Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Westminster Cathedral High Altar Returns to Permanent Use

The NLM has able to confirm the various Internet stories (see: Damian Thompson) that have circulated in the last day or so concerning the removal of the temporary altar that had stood in the middle of the chancel before the old high altar, which was only used periodically, on occasions such as Good Friday. With its removal, the artistic and liturgical integrity of this beautiful sanctuary will be restored in a deeply satisfying way. Archbishop Nichols himself has taken the lead in this matter, having seen the very positive response generated by the use of the high altar during his installation. The cathedral architect, Michael Drury, will be investigating the possibility of moving the wall behind the altar that serves as the gradine farther back to allow easier access to the space behind the altar. This will require careful planning and some expensive renovations, but it is worth it to see this wondrous piece of liturgical design put back to good use. It appears just about everyone, both within the Cathedral community and its well-wishers abroad, are quite enthusiastic about this new development.

It is important to recall both the temporary altar and the high altar can be considered to be "freestanding." There is, however, clearly a vast gulf between a freestanding altar standing by itself, naked and exposed, and one under the heavenly roof that is the ciborium. Let us hope bishops and archbishops, rectors and priests in cathedrals and basilicas such as St. Patrick's in New York and the National Shrine in Washington will take notice of this one giant leap forward on the part of the mother-church of English Catholicism.

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