Norms for Altar & Ambo Building/Placement

I have two questions.

  1. Is there anything stating that an altar must be rectungular (to prevent things like this, or even this)

  2. Is there norms stating where the ambo should be relative to the altar? I know this question is unclear, but the main thing I’m frustrated with is arrangements like this in churches. Clearly, this is not right, because the altar should have prominence, but I don’t have proof “on paper” that it is.

Anyone know about one or the other?

If you are in the US,
No, not according to the GIRM.

Given today’s day and age there are Catholic Churches built where a true devout Catholic might walk in and do an about face and walk back out.

There exists many Protestant Churches today that are far more edifying than some ultra-modern Catholic Churches of today’s era.

Have you ever read the book (“Ugly As Sin”)

** Is there norms stating where the ambo should be relative to the altar?**

Given the cost factor of bigger aesthetically built older Catholic Churches constructed in their beauty and grandeur in the cost of today being multiple tens of millions of dollars I would say the yesteryear of Norms of the past are out the door.


If you are in the US, I believe the document you want is Built of Living Stones.

The section on the altar starts with section 56. What it says about the size and shape:

§ 58 § Although there is no specified size or shape for an altar, it should be in proportion to the church. The shape and size should reflect the nature of the altar as the place of sacrifice and the table around which Christ gathers the community to nourish them. In considering the dimensions of the altar, parishes will also want to insure that the other major furnishings in the sanctuary are in harmony and proportion to the altar. The mensa should be large enough to accommodate the priest celebrant, the deacon, and the acolytes who minister there and should be able to hold The Sacramentary [The Roman Missal] and the vessels with the bread and wine. Impact and focal quality are not only related to placement, size, or shape, but also especially to the quality of the altar’s design and worthiness of its construction. The altar should be centrally located in the sanctuary and the center of attention in the church.

What makes a different shape inappropriate? All these discussions about the placement and decoration of things in a worship space seem to boil down to the tastes of the community. As longs as the appropriate rules and guidelines have been observed, we should embrace creative impetus given to us by the Spirit. Said another way, just because it’s new, doesn’t automatically make it bad.

Jesus would have been the first to stand-up and say not to worry about the placement of the altar. Just use it - often!

Its amazing how folks like to “put words in Jesus’s mouth”. As far as the pictures of the Altars are concerned, well they are “Ugly as Sin”.

YOU say that they are. I’m guessing that the people who designed and built the altar feel quite differently. Our personal tastes are just that, personal. Calling something built for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass ugly completely misses the point.

I like that first altar. It calls to mind that we are living the the 8th day (the day after God rested) and we celebrate the Eucharist as a community on the 8th day of the week.

The problem I have with the 2nd is the flames of the Holy Spirit should be coming from above rather than below. Perhaps the altar, suspended in air, should be supported by flames from above.

Your example of the arrangement looks like a temporary altar is set up, not in a church, but in some community gathering space. Of course, it also emphasizes the presence of Christ in the Word, the Priest, and the Sacrifice.

The picture I found is indeed a temporary arrangement somewhere. That is quite obvious. The point was the arrangement itself, which is found in some parishes near me, in a not so temporary fashion. While the lord is truly present in his word, the priest, the people and the sacrifice, they are not all equal. The high point of the Mass is the consecration, and the altar should not be somehow “made equal” with the ambo, and especially the priest’s chair.

True. That is the reason our bishop and our new pastor had the altar moved from the right (equal to the ambo) to the center of the sanctuary. Because, although Christ is present in the Word and the Priest, at MASS, he is REALLY present in the Sacrifice.

Our original setup done by those who were raised in the 70’s and 80’s when innovation was king and tradition was lost.

From the 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) approved for the USA, which can be accessed from :
The Ambo
309. The dignity of the word of God requires that the church have a place that is suitable for the proclamation of the word and toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns during the Liturgy of the Word. [footnote 117: Cf. Sacred Congregation of Rites, *Instruction Inter Oecumenici, on the orderly carrying out of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 26 September 1964, no. 92: AAS 56 (1964), p. 899.]”

The altar is discussed in detail in GIRM 296-308. It terms of its shape, I think this is the most relevant section:
“299. The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. The altar should, moreover, be so placed as to be truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns.”

Indeed, they are ugly, but I have to say, of the three, the first one isn’t as bad as the other 2.

But the thing is, there is something more than our tastes. For example, some people may say a neon green chasuble is beautiful. That doesn’t mean it is.

Words like “beauty” and “ugly” are aesthetic, and consequently subjective in nature. You are, I think, trying to evaluate these things purely objectively. This method doesn’t work when looking at things born of creativity.

I have no problem with you saying that the shape of that altar isn’t what you would design if you were designing a church. But, what about the shape makes it ugly? You say that just because people say something is beautiful doesn’t make it so. Then the opposite must be true. Why is it something “ugly” because some people say so?

I wouldn’t want to see a neon chasuble either, but maybe somewhere there’s a priest or parish that really likes the one that they have. It isn’t my job to tell them they can’t use it anymore.

To you. I sincerely hope you realize that. You are not the arbiter of what has intrinsic beauty and what does not. Again, I hope you realize that.

Frankly, in my humble opinion, the shape of the altar and position of the ambo in churches that celebrate the Missal of Paul VI should be in continuity with the shape of the altar and position of the ambo used in the Missal of Blessed John XXIII, albeit taking into consideration any developments regarding these items in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite (e.g. a free-standing altar). For example, Saint Florian Church in Krakow, PL; note the position of the altar and ambo within the sanctuary:

  1. The altar is to be covered with at least one cloth. On or near the altar there are to be candlesticks with lighted candles, at least two but even four, six, or, if the bishop of the diocese celebrates, seven. There is also to be a cross on or near the altar. The candles and cross may be carried in the entrance procession. The Book of the Gospels, if distinct from the book of other readings, may be placed on the altar, unless it is carried in the entrance procession.
  1. At the altar the sacrifice of the cross is made present under sacramental signs. It is also the table of the Lord and the people of God are called together to share in it. The altar is, as well,** the center of the thanksgiving** that the eucharist accomplishes.[80]
  1. The main altar should be freestanding to allow the ministers to walk around it easily and Mass to be celebrated facing the people. It should be so placed as to be a focal point on which the attention of the whole congregation centers naturally.[81] The main altar should ordinarily be a fixed, consecrated altar.

So apparently the above setup can be corrected easily by placing the altar to the center and chair to the side; also putting some cloth on the altar, and the cross either on or behind the altar at the center.

I do not like this setup, but the norm is the GIRM not my like.

The cloth and crucifix wasn’t the main issue, but couldn’t the …" the attention of the whole congregation centers naturally" be used to argue that the altar should be in the center? I think you probably could.

The churches of yesteryear were just about as expensive to build then as they are today. The main obstacle is the will to do it. We build churches that look like commercial centers, while investors build marbled shopping malls with vaulted ceilings and false bell towers that resemble cathedrals. Go to Disney World or Las Vegas and you’ll find magnificent reproductions of European buildings. If there is a desire supported by much prayer, money will come. Ask Mother Angelica about her magnificent new shrine.

As far as altar position, this church in northern California illustrates a disturbing trend in newer churches: the ambo and altar offset. This photo is actually from the same church as the second photo by the original poster, and is in clear violation of many official Church documents stating that the altar must be the main focal point of the sanctuary. What is even worse here is the crucifix. I had the misfortune of attending a Holy Saturday Vigil Mass at this parish. The corpus is transparent and inside are fiber optic light cables which glow red and white, resembling veins and arteries. With the church lights off, it suggests a frightening alien figure from a sci-fi/horror movie.

I don’t have an answer, but I can say thie, EWWW!:mad:

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