Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"Elephant in the Sanctuary" Update

photo courtesy fisheaters.com

In last Sunday's piece on the inaugural "Trid Mass" in Arlington, I devoted about half the piece to the question of which "altar" to use. Now, there are older churches that have beautiful historic high altars, that also added free-standing altars to facilitate "versus populum" celebration. St Mary's in Washington DC, St Mary's in Cincinnati OH, and St Boniface in Pittsburgh PA are three lovely examples that come to mind. But while both the St Marys have movable free-standing altars, the one in Pittsburgh is fixed. So it sits there, like an over-engineered rood screen, while the Ancient Rite is celebrated at the beautiful historic altar behind it. Obviously, the situation differs from one place to another.

But St Lawrence in the Arlington Diocese is a different case altogether, as one correspondent was uniquely qualified to explain:

"The 'old' altar in St Lawrence is newer than the 'new' altar. I was the pastor who renovated that church. In the renovation the sanctuary was enlarged and marbelized and the altar was designed in trapezoid shape and made out of Italian marble. When I was pastor I celebrated a NO Latin mass each week facing with the congregation. My successor put in the other altar to be used as an altar of reservation. It was not meant for liturgical celebration although it is large enough for it. The free standing altar is fixed, dedicated, and has relics placed within it, the altar against the wall has none of these."

In other words, people, what is up against the wall... is not an altar. Not by the traditional understanding of the term. No dyed-in-the-wool, take-to-the-ramparts, traditional Catholic worthy of the distinction could argue otherwise, anymore than he would refrain from insisting on three altar cloths in preparing it.

Why am I making so much out of this? Good question. I finally found a market in the Catholic blogosphere I could corner.

It's a dirty job, and someone's gotta to do it.

(FOOTNOTE: I'm told that St John Cantius in Chicago has removed the free-standing altar from their sanctuary, and that all Masses are celebrated on the magnificently go-for-Baroque High Altar -- Old Missal, New Missal, Latin, or otherwise. Keep it up!)

1 comment:

M. Alexander said...

But surely it is very rare that the original altar (if I may) is the freestanding altar though it all depends upon the age of the Church. The wreckovators did their best to destroy all original altars but there are a few out there and they are preferable.

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