The unity of the sanctuary of many beautiful cathedrals and churches is disrupted by the addition of an altar that is supposedly placed closer to the nave of the church and thus to the congregation so that people can see and participate better. But just what is it that they are seeing that makes them participate better and just where is one's eye drawn that makes that which is further away actually look closer?
Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York has a marvelous free-standing altar under its magnificent Baldacchino. It is the focal point of the entire Gothic structure. But when you go there for Mass, Mass is not celebrated at the place where your eye is naturally drawn and creatively done so by the architect of this magnificent cathedral, no the Mass is celebrated on another altar placed in front of the altar intended for the Sacrifice which is closer to the congregation and lower than the one meant for the Sacrifice and in no way compares to the altar under the Baldacchino. In fact the "closer" altar looks further away because one cannot see it as well as the higher one which looms larger!
I'd prefer the Mass celebrated at the original altar, ad orientem or facing the people and in fact would make the Mass more accessible to the congregation in these behemoth buildings. Who comes up with these ideas for a faux altar in front of the altar intended for the sacrifice?
This photo at Archbishop Lori's installation as the Archbishop of Baltimore a few days ago captures what I mean. Look at the altar under the Baldacchino which is now used for floral arrangements only (how sad) and look at the altar that has been placed in front of it for the Sacrifice. Where is your eye drawn???????
This is Saint Patrick's in New York: