These arguments seemed in the end so persuasive that after the Council (which says nothing about „turning to the people“) new altars were set up everywhere, and today celebration versus populum really does look like the characteristic fruit of Vatican II’s liturgical renewal. In fact it is the most conspicuous consequence of a re-ordering that not only signifies a new external arrangement of the places dedicated to the liturgy, but also brings with it a new idea of the essence of the liturgy –the liturgy as a communal meal.
This is, of course, a misunderstanding of the significance of the Roman basilica and of the positioning of its altar, and the representation of the Last Supper is also, to say the least, inaccurate.
Ratzinger zitiert dann Louis Bouyer:
The idea that a celebration facing the people must have been the primitive one, and that especially of the last supper, has no other foundation than a mistaken view of what a meal could be in antiquity, Christian or not. In no meal of the early Christian era, did the president of the banqueting assembly ever face the other participants. They were all sitting, or reclining, on the convex side of a C-shaped table, or of a table having approximately the shape of a horse shoe. The other side was always left empty for the service. Nowhere in Christian antiquity, could have arisen the idea of having to ‘face the people’ to preside at a meal. The communal character of a meal was emphasized just by the opposite disposition: the fact that all the participants were on the same side of the table (Liturgy and Architecture, pp. 53-54).
Er fährt dann fort:
Dieser Analyse der ,Mahlgestalt‘ ist nun freilich hinzuzufügen, daß die Eucharistie der Christen mit dem Begriff ,Mahl‘ überhaupt nicht zulänglich beschrieben werden kann. Denn der Herr hat das Neue des christlichen Kultes zwar im Rahmen eines jüdischen (Pascha-)Mahles gestiftet, aber nur dies Neue und nicht das Mahl als solches zur Wiederholung aufgetragen
Etwas weiter im Text folgt ein weiteres Zitat von Bouyer:
Never and nowhere before [that is, before the sixteenth century] have we any indication that any importance, or even attention, was given to whether the priest should celebrate with the people before him or behind him Professor Cyrille Vogel has recently demonstrated it, the only thing ever insisted upon, or even mentioned, was that he should say the eucharistic prayer, as all the other prayers, facing East . . . Even when the orientation of the church enabled the celebrant to pray turned toward the people, when at the altar, we must not forget that it was not the priest alone who, then, turned East: it was the whole congregation, together with him“ (pp. 55-56).
Dann wieder Ratzinger:
Admittedly, these connections were obscured or fell into total oblivion in the church buildings and liturgical practice of the modern age. This is the only explanation for the fact that the common direction of prayer of priest and people got labeled as „celebrating towards the wall“ or „turning your back on the people“ and came to seem absurd and totally unacceptable. And this alone explains why the meal – even in modern pictures – became the normative idea of liturgical celebration for Christians.
Und die folgende Passage:
In Wahrheit ist damit eine Klerikalisierung eingetreten, wie sie vorher nie existiert hatte. Nun wird der Priester – der Vorsteher, wie man ihn jetzt lieber nennt – zum eigentlichen Bezugspunkt des Ganzen. Alles kommt auf ihn an, ihn muss man sehen, … seine Kreativität trägt das Ganze. Verständlich, daß man diese eben erst geschaffene Rolle nun wieder zu reduzieren versucht, indem man vielfältige Aktivitäten verteilt und die ,kreative‘ Gestaltung vorbereitenden Gruppen anvertraut, die vor allem ,,sich selbst einbringen“ wollen und sollen. Immer weniger steht Gott im Blickfeld.
More and more important is what is done by the human beings who meet here and do not like to subject themselves to a „pre-determined pattern.“
The turning of the priest towards the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself. The common turning towards the East was not a „celebration towards the wall“; it did not mean that the priest „had his back to the people“: the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together „towards the Lord.“ As one of the Fathers of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, J. A. Jungmann, put it, it was much more a question of priest and people facing in the same direction, knowing that together they were in a procession towards the Lord. They did not close themselves into a circle, they did not gaze at one another, but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us.