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LUCERA, Italy (ChurchMilitant.com) - An Italian bishop is warning laity and visitors to the diocese's cathedral and churches not to treat the altar like a stage.
On Advent Sunday, the diocese of Lucera-Troia, in the ecclesiastical region of Puglia in southern Italy, posted a stern rebuke on its website that lambasted individuals who used the altar "in a sometimes neurotic search for visibility."
"The altar is not a stage from which the many devotees of our churches can exhibit their religious inspiration," the notice from Bp. Giuseppe Giuliano, which has also been displayed in the diocese's cathedral and churches, stated.
The notification warned against misusing the altar as "a stage for administrators and politicians to indulge in rhetorical and inappropriate 'rallies.'"
Further, "the altar is not a stage from which children present their 'artistic' abilities to the boast of their parents," it added.
The notification even rebuked priests who misused the altar as a platform: "The altar is not even for priests, a stage to show themselves, obscuring the mystery and person of Jesus, who remains the center and foundation of our faith, as well as the only true redeemer of the world."
The diocese's notification lamented that the altar was particularly being misused by individuals who wanted to seek a moment of fame, especially in the postmodern world "in which anonymity seems to spread more and more."
"Institutional interventions [by priests or licensed ministers from the altar] are welcome, as long as they are based on moderation and common sense," the decree stated.
Commending the diocese for alerting the faithful to the preeminent place of the altar in Catholic worship, well-known Italian priest Msgr. Eleuterio Favella said that there "was no need to be a traditionalist to realize the degradation (sometimes repulsive) that now reigns uncontrolled in the temple of God."
In comments to Church Militant, Latin scholar and medievalist Dr. Joseph Shaw explained how the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council had contributed to the secularization of sacred space.
"The practice of priests celebrating from the opposite side of the altar from the people created the impression that the priest is a manager sitting behind a desk — a symbol of status but not something holy," Dr. Shaw observed.
"This doesn't arise with the traditional practice, in which the priest approaches the altar as a sacred space only after special liturgical preparation and in which there is more emphasis on acts of reverence towards the altar by kissing and incensing it," he stressed.
In an academic paper for the Traditional Latin Mass society Una Voce International, Dr. Shaw discusses how "successive editions of the reformed Roman Missal presuppose ad orientem celebration, instructing the priest to turn to face the people when necessary, but also say that an altar separate from the wall 'is desirable whenever possible.'"
Italian bishops are becoming increasingly concerned about the secularization of sacred spaces as churchgoing has radically nosedived in the post-COVID scenario and churches are being viewed merely as venues for concerts, exhibitions or secular public events.
In a separate incident in Turin cathedral, climate change activists disrupted the celebration of the 10:30 a.m. Mass on Advent Sunday to mark the Vatican-endorsed COP28 summit being held in the United Arab Emirates.
Just before the scripture readings, the Extinction Rebellion campaigners, who were strategically positioned in different parts of the cathedral, stood and read passages from Pope Francis' eco-encyclical Laudato Si (2015) and the environmental apostolic exhortation Laudate Deum (2023).
The activists reminded the congregation that these were authoritative documents issued by Pope Francis "expressing himself forcefully on the seriousness of the ecological and climate crisis, also in view of COP28, which is taking place in Dubai these days."
"The objective is to invite the faithful to follow the words of the pontiff and rebel against the governments," the activists said.
The leaders of the protest rushed to the altar and lectern and stopped Roberto Repole, archbishop of Turin, from continuing the celebration. The protestors were escorted out by volunteers after they had read snippets from the papal documents.
Abp. Repole said in a statement, "I have great respect for those who mobilize for the defense of creation and welcome the appeals of Pope Francis. I appreciate the commitment in this sense of the Extinction Rebellion activists, but I was sorry that they decided to speak in the cathedral without first asking me to speak and ask if they could intervene."
"I would have replied that at Mass we often pray for peace and for the protection of creation, but the Eucharistic celebration is not a suitable moment to host public interventions," the archbishop noted.
Repole said he initially allowed the activists to speak but then asked them to end "because the Mass is a moment of prayer and, as such, must be respected, also and above all, by those who declare that they want to operate with respect for everyone."