New Church Layout

Can someone please explain to me the reasons why the layout of New Churches is so different to old ones. In some the Altar table is in the middle of the church, there are no kneelers, the tabernacle has been removed from it’s place of honor, in some cases there are chairs in front of the tabernacle. These are just a few examples. I’ve gone to mass in St. Mary’s Oratory in Maynooth seminary and all of these examples and more are true.
I can think of many reasons why a church should not be laid out like this but I would like to understand the reasons why the a Church would be laid out like this.


One church that I attend, which has very reverent Masses (and they do have kneelers and the tabernacle is quite conspicuous and beautiful) has the arrangement where the altar is in the middle and there are people all around. One advantage it provides is that a larger number of people can be closer to the altar. However, I find facing other parishioners to be so distracting and uncomfortable that it really isn’t worth it. Bad theology aside, I can’t think why someone would think this was a good layout.

I have attended Masses in old historical chapels that lacked kneelers, where a significant number of the people present kneeled on the floor during the Consecration, but I imagine that’s not what you’re talking about …

The anatomy of the new architecture is easy and clear: someone makes a large donation, through that gets influence over the building (and in cooperation with the builder recovers most of his/her donation) . This individuals usually promote the ‘people’s Church’ as it is opposed of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ.

The new architecture, removing Jesus Christ from the center promotes the clubhouse effect, people do not feel that it is the house of God.

A lot of the philosophy behind these changes can be found in this book: Environment and Art in Catholic Worship. It’s a controversial work and if you google the title you’ll find critiques of it.

It is my understanding that kneelers are optional; kneeling is not! :smiley:

You can come to my Eastern Catholic parish and take the kneelers. We don’t need them.

Whoah! What happened. I was here a minute ago and the thread got shorter between the time I was here and the time I went to MS Word to compose my response. Now, it’s almost no good. :frowning:

Instead of responding like a bunch of teenagers, can’t we just answer people’s questions with some professionalism? Geez! There are a few things that come to my mind immediately, having been in ministry since I was very young.

First, religious art and architecture is not a static thing. It reflects the time and culture in which it is created. In that regard, it’s like any other form of art, always if a state of flux. What some people find beautiful, other people find disturbing. I for one do not like most contemporary forms of religious architecture. I find it boring. But that’s me. I’m not saying that I go to a house of prayer to be entertained. I’m saying that there are space designs that help me more than others. I dislike both the very ornate and the very bland. For example, many people love the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at Catholic University. I spent eight-years there and I never got used to the upper church. It was beautiful for mass, but not for private prayer. I much preferred the darker crypt church. Some modern churches look like space stations, while others look like boxes. At the same time, some of the older ones also fall into my little list of “don’t like”. One of my favorite churches is St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC. What I’m trying to say is that it’s a matter of taste and times combined.

Second, you mentioned the seminary oratory. An oratory or a private chapel of either a seminary or a religious house is not meant to be a parish church. Even though the general public may be allowed to visit or attend mass there, it remains a private place of worship. Therefore, it is going to be designed to meet the needs and customs of the community for which it was built. This is going to vary.

If you visit a Franciscan house you will find that our chapels are very tiny rooms, usually in wood or whitewashed, without statues, kneelers, communion rails and it may or may not have a crucifix. It is optional in Franciscan design. The crucifix can be replaced by either a cross or the San Damiano Icon. We have three choices. The tabernacle placement is usually prominent, because unbeknownst to most people, the tabernacle was never in the center of the church until St. Francis put it there. There was a reason for not having it there. Prior to the birth of the Franciscans, the large churches were either cathedrals or monastery churches. Both had side chapels for the Blessed Sacrament. Franciscan houses were very small. There were not side chapels. Our Holy Father wanted the tabernacle here it could be seen. He placed it on the main altar. This custom was adopted as the friars spread through Europe and her colonies. Eventually, not only Franciscans were doing it, but everyone else was too. The Church realized that this was a good thing and it became the norm to have the tabernacle placed in a prominent location in the man nave of the church, unless there is a lot of traffic. Then it is placed in a more quiet spot.

The point is that in an oratory or a chapel of a seminary or religious house you will not always find sacred spaces that resemble parish churches. They are not parish churches. Originally, they were not meant to be seen by the laity. Access to these places was granted to the laity after Vatican II and in some places it’s being rescinded, because lay people get confused as to why things are different.

Third and final, there is a newer form of religious architecture that blends many classical lines with modern details and is often very pleasing to the eye and the desired mood that one is looking for in a place of worship. However, due to the current financial situation, many dioceses have put a moratorium on building new churches, unless the parish can come up with the money. In other words, dioceses and religious communities are no longer lending money to parishes to build new churches and are unwilling to co-sign a mortgage. Either the parishioners come up with the money or live with what they have indefinitely, until this economic crisis is over. Restoring can sometimes be more expensive than razing to the ground and building a new edifice.

I hope this helps.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

…smug easterners…

Depends on what you mean by “new” and “old”.

What century are you referring to regarding “old” Churches"

No not smug, unless you know otherwise.



Those are the adjectives I’d use.

Why do you say smug?

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