SINCE 1965, Catholics have grown used to taking part in the Mass with the priest facing the people across the altar table.

Does not this make the priest the centre of attention? Should not the worship being offered to the unseen God by priest and people together be directed beyond the altar, and indeed beyond the walls of the church?

But how can such a directional orientation be harmonized with the image of the Christian community gathered around the altar table to share Holy Communion?

This book proposes the integration of sanctuary and nave, and the location of the altar in the midst of the congregation, so that the prayer offered and the sacrament shared at it may be more readily perceived as that of both priest and people. The sacrament is celebrated within the altar space, the prayer directed way beyond it.

Good liturgy should not point to itself, but to the One who is worshipped.

John Ainslie holds degrees in theology from the Gregorian University, Rome, and from King’s College, University of London. He is a former chairman of the Society of Saint Gregory, the association that promotes understanding of the liturgy and good practice in its celebration.

BEYOND THE ALTAR has 320 pages and 14 colour illustrations. It is now published, price £12.50 plus P&P (£2.50 in UK, £4 Europe, £7 overseas).

If paying by credit card, you will need a mobile phone available and switched on, as PayPal security will be sending you a passcode for you to verify your payment.