When the Pope celebrated mass yesterday, he was the first leader of the Roman Church since Vatican II to turn away from the congregation and toward God. He used the ancient altar in the Sistine Chapel – the one set against the wall – and not a modern mobile altar that would allow him to face the people.
In the post-Vatican II era, the mass has been focused on communicating to the congregation, rather than in representing the congregation in the offering made to God. The priest faces away from the people because he is leading them to the presence of God. There are times when he turns around, but the focus is always to the altar. Orthodoxy has never lost this tradition in the Divine Liturgy.