Where should the altar be in the church?

I attended a church in a small town this past Sunday. The altar was on the west side of the building on the side against the stained glass windows. As long as I can remember the altar has always been at the very front of the building (at the longest end). In fact it appeared that the altar had been moved from it’s original location to the side of the church with the pews in front and on either side of the altar. There was a large cross at the front of the church where I would have expected the altar to be. I had to wonder why would they do this and is it allowed? It was a strange configuration which I have never before seen.

Also, not to introduce a banned topic but it seemed like a perfectly acceptable mass until just before the Our Father was to be said the eucharistic ministers, choir leader and readers scampered to the sides of the priest and deacon behind the altar and all they held hands during the Lord’s prayer, (priest and deacon included).:confused: That too I have never seen. Is this something that is being encouraged? It seemed odd to me.

The EMHCs should not even be up there during the recitation of the Pater Noster. Please note what the GIRM states:

  1. The priest may be assisted in the distribution of Communion by other priests who happen to be present. If such priests are not present and there is a very large number of communicants, the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, e.g., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose.97 In case of necessity, the priest may depute suitable faithful for this single occasion.98

These ministers should not approach the altar before the priest has received Communion, and they are always to receive from the hands of the priest celebrant the vessel containing either species of the Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful.

Here is what the GIRM states regarding the location of the altar:

II. Arrangement of the Sanctuary for the Sacred Synaxis
(Eucharistic Assembly)
295. The sanctuary is the place where the altar stands, where the word of God is proclaimed, and where the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers exercise their offices. It should suitably be marked off from the body of the church either by its being somewhat elevated or by a particular structure and ornamentation. It should, however, be large enough to allow the Eucharist to be celebrated properly and easily seen.115

The Altar and Its Appointments

  1. The altar on which the Sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs is also the table of the Lord to which the People of God is called together to participate in the Mass, as well as the center of the thanksgiving that is accomplished through the Eucharist.
  1. The celebration of the Eucharist in a sacred place is to be carried out on an altar; but outside a sacred place, it may be carried out on a suitable table, always with the use of a cloth, a corporal, a cross, and candles.
  1. It is appropriate to have a fixed altar in every church, since it more clearly and permanently signifies Christ Jesus, the living stone (1 Pt 2:4; cf. Eph 2:20). In other places set aside for sacred celebrations, the altar may be movable.

An altar is called “fixed” if it is attached to the floor so as not to be irremoveable; otherwise it is called “moveable.”

  1. 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.116 The altar is usually fixed and is dedicated.
  1. An altar whether fixed or movable is dedicated according to the rite prescribed in the Roman Pontifical; but it is permissible for a movable altar simply to be blessed.
  1. In keeping with the Church’s traditional practice and the altar’s symbolism, the table of a fixed altar is to be of stone and indeed of natural stone. In the dioceses of the United States of America, however, wood which is worthy, solid, and well-crafted may be used, provided that the altar is structurally immobile. The supports or base for upholding the table, however, may be made of any sort of material, provided it is worthy and solid.

A movable altar may be constructed of any noble and solid materials suited to liturgical use, according to the traditions and usages of the different regions.

  1. The practice of placing relics of Saints, even those not Martyrs, under the altar to be dedicated is fittingly retained. Care should be taken, however, to ensure the authenticity of such relics.
  1. In building new churches, it is preferable to erect a single altar which in the gathering of the faithful will signify the one Christ and the one Eucharist of the Church.

In already existing churches, however, when the old altar is positioned so that it makes the people’s participation difficult but cannot be moved without damage to its artistic value, another fixed altar, of artistic merit and duly dedicated, should be erected and sacred rites celebrated on it alone. In order not to distract the attention of the faithful from the new altar, the old altar should not be decorated in any special way.

I hope this helps.

That is odd…

The construction and layout of a church is a rather loosey-goosey area, and it largely comes down to whatever the bishop approves.

[quote=benedictgal from the GIRM]An altar is called “fixed” if it is attached to the floor so as not to be irremoveable; otherwise it is called “moveable.”

Irremoveable? If that were a word, it would mean not removeable - in other words, permanent or fixed. Presumably what is meant is “An altar is called “fixed” if it is attached to the floor so as not to be moveable (or removeable)”

Checking on that, I see that in England and Wales it is rendered

An altar is called ‘fixed’ if it is attached to the floor so as not to be removable; otherwise it is called ‘moveable.’

And, “irremoveable” is a word, although dropping the “e” before the suffix is the preferred form. The English text doesn’t seem sure whether to drop the “e” or keep it, using both “moveable” and “removable”.

I used to attend a church that had been built in 1959, with the traditional long aisle in the middle, an altar rail, windows down either side, everything matched on each side, with Mary’s little altar on one side, Joseph’s on the other.

Then when Vatican II came along, they tried to make the worship “experience” more intimate, closer to the altar, and so forth.
So, they turned the whole church sideways. They moved the altar to the left side, turned the pews to face it, and even slanted them slightly. The choir loft was now on the left side of the church (formerly the back) and the organ was brought down to boom and shake at the side of the altar. I don’t remember what happened to Mary and Joseph, possibly they were “ecumenized” right out the door-- after all, the Council was all about making our church more like protestant churches, right?

It was horrible. This parish built a new “sanctuary” (church) about 12 years ago. Sanctuary used to be the front of the church where the altar and Blessed Sacrament were, behind the communion rail. Now, it means the main part of the church-- oh, so protestant, to me.
The new church has the Blessed Sacrament off to one side, is very modern, and I have always said it doesn’t feel Catholic.

Anyway, this may explain the configuration of the church you described, that it was changed at some point during the 1970’s.
As for the Liturgical mis-steps, I don’t know.

I understand that new churches will have the Blessed Sacrament back in the center of the church, not in a side chapel.
Our diocese has restored some former Vatican II horrors to their prior beauty. People who didn’t live through it are awed by what is uncovered, and it is wonderful to see. Get those burlap banners out of there!

Thanks Benedictgal, that does help a lot. I’m certain that I can learn much from these forums:) Ben, I agree that the title is a bit odd. I need to choose my words more carefully.:wink:

Thanks Katrina. Yes, that is likely what happened. The church in question is quite old and seems to have been remodeled for the 70’s touchy-feely movement. Interesting, I remember the pre burlap banner days. :wink:

Ugh, that touchy-feely quasi-protestant “fellowship” stuff is obnoxious and pretentious.

The main altar should be front and center, with the tabernacle just above it. The “moveable” altar should be a short distance in front of the main altar.

I’ve been to a church in Pennsylvania, near the Poconos, which was clearly originally a standard church with the sanctuary at the far end of the long rectangular building. It had since been wreckovated to move the sanctuary to the center of the right-hand wall, and then the pews were unevenly oriented around it. It’s really awkward-looking… it’s trying to get the “altar in the round” feel without being round.

In seminary, we had a word for this sort of thing…typo.

Whover typed or edited the page that Benedictgal referenced just missed it. It happens a lot for long documents that are translated with the aid of a computer translator program. We see it a lot on the Vatican webpages.

It’s from the USCCB website. I lifted the copy from their online GIRM. :shrug:

The altar is the principal object of worship. It is where the sacrifice takes place every-time Mass is said by the priest. Therefore it should be dignified and be ornamented. The high altar has the privilege in churches (with the exception of cathedrals) as the Blessed Sacrament is reserved there in the tabernacle indicated by a tabernacle lamp. Any other altar in the church is a side altar where the Blessed Sacrament can be placed if duly necessary. The high altar should be facing east towards our Lord whom we will meet at the second coming. It is also fitting that both the celebrant and people face east during the divine liturgy at which we encounter the Lord Jesus in the form of bread and wine which is transubstantiated into his body, blood, soul and divinity.

More information can be found in “The Book of Ceremonies” by Rev O’Connnell and “The Roman Catholic Ceremonial” by Jeffrey Collins

I know this from reading the books above, from the knowledge of priests and from serving at church as altar server.

*Introíbo ad altáre Dei. Ad Deum qui lætíficat iuventútem meam.
Iúdica me, Deus, et discérne cáusam meam de gente non sancta: ab hómine iníquo et dolóso érue me.
R. Quia tu es, Deus, fortitúdo mea: quare me repulísti, et quare tristis incédo, dum afflígit me inimícus?
V. Emítte lucem tuam et veritátem tuam: ipsa me deduxérunt et adduxérunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernácula tua.
R. Et introíbo ad altáre Dei: ad Deum qui lætíficat iuventútem meam.
V. Confitébor tibi in cíthara, Deus, Deus meus: quare tristis es anima mea, et quare contúrbas me?
R. Spera in Deo, quóniam adhuc confitébor illi: salutáre vultus mei, et Deus meus. *

Regarding renovations, I’m still appalled by the changes certain cathedrals experienced in the U.S., which entailed the traditional sanctuary with a fixed altar reconfigured by moving the altar to the center of the structure and then throwing a organ in the former sanctuary. In my opinion, not exactly a design change Vatican II called for.

This is yet another topic that makes me chuckle. For centuries most Catholic churches and cathedrals were built very narrow (and therefore very long) due to limits on building materials and design expertise. Unless it was the Hagia Sophia, Saint Peter’s or a handful of other very special (and expensive) structures that’s pretty much what churches looked like.

It didn’t matter that people couldn’t see or hear what was going on in the sanctuary – there really were few alternatives Heck a great number (to this day) even seemed to enjoy sitting as far away from the altar as they can. Maybe it made praying the Rosary during Mass easier and/or slipping out after communion?

With greatly improved design resources and building materials some still seem to think that the only decent design for a church it narrow and long – and they are wrong. While some of those silly conversions do more harm than good the intent is typically positive – bring people closer to the altar of sacrifice. Not at all a bad desire…

The Church does not specify this. And also, there should only be ONE altar of sacrifice in a Catholic parish not two as you suggest. Side altars need not be torn out for historical reasons but they do become superfluous.

Yeah, I’m assuming the printed (hard copy) version is the same. The discrepancy is also noted in John Lilburne’s compilations of differences between the English and American translations, and the Australian and American translations.

Of course there should be one altar - take that one up with the Church and the Mass of Paul VI, where a second altar is required so that the priest can officiate versus populum. But, if a second altar has to be there, common sense dictates that it must be front and center, just like the main altar and tabernacle.

After all, this is a Catholic church, where Jesus is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. Why should it not be front and center? Our focus is on Christ, not “fellowship” and “community”.

It would be interesting to design a “perfect church”. One that incorporates the traditional-- a nice long aisle for weddings and processions-- yet keep an intimate feeling that we want as we celebrate mass together.
I have been to a beautiful restored church that has maintained all the elements of old and new. Mostly by having a great sound system so you can hear the priest where ever you are, throughout the entire mass.

Our old convent chapel was remuddled a second time (first in 1965, again in 1990). It went from hard wooden kneelers to padded kneelers the first time. Also sandblasted off the frescos. The second time, the kneelers were removed altogether, mostly because the sisters were all in wheelchairs or just too elderly, and the pews are now padded!

I was shocked! But when one sister said, “…and we’ve extended the stage outward for liturgical dance…” WHAT!! Stage? Dance?

My church is about 14 years old and has the “round” thing going. It has some things that I can hardly overlook because they are to me, basic design flaws, bad taste (or no taste) in art, but such a wonderful group of people that I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Imagine attending that “church” that used to be a football stadium-- Joel Osteen’s “venue”. I can’t think of anything worse.
We have some buildings here that say “Worship Center”. They don’t even call them churches. I really wish I could have been at the meeting where that decision was made. How did they arrive at that? What was the point?

It’s worth noting that in some Eastern churches, the tradition is maintained of celebrating only one mass a day on an altar. In cases where circumstances dictate that more than one mass is required, a second altar may be present. I haven’t seen this, but I’m guessing they are sideways from each from the congregation’s perspective.

Good you agree with the Church.

No “second” altar. The altar.

No “main altar.” Just one altar – the altar of sacrifice. No, the Church does not direct that the tabernacle be located at the rear center of the sanctuary.

Because the Church says so:

GIRM 315. *"It is more in keeping with the meaning of the sign that the tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved not be on an altar on which Mass is celebrated.

Consequently, it is preferable that the tabernacle be located, according to the judgment of the Diocesan Bishop,

  1. Either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration, in a form and place more appropriate, not excluding on an old altar no longer used for celebration

  2. Or even in some chapel suitable for the faithful’s private adoration and prayer and which is organically connected to the church and readily visible to the Christian faithful."*

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