Moving altars
From Ian Wetmore

Regarding Peter Mullens very good piece, ‘Displaced Altars’ [November], he includes St Peters, Rome, as one of those great churches in which the high altar was hauled away from the east wall in accordance with the vain imaginings of the liturgical innovators.

Not so, according to Cardinal Ratzinger/ Benedict XVI. In his The Spirit of the Liturgy (which I have been touting as one of the best aids in understanding the Book of Common Prayer), B XVI gives the lie to all those liturgical fidgets of the past fifty or so years who cite St Peters in the 4th century as a prime example of celebrant and people facing each other over the table, during the period the fidgets reckon as the defining moment of liturgical perfection. Ratzinger asserts that the high altar of St Peter’s, and of several basilicas like it, was, in fact, never against the east wall.

Neither, however, did the people face the celebrant across the altar during the whole liturgy – this because the altar is nearer the west end of the church. So during the prayer of consecration, the people actually turned away from the altar and the celebrant so that all were facing east. In this case, according to B XVI, as in most, if not every, other documented cases, the whole congregation facing east symbolized the Church on the move, and the celebrant, whether going before or behind the people, led them ‘in procession toward the risen Son.

Otherwise, Peter Mullen and Josef Ratzinger are in near perfect agreement on the matter.

Ian Wetmore

Free-standing altars
From Mr Andrew Feather

In answer to both Fr Mullen and Fr Cooke [November and December], with regard to eastward or westward facing celebrations of the Eucharist, I should like to emphasize that monasteries have always been at the forefront of liturgical experimentation, and we do well to note the Liturgical Movement which from the 1850s to the 1960s contributed greatly to our modern understanding of what the Sacrifice of the Mass means to us.

One of the great innovations of the Liturgical Movement was the push for free-standing altars, which I think is admirable. Free standing altars allow the whole of the People of God equal access, unencumbered by rood screens or other theological folly (note that an Anglo-Saxon dialect translation of Rood is Wisdom, as well as Cross). Now that we live in a better educated age, there is no need to hide the Holy Mysteries from us with misplaced ecclesiastical wisdom-Such altars can be censed all around, in line with Scripture and natural precedent, for sanctifying and marking out Holy Ground.

They can also, of course, be used versus populum as well. There was no call in the Novus Ordo for such westward celebration, although this is what we now have in most churches (and I am not decrying it) but, respectfully, I believe it to be theologically second best, and that is not what we should be offering to Our Risen Lord, who one day will come from the East, to bring us all home.

Andrew Teather

Keep focused
From Fr Peter Frisey

New Directions is a fine publication and contains many excellent articles. However I have one observation to make. I understand the ordination of women priests was the primary cause of our movement. Since when there have been many other causes that have attached themselves to the original reason for ND. Our first aim, ‘against women priests’, is in danger of being lost in the plethora of other articles.

Peter Frisey
56 Manor Road, Worthing BN11 4SQ

Words of encouragement
From Mr Charles Bilson

This year (2008) marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Fr Raymond Raynes of the Community of the Resurrection. As a member of the community and later as its Superior, Fr Raynes’ writing inspired many Anglo-Catholics, deepening their faith and encouraging them to consider their vocation.

Given the current work being undertaken by the Council, College of Deans and all members of FiF to find a way forward in with the advent of women in the episcopate, the following words written in connection with an earlier crisis in the Church of England might be of some inspiration to us:
‘The official Church of England will go under. The true Anglican Church -the Church of this land since the days of Augustine – will prevail if it maintains unflinching the Catholic Faith and practice, because it rests upon the promise of Christ that the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.’

Despite what our detractors might say, parishes of our constituency are thriving up and down the country spreading the good news of the Gospel, confident in the faith of our fathers. In this we can all rejoice and thank God.

Charles Bilson

Mr Grumpy
From the Revd & Mrs M. Peel

Are we alone in finding ‘Last Chronicle’ in your December issue neither funny nor relevant? It surely fails on at least three counts, since (i) it is no longer topical; (ii) it makes fun of disabilities; and (iii) it is singularly unchristian, in that it attempts to resurrect an incident that has long been forgotten by most decent people.

Michael and Daloni Peel
Poplar Meadow, Thurston, Bury St Edmunds IP31 3QY


Readers of December’s letters page may be interested in this official statement/ response from the Post Office:

We have become aware of an incorrect assertion being made about the motives behind the sales of our Christmas stamps. There is absolutely no intention on our part to suppress sales of the Madonna and Child stamps in order to be able to claim there is low demand for religious stamps in future years. Indeed, we have produced tens of millions of them, and we want to sell them!! We have given publicity to both types of Christmas stamps, and the availability of both has been widely covered in the national and local press. Furthermore weplan to have the Madonna and Child stamps available every Christmas in future, alongside each year’s’special’set, which will continue to alternate between religious and secular themes.

This should, therefore, obviate the need to buy two years’ supply every other year.

Letters for publication should be sent to:
The Editor
New Directions
2A The Cloisters, Gordon Square
London WC1 HO AC
nd. editor@forwardinfaith. com