Before and After: The Arrangement of the Papal Throne and Choir in Papal Masses Before and After the 1970's

We live in a curious time. Never before have there been so many people who can witnesses papal liturgical events precisely because of the advent of the wide broadcasting of these events through televsion, the internet and so on. Because of that, when we watch a Papal Mass or what not, it all seems very familiar. Within the basilica the pontff's throne is placed before the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica, circling around the altar within the nave are the various cardinals and clergy, then behind them are the faithful. Sounds familiar does it not?

However, what is worth noting is that this configuration for Papal Masses is actually quite new as far as Masses are concerned. Generally speaking, prior to the 1970's, the only time one would see the papal throne placed before the altar of St. Peter's was for occasions in which it was not a Papal Mass.  Here is one example in which the pontiff is seated in this same general position, while down before the confessio a temporary altar has been setup for the celebration of the Byzantine Liturgy during the conciliar period.

In order to accomplish these types of arrangements, it was necessary to cover over approximately one third of the confessio before the high altar. For those not familiar, the confessio is the space opened before and beneath the high altar in which are generally deposited beneath the relics of a martyr or what not. In ther case of St. Peter's of course, that is none other than St. Peter himself. 

Since the 1970's this ad hoc arrangement has become effectively permanent -- by which I mean the temporary platform is basically never removed.  Such is the seeming permanence of this arrangement that people might be confused of which I speak. To illustrate, the following photo shows the moveable platform (left in colour):

Here is another view of it, taken from another angle with the front steps removed:

One will note that the base of the column of the ciborium are cut off, which is due to the moveable platform. Here, in point of fact, is what the altar of St. Peter's with its confessio, looks like with its architectural integrity still in fact:

One will note how, to our minds, conditioned as they are by a half century of televised images, the confessio seems much longer; it really isn't of course, it is just that for decades we've been seeing a shortened version of it due to the temporary platform obscuring the third of it nearest the altar and predella. 

This raises another interesting point, the contemporary versus traditional arrangement of the papal throne, of the choir.  Here too, there is a noteworthy change. When we typically see a Papal Mass since the 1970's until today, this is the arrangement we tend to be familiar with:

Here you can see the various cardinals and bishops out within the nave of the basilica, the pontiff's throne set before the high altar -- and here too one can see a good view of the platform set on top of the confessio. 

Traditionally however, the arrangement of St. Peter's was setup in a traditional Roman basilica fashion, with the area for the altar of the Chair being transformed into the choir. The pontiff's throne was set before that altar and then, in a traditional schola cantorum arrangement, going down from here the bneches upon which would sit the cardinals, bishops and so on. It is a very familiar arrangement of course. Here is a view of it setup, but outside of the liturgical context.

And here are some views of it within a liturgical context:

Evidently the reasoning that no doubt has informed this alteration since the 1970's is the idea of making the pope more visible -- though it comes at the cost of de-emphasizing the altar and the confessio less visible, and also at the cost of a traditional Roman liturgical arrangement.

Which do you prefer?

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