovation, but to revive the ideal state of ancient times.
This perspective was then officially prescribed after the Council, which had been held from 1962 to 1965, and practically lasts until today.
Hopefully Heid will not end up like Ratzinger
Joseph Ratzinger later regretted that his book, The Spirit of Liturgy had been shortened on the question of celebration. Of course, if Heid consciously concentrates on the altar question in his work, it may well be that it happens to him in a similar way, which would be a pity.
The context of the problem that Heid faces is much further defined:
First of all, the idea that the early Christians had met for the Eucharistic celebration as many, smaller, worship groups in various private houses within a city, and in the sources, the Latin term, domus ecclesiae meaning “house churches” in this sense. Heid, on the other hand, advocates that domus ecclesiae means church buildings, and that in every city there is basically only one episcopal, central Eucharistic place (see pp. 89f).
"The scientific dispute over the organizational form of the emerging Christianity, which can be described as 'house church versus bishop's church', ends in favor of the episcopal church and the unity of the municipality. The popular thesis of a plural urban Christianity fragmented into small cult groups must be radically questioned "(p. 158, in italics in the text).
Of course, one must not overlook the fact that early Christianity, as a movement, has known manifold, different, and also path-breaking lines of development. There may have been various Christian Eucharistic sites in one city, but in principle, only one Catholic, in unity with the rightful bishop. Heid also argues that the private gathering requires Christianity to be a movement of a few rich, who, in modern terms, could afford the luxury of a private chapel. If this condition had been applied, it would have stood in the way of the widespread effect of Christianity and its spread. It might have been elitist, but undoubtedly remained small and soon drowned again.
Nevertheless, one should not think of the Christian community in the early days as a mass movement, that even from this perspective a singular place of liturgical gathering would not have been logistically possible, especially as Heid emphasizes that a Sunday duty can not be projected onto this early temporal and organizational stage. The precept of Sunday sanctification is just to be distinguished from this question.
Similarly, some of Heidi's statement is less likely to obey that orienteering is primarily related to (even extra-liturgical) prayers and says nothing about whether the Eucharist is perceived as a sacrifice or not (see page 449). Rather, this impression arises from the modern folk altar, through whose table shape and the celebration facing the people (and usually a deliberately asymmetrical decoration of candles and flowers) the meal comes to the fore and the character of the victim is downplayed.
Supposed papal privilege and modern folk altar
"When Pope Julius II begins in 1506, to demolish the 1200-year-old St. Peter's - Old St. Peter - to make way for the new, mighty renaissance cathedral, for many, a world collapses in the face of such sacrilege. (...) However, where the living tradition has been demolished, there is the danger of making the early Church into one's own picture of it. (...) There are drastic reconstructions of the old rooms” (p. 407f).
With the Renaissance, the sense of the meaning of the direction of prayer and celebration was lost in Rome. Not a few churches were there, so that the popes celebrated to the east and were practically turned to the people, but not with the intention to look at them, but to orient themselves geographically eastward. This knowledge and understanding was lost:
Altar of the Sistine Chapel: on the west wall with the celebration direction West
Altar of the Sistine Chapel on the west wall with the celebration direction West.
"Paradigmatic is the high altar of the Sistine Chapel, which stands on the west wall. The pope celebrates with his back to the people and looks to the west. Many public station Masses are celebrated in the city are liturgically wrong now. The 'altar of St. Peter' plays a central role in this. Without even understanding that here the liturgy (sic ! it must be called correct Liturgy apparently, reviewer’s note ChMH) is right behind the altar and looks to the east, the popes reclaim a general privilege to celebrate versus populum. (...) Consequentially, Pope Sixtus V had the papal altars of the great basilicas rebuilt in order to celebrate to the people, regardless of whether he is looking to the east or the west. (...) The liturgical experts of the time celebrate this as the restoration of early Christian conditions " (p. 441, in italics in the text).
Following the Baumstark principle of the preservation of the old in high-quality liturgy, the alleged privilege of the pope is then understood as a remnant in which original, once common practice has been preserved.
Thus, later in the Liturgical Movement and post-Vatican-Pauline liturgical reform, one becomes convinced that the direction of celebration is to return to the original, while the modern people’s altar and the altar of the early Christians actually have at most the accessible, but not the actually significant and essential turn to the geographical east, towards an orientation that is intentionally to the direction of East.
While in a first phase of the most recent form of liturgy it was often the case, for example, to give a baroque or neo-Baroque altar to a baroque church, and to give the impression that it had been there in 1745, one now increasingly notices that the now insalled people’s altars often can not deviate drastically enough from the historical space in terms of material and design, so provocatively they are designed and placed. In many places, too, they are moving more and more into the center, whereas the altar itself was never centered in historically round buildings, but was set back to the east.
Stefan Heid also does not leave such questions unaffected.
New folk altar, which deviates drastically from historical space in terms of material and design.
Perhaps it is simply that today's liturgical science or liturgical ideology no longer has any interest in legitimizing itself with the proof or appearance of originality, but rather to immovably demonstrate its own, altogether different and new understanding of the Eucharist in the new altar opposite to its origin and tradition.
Bibliographic information: Heid, St., Altar und Kirche Prinzipien Christliches Liturgie 82 b / w illustrations, 73 colored illustrations, 496 pages, hardcover, thread-stitched, (Schnell & Steiner) Regensburg 2019, ISBN: 978-3-7954-3425-0, Price: Euro 50,00.
The book can be purchased through katholisches.info partner bookstore.
Heid, St., Altar und Kirche Prinzipien Christliches Liturgie
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