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St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Cleveland, OhioInstitute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest

(LifeSiteNews) — The heterodox National Catholic Reporter (NCR) recently published an article highlighting the sorrow and even “disgust” of Catholic parishioners over the dismantling of a freestanding “Vatican II” altar and other rearrangements in their church by a traditional priestly society. 

The dismantling of the “VII” altar in Cleveland’s St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP) – which only uses high altars to offer the Traditional Latin Mass, as is the case with all traditional priests – was painted as a heartrending tragedy, an offense against the parishioners as well as the sanctity of what was removed. 

One can imagine how these Catholics, who have attended church almost their entire lives in the post-Vatican II era and who have grown deep sentimental attachments to the trappings of their Hungarian-colored Novus Ordo Masses, would be distraught on a human level. 

But for the NCR to portray the ICKSP’s sidelining of a Vatican II altar, prayer books, and vestments as an actual injustice is not only deeply ironic – as many have pointed out – but betrays an ignorance of history and the significance of the freestanding altar.

The article is ironic because while this Vatican II altar has only been dismantled – not destroyed – following the Second Vatican Council, a “wreckovation” took place throughout the Catholic Church in which, as Father Dwight Longenecker has pointed out, “old gothic marble altarpieces were literally demolished with sledgehammers,” “altar rails were ripped out, confessionals destroyed,” and “statues either thrown out or dumped in the basement.” The Catholic media group Sensus Fidelium shared in response to the NCR article a picture of the interior of a church literally being bulldozed after Vatican II. 

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These acts of demolition were tragic on several levels. It was not just a matter of disrupting sentimental attachments – it was the undoing of centuries upon centuries’ worth of sacred objects and art; it oftentimes constituted actual sacrilege (such as in the case of relics being tossed out); and it effected an outward Protestantization of Catholic churches. 

If this last statement seems outrageous, it is because the progression of the Protestant revolution in England under Thomas Cranmer, a leader of the so-called “Reformation” triggered by the adulterous King Henry VIII, is too little known.

As the late traditionalist Catholic author Michael Davies has documented in his book Cranmer’s Godly Order, Catholic high altars, which are affixed to walls, were destroyed during the English “reformation” on Cranmer’s orders so that they could be replaced by freestanding wooden tables covered “with a cloth of linen.” This is because, in Cranmer’s eyes, the high altars clearly signified an act of sacrifice, which is the essence of the Catholic Mass. To Cranmer, it was critical that high altars be replaced by freestanding tables, because they signaled that what was being performed in church was not the offering of Christ’s sacrifice but the symbolic reenactment of the Last Supper.

This is why the kind of altar used in a Catholic church matters. High altars are not simply affixed to walls. They require that the priest face God in the Blessed Sacrament together with the congregation, literally orienting the Mass toward God, and signaling to Catholics that the Mass is a sacrifice offered to God, and not merely a communal celebration.

If this seems strange to modern man, this is all the better, because a Mass should signal to Catholics that something very extraordinary is taking place. It is the offering of God the Son to God the Father.

Here it is clear that Catholic traditionalists do not embrace tradition for its own sake. The sentimental attachments that are fostered by tradition are indeed painful to break, but that is not the reason why we embrace tradition. Traditions are to be revered only when they embody Truth and Goodness and meaningfully serve their true purpose. As the English Protestant revolution makes clear, “Vatican II altars” do not meet this criteria.