Whether I remain on Tiber’s shores, or will be crossing the Thames or the Mediterranean, I have become convinced that some things might have to change, for good.
One of those things might be the direction in which we celebrate liturgy. I have often wondered why it is not inappropriate to have a church which has an altar where it is possible for presider and people to face the same liturgical direction, and it is equally possible to do what Romans and most Anglicans have been doing for a few decades now. It is wise to advocate a shift where the presider is not the star of the show and where some semblance of dignified and measured celebration is still maintained, which is how I interpret the recent decision of the Bishop of Rome to loosen all restrictions on the older Roman liturgy. But it makes no pastoral sense to deprive people of “what they are used to doing.”
I have often admired the deliberate sense with which a church like St Gregory of Nyssa was built. It has the advantage of being a church where the presider and a fair number of the people face eastward during key points in the liturgy. At the same time, the construction was meant to enable a wide degree of popular participation, with processions marking the liturgy’s key parts, and with the monastic-style choir they use for the Liturgy of the Word. My own ideal for a church should take this shape.
For that reason, if I were more well-informed about these things during the process of designing my university’s main church, I would have advocated a similar design. I would have preferred a church with some movable chairs and a presidential chair in the west and an altar that faces east. I would take out the pews, because, as the late Aidan Kavanaugh says, it is like putting bleachers on a basketball court. In which case, I would want to make two significant changes to the Church of the Gesu as it now stands. One is to ensure that the presidential chair be moved to another part of the church, nearer the lectern, and another is to replace that chair and the clergy bench with a high altar.
Ateneo’s church is best placed to restore an ad orientam celebration, which is the common heritage of both East and West, because it is geographically placed to do so. It faces East.