Page 7, 3rd March 1967

3rd March 1967
Page 7
Page 7, 3rd March 1967 — PLACE OF THE HIGH ALTAR
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PLACE OF THE HIGH ALTAR

By I B. O'Connell

THE plan of any building

depends primarily on its purpose. For a church this means making adequate provision for the public worship of the Church, the Sacred Liturgy, and for those who take part in it, the clergy, choir and congregation.

Article 124 of the Vatican Council Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy declares that "when churches are to be built, Ordinaries must see to it that the design of these churches is such as to facilitate the celebration of the Liturgy and the active participation of the faithful."

A church is, normally, the place for the administration of the sacraments and the chief

sacramentals, the performance of some extra-liturgical exercises of piety, and for private prayer (especially for prayer to the Blessed Sacrament), but primarily for the celebration of the principal act of public worship, the Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Order of Mass (newly revised in 1965) makes a clear distinction between the two parts of the rite the Liturgy of the Word, which is carried out on the sanctuary away from the altar, and the Eucharistic Liturgy. the Sacrifice, which is enacted at the altar. Accordingly, there should be in a church two chief focal points: (a) the area wherein the Liturgy of the Word—prayer and instruction—takes place, with its ambo (pulpit), lectern. and seat for the celebrating priest who presides over the assembly; and (b) the altar on which the Sacrifice is accomplished and its immediate ambit.

The two areas which are intimately connected for one great act of worship are complementary not divisive zones, so laid out that each part of the Liturgy receives its due emphasis.

The high altar should he elevated, centrally situated— not physically but psychologically—in a sanctuary of a size suitable for the performance of ceremonial according to the kind of church. It should be free-standing. becomingly ornamented with its canopy frontal. and duly lighted.

To secure that the high altar is the chief focal point of the building, side altars, if needed, should never be placed within the sanctuary but should be recessed in aisles or erected in side chapels.

A secondary focal point in the church is the Tabernacle to house the consecrated hosts needed as a reserve supply for the Communion of the Faithful within the Mass. It also houses the hosts for communion outside Mass and for the sick, the large Host for Exposition and Benediction, and both for the private prayer of the people directed to the reserved Sacrament.

The place of the Tabernacle presents a very difficult and delicate problem. Hitherto it was normally on the high altar, except in cathedrals and other great churches in which there was a special chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.

Now, however, in view of Mass being celebrated facing the congregation when the

Tabernacle would screen the celebrant and his actions from the people. the 'Tabernacle may. with the permission of the local Ordinary, be placed in another part of the church provided that this be "truly dignified (vere pernubilis) and duly ornamented."

Accordingly, the Tabernacle, fully veiled as the rubrics require, must be placed in a position so outstanding and so beautifully adorned that the change of its position from the high altar cannot be regarded as in any way diminishing reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, or depreciating the devotion of the faithful in its regard.

To secure the second chief purpose of a church, which is the active. conscious, intelligent sharing of the congrega tion in the Mass, provision must be made for the maximum contact between the officiating clergy and the people. Accordingly,

(1) the altar, the president's seat, the ambo and the lectern should be visible from every part of the building; (2) it must be possible— using mechanical means, if necessary—for the congregation to hear clearly all that is said aloud; (3) the choir, whose business it is to lead the singing congregation and to supply the more difficult music that is beyond the competence of the people, and the organ, must be so placed that it is clear to all that the singers and organist do not form a detached body but are part of the con

gregation, and that they can duly accomplish their liturgi cal function; (4) due provision must be made for the orderly and convenient movement of those who take part in any procession, and especially for the approach to and departure from the ambit of the altar for Holy Communion.

Liturgical law allows the maximum liberty in the construction of churches. It does not. for example, prescribe any special style of architecture. It does, however, insist that a church be functionally adequate for its high purpose, fully suitable for the correct performance of liturgical functions and for the active sharing in them of the congregation.




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