Monday, May 09, 2005

"Ad apsidum" and "Versus populum" are both looking in the wrong direction

I've been working the past few days on a historical post with this title which isn't finished yet, but this morning I wrote a reply for one of the listservs that deserves this title too. In the listserv "VaticanII-Doc" we are studying Sacrosanctam Concilium, the document on the Liturgy, and we're in the paragraphs about church art and architecture. K. asked:

At 10:28 AM 5/9/2005, you wrote:
>Has anyone else on this list other than
>myself been in the newly designed
>Cathedral in Milwaukee as done by Rembert
>Weakland? I attended Mass there
>before the changes and I have visited
>since the changes but have not
>attended a liturgy since the changes.
>It seems the new way the priest's
>back would be to some of the people.
>But I do like it in a lot of ways
>(but not the priest's back to the people).

I'm a Cathedral parishioner and attend Mass there nearly every Sunday. I used to attend the Cathedral back in the 1970s and 1980's before I became disabled, then stopped because, before the rehab work, it was nearly impossible to get into. Also had structural problems and bad art problems from a hurried depression-WWII rebuilding after a fire with a lot of Mussolini-era church-supply stuff, and a bad refurbishing in the mid-70's that blocked off the stained glass and painted the interior in 26 somewhat garish colors gotten from the stained glass windows that couldn't be seen any more......

The way it works now, the bulk of the congregational seating is on the west side of the altar, slightly curved, and there is facing-style seating on the east side of the altar, between the altar and the ambo. The schola canticorum is beyond the ambo in the far east end. Tabernacle in a large domed side chapel that was the baptistry back when, over the crypts.

People who choose to sit in the facing seats are behind the priest when he is at the altar, but not behind the ambo not the presider's seats --- which are immediately north and south of the altar against pillars. (south is the cathedra, north the regular presider's seat). At the "high state" occasions, like ordinations, chrism mass, etc, the facing seats east of the altar (between altar and ambo) are where the concelebrants sit, like a presbyterium. And, for extra-small celebrations just slightly too large for the day chapel, all the congregation are encouraged to sit on the east, and father celebrates facing that way. The size and shape of what is defined as "sanctuary" is extremely flexible, and is defined by candles, etc. when it needs to be larger or smaller, besides the three very traditional altar steps.

There is no impression of being "turned the back to" no matter where one might sit --- because the church is so oriented toward the altar --- ad altare dei. Nobody is being stared at, nobody is having back turned toward them, but all are facing and beholding the altar, the center of life. This is reinforced by the corona and crucifix which guides the drifting attention back and directly to the altar. Although there are seven or eight new shrine spaces that have not yet been filled, it does not feel empty at all since the stained glass was uncovered and cleaned --- 13 huge windows of the apostles and St. Paul --- and I don't think it will be cluttered-looking after the shrine spaces are filled, partly because they are actual alcoves, spaces, and partly because the corona and crucifix will guide the attention back to the altar.

The ad apsidum pushers and the versus populum fans are all looking in the wrong direction!

karen marie
"from the anchor hold"



Anonymous said...

Someone at the archdiocese turning their back on the faithful...? Hmmm...I can understand the feeling. May St. John Neumann pray for our new Archbishop Timothy and may St. John the Evangelist pray for our archdiocese.

Brian Michael Page said...

Elaborating on your second to last paragraph, Karen, you could also say that with ALL (priest and people) facing the altar, it shows a profound sign of unity (as the GIRM does mention fostering unity).

Great post.