Friday, October 24, 2008

A Catholic College Chapel Re-Design [UPDATED]

I was asked some while ago if I would consider doing one of the NLM "re-designs on a dime" for the chapel of Wyoming Catholic College.

Now, these re-designs, if done full fledged, can take many, many hours. So for the purpose of this exercise, I've chosen to focus mainly upon the altar. This will provide a nice tie in to our recent history (and encouragement) of the Roman or English style of frontal for altars -- rather than simply using "superfrontals", Laudian "altar palls" or nothing at all.

Fortunately, my task was made easier by the fact that this chapel did adopt the "Benedictine arrangement", so I was able to get photographs of that without need of editing the arrangement in on my own.

That said, these re-designs are as much to invoke discussion and to give ideas to parish priests generally, so we will include it in its "pre-Benedictine arrangement" as well.

With that in mind, here was the original altar arrangement, prior to the six candlesticks and central altar cross being adopted:

Now, here is the altar with the "Benedictine arrangement" in place -- though taken at a slightly lower angle making the tabernacle harder to see.

The candlesticks and cross certainly give the altar a greater sense of presence and centrality than it had before, but a few considerations of some of the other elements.

Flowers and Other Items before the Altar: I would propose that the use of flowers and the like before altars is to be avoided. This tends to obscure the altar and is also an obstacle to the incensation of the altar. Beyond that, even when an altar is being used ad populum the option should always be readily available for ad orientem.

Superfrontals: The superfrontal (seen in the picture) does not accomplish the effective vesting of the altar, nor does it lend to the substantiality or centrality to the altar, nor fully cloth the altar in its liturgical symbolism.

Adopting the Traditional Roman Style of Frontal

As I always do in these re-designs, I would first of all encourage the use of the traditional Roman style of frontal which is noble, simple, beautiful and also would be quite easy to have made. It merely involves a brocaded silk fabric in the various liturgical colours, gold trim and a weighty canvas to help it to hang well.

This style of frontal can be used in the various liturgical colours for day to day use and is characterized by its rectangular panels.

Consider the same altar now again, but using a traditional Roman frontal:

The substantiality, centrality and liturgical nature of the altar are duly emphasized by this sort of frontal in a very Roman character. A side by side comparison may help emphasize the effect of this vesting of the altar and the character and presence it gives to it:

With it, we begin to also reclaim some of our Roman tradition and character in our sanctuaries.

Now, as I noted in the beginning, I have taken the simple route here by only focusing upon the altar itself for this digital re-design. What we haven't focused upon are some of the other elements.

Leading up to the Altar: I have often mentioned that the use of oriental style carpets leading up the steps to the base of the altar is an additional way to lend a central focus to the altar by leading one's eye up to it.

Banners: The banners, while a higher end example of what is typically seen in parishes today, would likely be best removed.

Credence Table: The credence table (left of the altar): do not vest it. A simple, dignified table will suffice, and again, it shouldn't compete with the altar.

Celebrant's Chair: The priest's chair could be moved from its present location over to the side of the altar where there is already seating for -- it would appear -- servers. This will both uncrowd the sanctuary area and it will put the priest facing toward the altar and tabernacle while also being better positioned for the Epistle and Gospel.

The Tabernacle: It would be good if the tabernacle could be veiled using the same materials as makes up the altar frontal.

Now all of these suggestions are things which can be accomplished by simple re-arrangement or the taking away of certain elements. But if the parish had a little money to spend (a little let's note), where might it consider doing so?

The Tabernacle: The tabernacle, either due to distance from the altar, or simply in proportions (and possibly a combination of both) could be quite a bit larger. The shape of the present one is quite nice, but a larger size would be much more effective. Likewise, a more substantial and noticeable vigil lamp would also be in order.

The Large Crucifix: The present crucifix is not actually upon the wall but suspended over the altar. Removing this and putting it onto the wall might be better. Moreover, the colour on the corpus is rather close to the colour of the wall which is behind it. A more ornate form of wall crucifix (even if somewhat smaller in size) that had budded ends and coloured corpus would be very effective and would have greater liturgical prominence.

Finally, if a chapel had quite a bit more money, a sanctuary such as this one would probably be quite well suited to the addition of a ciborium magnum over the altar.

There are various considerations that could go into a chapel such as this, but hopefully these few suggestions will give both them and other parish priests some ideas.


Please note that the photographs display not the permanent chapel of Wyoming Catholic College, which is yet to be built, but rather the chapel on its interim campus at Holy Rosary Parish in the town of Lander.

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