Thursday, October 28, 2010

An Example of an Altar Arrangement in Masses for the Dead

In our recent reprint related to All Souls and Masses for the Dead generally, we spoke on the subject of unbleached beeswax candles. While doing so, note was also made of the following:

... a similar sombreness is spoken of even as regards the very candlesticks themselves. Normally the candlesticks we see used in our churches are gold or silver in colour. However, during these times, the mention of these being of some more sombre tone arises as well. Hence we see mention of black or some other darkened colour and the use of iron, dark wood, or bronze. This is mentioned both in relation to the candlesticks on the altar as well as those which surround the coffin/catafalque... One will also note that, while it appears to only be specifically mentioned within the context of pre-Pius XII Good Friday liturgy, some also make use of a dark wood altar cross for Masses of the Dead instead of one of gold or silver. This, or some other non-gilt altar cross, would certainly seem to me to be a laudable custom, consonant with this same spirit of sobriety.

My reason for raising this again is that an opportunity has since arisen to show a sort of "before" and "after" example of this; or more precisely, to show the same altar which is arranged both in the usual manner -- as regards the altar candlesticks and cross -- and then also arranged with more sombre altar candlesticks and cross for use in Masses for the Dead. The photos come from the chapel of the Little Oratory which is part of the London Oratory.

Let us begin with what we might call the usual arrangement:

Now let us consider the same altar, but with a set of candlesticks and cross (not to mention unbleached beeswax candles and Requiem altar cards) setup for use within the context of Masses for the Dead:

While these particular candlesticks and cross use golden highlights -- and other manifestations, such as those previously mentioned, are also possible -- the use of black certainly gives them a greater character of sobriety by comparison with the former and I believe one can see the parallel to the use of bleached versus unbleached candles.

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