Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Shift Toward the Center?

Last evening, I shared dessert with a friend in celebration of the pope's birthday. The conversation contained the usual topics, such as whether the motu proprio will bring just as much mediocrity (musical, e.g. the Rossini propers, and otherwise) as it will excellence.

Ultimately, however, we got around to discussing the number of tabernacles in local churches that have been moved back to the center. Most readers of this blog will be aware of the recent project at the cathedral in Philadelphia which moved its tabernacle to the center at the direction of His Eminence Justin Cardinal Rigali.

In the neighboring Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, this particular form of liturgical restoration has been widespread. Only recently, Bishop Kevin Rhoades, who in his 2+ years in this position has done much--including the institution of a weekly Traditional Latin Mass--to re-vivify the local church, saw to a re-ordering of the sanctuary of St. Patrick's Cathedral, a real gem which stands only a block or so from Pennsylvania's magnificent capitol building. In the 1970's, the high altar was dismantled and the cathedra put in its place; the tabernacle was banished to a small pedestal to the side of the sanctuary. Bishop Rhoades has replaced the cathedra on the Gospel side of the sanctuary and installed the tabernacle to its dignified, rightful place where the high altar once stood.

Local parishes in the Harrisburg Diocese have done the same thing. The first of which I am aware is the church in which I was baptized, which had been seriously altered in the wake of the liturgical changes. This actually took place several years ago. More recently--and it's unclear whether these took place before or after the cathedral renovation--two more parishes have followed suit. Both of these churches were built in post Vatican II times; nevertheless, the pastors found a way to situate the tabernacle at the "highest place at the table."

I know enough about the players involved here to observe something very striking: Few if any of them would be branded by anyone as an "ideologue." Most, if not all of them, are quite mainstream in their approaches to Catholicism. This fact begs us to reflect upon whether we're witnessing the beginning of a widespread trend.

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