Thursday, March 29, 2012

An Altar of Noble Beauty: The Altar of the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, Washington, D.C.

We've shown you this tasteful altar before in another context, though I'm not certain we have ever specifically made a point of highlighting the altar itself.

That is a shame, beause this altar, which is found in the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Washington D.C., is to my mind a good example of a design of noble beauty and one which also shines forth some of the very good fruits which came out of the Liturgical Movement. (Needless to say it would also make a wonderful freestanding altar with ciborium, and the beauty of its design, materials and construction should not exclude it from being vested with antependia either -- but I digress.)

Here are two views of it, taken this past Sunday.



(If I were to suggest anything here, it might be around the tabernacle and its veiling, but that is not the point of focus for this piece.)

The noble design and ornamentation of our altars is not an inconsequent matter. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of "the altar, which is the centre of the church" (para. 1182) and Geoffrey Webb in his estimable work, The Liturgical Altar, reminds us of "...the supreme importance which the Church attaches to the altar in her liturgy." He continues:

Not only does she consider it the central focus of the whole liturgy, the raison d’être of the building in which its stands; not only does she indicate that the church exists for the altar, rather than the altar for the church; not only does she look upon it as the sacrificial stone, upon which Christ, our Priest and Victim, offers Himself daily in His Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is the central act of her liturgy; but she has proclaimed again and again that in her mind the altar represents her Lord Himself... and the reverence for the altar, expressed in the restraint and dignity of its design, symbolizes the reverence due to Christ Himself.

[...]

Holding such a truth as this, it is not surprising that the Church should legislate for every detail of the altar, and should strive to exclude confusion and vulgarity of design as she tries to restrain sentimentality and frivolity in music.

-- Geoffrey Webb, The Liturgical Altar, p. 18-20

I believe this particular altar fits very much into Webb's description of an altar that avoids vulgarity, expressing both a restraint and dignity in design which is befitting the sacred liturgy.