Friday, January 25, 2008

End of the nave altar

Translation of article by Alexander Kissler that appeared in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. German text not on web.
Every year, the Pope sends invitations on the Sunday after Epiphany to the Sistine Chapel. There, on the occasion of the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, he baptises about a dozen newborn infants. Pope Benedict XVI yesterday continued this tradition and broke with another: Unlike his predecessor, and in contrast to his own Masses of 2006 and 2007, Benedict did not allow the painted wooden table into the chapel. The nave altar remained locked away. Instead, Joseph Ratzinger celebrated on the main altar, originally designated for the purpose, directly beneath Michelangelo's "Last Judgement", with the Cross in view and not the congregation.

The Pontiff thereby nourished rumours that he will soon celebrate a Mass in the "extraordinary form", in the Tridentine rite. This is characterized by Gregorian and Latin prayers, Communion on the tongue and the absence of the intercessions - and by the direction of celebration "versus Deum" instead of "versus populum. The community, including the priest looks at the Cross of the High Altar, with the result that during the Eucharist from the benches one sees the back of the celebrant. In interviews and essays, Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregration for the Doctrine of the Faith supported the idea that this "common orientation of the priest and the people to the Lord". It was "an expression of the cosmic and historical dimension of the liturgy. We orientate ourselves to the future of the world and our history ".

This "tradition of apostolic times" (Ratzinger), Benedict XVI in the Sistine Chapel now integrated into the new Rite, dominant since 1970. into the so-called "ordinary form". This he did, almost exactly half a year after the rehabilitation of the "old Mass" by adopting " Summorum Pontificum "- anyone who understands the post-Conciliar reformed Mass to be modernistic, must not completely return to the Tridentine form, a cautious renewal in the rite of 1970, being possible when one is open to these traditional elements.

Second, Benedict had decided, as said the Communiqué of the Office for Papal Ceremonies in favour of architectural "beauty and harmony" - in a conscious departure from John Paul II. That the Sistine Chapel gained clarity and elegance by the banishment of the wooden table struck one immediately; it would also be in line with Benedict’s understanding, if elsewhere the nave altar disappeared when it disfigured a historical building . And thirdly, the appreciation of the High Altar gives further evidence of the fresh wind of the new master of ceremonies Guido Marini. Since his inauguration last September, he continues the renaissance of the classical liturgy at a pace that under his predecessor Piero Marini would have been unthinkable.

Benedict has placed stakes in a heated debate: particularly in Germany some bishops have given much effort through complicated implementing provisions to go contrary to the meaning of the decree "Summorum Pontificum" . They defend themselves against those spiritual renovations, that Benedict in the decree wishes to put in place through the equality of the Masses. These forces of conservatism, would remove from sight the Mass for the Baptism of Our Lord, a mere liturgical “carry on as before” seen as the wrong solution. To them is also addressed a letter whose publication has been announced for the next few days: The Vatican will in ecclesiastically binding way outline the conditions to be fulfilled for a regular Tridentine Mass and when they are not.

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