"You are fat", a small child said to me recently, she wasn't quite telling the truth, and it was quite unprovoked, I was a little insulted. I wanted to respond, "You are ugly", but I thought she would be scarred for life and sue me in ten or twenty years for psychological damage. So I merely told her she was the nicest child I had met in the last ten minutes but I suspect any irony was lost on her.
Most of our Masses here are celebrated ad orientem, I leave the choice up to the sacristan. Those who have read the General Instruction of the Roman Missal are keen on it, those who have also read Sacrosantum Concillium strongly prefer it and those who have read Joseph Ratzinger's Spirit of the Liturgy tend to insist on it. Apart from the occasional visitor who has only ever read that liberal fanzine sold at the back of Westminster Cathedral (for the time being) no-one tends to object. It could be most Catholic laity are just relieved I don't wear a clown mask or come in on a scooter.
In fact most of our visitors, and we have lots, are happily surprised. One American visitor who had previous been to Mass at Brompton Oratory and one parish in South London, asked if anyone in England ever faced the people "like we do in the States", I told him that a lot of older priests and practically all Jesuits did.
What I have noticed is that it is our celebration is more prayerful. I have been talking a lot about our common priesthood recently: that an important part of our presence at Mass is that we are present to intercede for the living and the dead and for ourselves too of course. There is something very definite about a priest standing the same side of the altar as the people which says with Augustine, "with you I am a Christian, for you I am a priest". I cannot help feeling the priest standing barricaded behind the altar makes him look and feel like a man behind a desk, a teacher, a bank manager or someone at the social benefits office. It emphasises clericalism and that infantalises the people and the altar, which should be the great sign of Christ, becomes something which rather than uniting the baptised divides them. The rubric about the altar being separated from the wall (and presumably any other architectural feature) was not so that Mass might be celebrated facing the people but to emphasise its sacred and symbolic character, the focus of our worship.
There is something strange and unnatural about just seeing someone's torso above the altar, which I suppose might be the reason for altars that consist of a mensa on legs, or even as I have seen in Italy a glass or perspex altar.
Though there is an obvious danger in that post-Vatican II theology of the priest coming from the congregation, as being a delegate of the people, as being their representative but there is also a basic truth in it. The priest offers Mass for and behalf of the Church and for and behalf of every member of his congregation. Standing with them emphasises this.
Though I tend to leave the choice of vestments to our sacristans, I have noticed to that since saying Mass on the same side of the altar as the people I have a preference for vestment that are less rather than more. I commissioned a couple of rather ample JPII chasubles from Watts and Co a few years ago, they are rather beautiful but they make me feel "big", which on reflection might have been what the little girl really meant, that just feels wrong, nowadays. I much prefer vestments which tend to make me smaller: Roman rather than Gothic. Standing with the people tends to remind the priest that he must diminish and Christ must increase. That seems to be at the very heart of Pope Benedict's teaching about priesthood. Liturgical gestures too I feel should become smaller less, about dominating the assembly and drawing attention to myself, and more about gestures that aid prayer and are physical acts of prayer, more for God than as dramatic acts for the people.