Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Restoring A Sense of the Sacred in Sacred Heart Cathedral

May 29th, 2016, Promulgated by Bernie

pair psdClick on the picture to see a larger image.

While attending the deacon ordination rite on Saturday, I realized, once again, a major weakness with our cathedral: the altar is not prominent. It is in the middle but it is too low and there is no suggestion of it as sacred space. That was by design, of course.

The people in charge of the renovation of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester believed the congregation or community should be emphasized, not the altar and not the priest. Sacred space, to them, is the whole space when occupied by a congregation. They did not believe in a hierarchy of spaces. No space is more sacred than another in their theology of liturgy. In fact, no space is really sacred in itself. Only people gathered make a space sacred, according to their thinking. It is not a concept without some merit, in my opinion –“Where two or three are gathered in my name… ” But, of course, we also have in our tradition the influence of the Old Testament Temple layout and liturgy with its sacred spaces in hierarchical order , actions, prayers and theology. Jesus, we recall was a Temple goer. So were the earliest Christians until they were excluded from the Temple and synagogues. The Eucharist that they had always had to celebrate apart from the Temple/synagogues took on an increasingly Temple-like liturgical style to fill the void. Fairly early on in Christian history the priests/bishops, when celebrating the Eucharist, were compared to the High Priests of the Jerusalem Temple.

A desacralization of churches and the liturgy followed Vatican II. (We could argue endlessly as to whether that was what the Council Fathers had in mind.) But, tradition seems to be making a comeback. Slowly but surely –“brick by brick” some say– we are returning to a sense of the sacred. A more balanced understanding of liturgy in line with tradition and Vatican II thinking on the liturgy is evolving.

I have a proposal that would, I think, restore a sense of the sacred in our cathedral. You can see my proposal in the illustration at the top of this post. I think my proposal to raise the altar one step higher and to cover the altar with a ciborium would go a long way to restoring the Cathedral to Catholic tradition.

This is not the first time I have posted this proposal. It is the third time.

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19 Responses to “Restoring A Sense of the Sacred in Sacred Heart Cathedral”

  1. avatar CPT Tom says:

    What you propose is nice. But I watched the ordination and I watched the Bishop’s Installation mass, and what is also really obvious is the altar dais where it is makes no sense for what a cathedral is used for. It is in the way and a hazard during processions, It disrupts the flow of people and the procession, it is an obstacle. I fear that putting another stair will make it even more so of a obstacle.

    What would be better would be a partial restoration of what was the layout before the wreckovation. First, move the Cathedra back to the wall or where it came from, move the ambo back to it’s traditional spot on the left, and move the altar back to where the ambo now sits in where the sanctuary should be in the asp of the Cathedral. It would also unify the space so the Bishop does not have to clunk down from his cathedra and hike to the altar nor over the dais to ordain people. And while you’re moving the altar, get one that is actually proportional to the size of the sacred space it is in.

    The organ should either be moved to a chancel position (like in St Mary’s in Auburn) or moved up to the former choir loft and move the choir back where it belongs. Restore the Statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or an appropriate large Crucifix on the Asp’s wall. Source what is needed from shuttered Churches. It’s not like we have a shortage of those.

    Along with this the “hot tub” immersion pool should be removed from the aisle. During the bishop’s installation the Bishop almost ended up in the immersion pool on his way out. That would have been exciting but not exactly what is desired.

  2. avatar Interstate Catholic says:

    You couldn’t see Bishop Clark at the altar and you certainly can’t see Bishop Matano, unless you are sitting in the first 5 rows. Raise the altar! Probably stuck with the organ. Too big and too expensive to move. The procession to the altar and to the presider’s seat is like a roller coaster ride. Up and down and back up again.

  3. avatar annspazz says:

    I agree with CPT Tom. This was my parish growing up. Right now I can barely stomach going in there…and I don’t.

    The altar “belongs” where the organ is. You can feel it when you step into the is still a sacred place even though they have rearranged the deck chairs…so to speak.

  4. avatar CPT Tom says:

    Whatever the cost to move the Organ should be spent, or sell it an put a organ in the loft from one of the shuttered Church’s or buy a used one, I mean we don’t worship an organ, do we? The arrangement as is directs everyone’s attention inward now instead of towards God. As I’ve indicated I also doesn’t make sense from a logistics or safety standpoint. Not surprising because the “statement” was the main point of it all. Well, worship of God is supposed to be the point of the Cathedral, and hence the reason the space feels wrong.

    If they get rid of the dais, they could fill the void in the floor with either the same tile or put in a mosaic of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or something appropriate. Find a local artist to do it, get the tile laid from someone in the Diocese. There are now architectural firms that specialize in undoing “wreckovation” (seems to be a market, I wonder why?).

    If they did just those things I’ve and others have noted the Cathedral would be better off logistically and liturgically. Much of the cost of the original wreckovation took care of the physical plant and the facility. This is a rearrangement in the Hundreds of thousands, not millions that the cost. They got donors for that mess, they could definitely find people to donate to a traditional rearrangement to undo the Vosko-ization that was done. God’s Peace!

  5. avatar CPT Tom says:

    annspazz, I only arrived in the Diocese in 2005, so except for pictures I had never seen the Cathedral before then. However, I did read about the drama around the renovation of the Cathedral. A study in arrogance and narcissism. Very un-pastoral behavior from a supposed champion of compassion. So sad too, because there were better options,and the loss of the Main altar, which was beautiful, and the butchering of the ambo was a crime.

    Bishop Mattano is cut from different cloth than Bishop Clark, so I hope we see a restoration of some if not all of the features that were hacked out of the Cathedral. God’s peace to you.

  6. avatar torculus says:

    What if the entire cathedral were turned around? That is to say, the altar would stand where the narthex is now, in the geographic south. The cathedral already stands on a north-south axis, so facing actual east is not a consideration.

    -The organ and choir remain where they are now (the apse), and are already sufficiently elevated to be heard well by the congregation.
    -The old choir loft is demolished and the entryway reworked.
    -A new altar is placed in a new chancel centered under the existing stained glass, with a new reredos to connect it visually to the windows.
    -The chairs are reoriented to face the altar, or else new pews are installed
    -There is sufficient space in the new building for entry/exit/gathering that the loss of the narthex would not be a problem.
    -The font could be placed in the (geographic west) transept, which would serve as a baptistery, with chairs that can be turned to face either the font (for standalone baptismal liturgies) or the altar (for general use).
    -Putting the altar in such a location would increase the seating capacity, since the new altar would occupy what is currently the narthex, and the large amount of dead space surrounding the current square block would be lost.

  7. avatar Bernie says:

    CPT Tom: I wonder if you could elaborate a little more on your comment “what is also really obvious is the altar dais where it is makes no sense for what a cathedral is used for”. Could you explain that a little? Specifically, what is a cathedral used for and how does the current placement of the altar work against that purpose? Thanks.

  8. avatar CPT Tom says:


    I meant that a Cathedral tends to have more large processions, like for ordinations, installations, or anytime you have all the clergy of the diocese present. Having the dias and the immersion pool right in the center aisle where you have those large processions, lately with many elderly clergy in it, it turns the dais with the altar on it and the immersion pool into an obstacle course that the procession has to navigate, because, they still process to what should be the sanctuary to sit down where they also still have to climb up and down.

    Also the Cathedral is supposed to the principle place the Bishop teaches from, and Celebrates the Mass as an example to his priests…I submit that the current altar arrangement sabotages that goal, and makes it difficult for the Bishop to get around, especially vested and with short legs. I’m sure it didn’t bother Bishop Clark much, but watching Bishop Matano clunk around I felt sorry for him. It isn’t seemly.

    Lastly, the Cathedral is where the bishop is supposed to be with his priests, his sons, and celebrate the Mass with them. The current altar is barely big enough for one priest, much less a deacon, or altar servers, much less concelebrating priests. It is too small and and ugly box. It’s one thing for Mass to be celebrated on crates of MREs on the battlefield, but in the Bishop’s home church, the altar should be set as if you are having the King of Kings there, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Lamb of God. The current altar doesn’t suggest that at all.

    Finally, if you accept the idea that the Cathedral is to be used for other things outside of Mass, retreats, concerts of sacred music, what have you, having and immovable dais in the middle of the Nave is just clumsy. It obviously is in the way, and that isn’t the way the altar of sacrifice should be thought of. It should be in its own space, the sactuary at the Asp of the Cathedral as the building was designed for originally.

    Hope that explains it. This is based on my impression of walking around and going to Mass at the Cathedral and watching both the Bishop’s installation Mass and The recent Deaconate ordination Mass. I think the “enviromental consultant” Fr Vosko did a very poor job designing a space for Catholic worship, and ignored the architecture of the building to create a “gathering space” instead of a place of worship of our Lord. God bless and God’s peace to you!

  9. avatar militia says:

    I agree that the Bishop (and priests, choir, and whoever, sitting a step above the altar platform is inappropriate. Personally, I would say ‘arrogant.’ I love the idea of a (ciborium? I thought that held the hosts?) — or whatever it is called being used to emphasize the holiness of the consecration space, and to diminish the presence of the organ. Let’s also add more prominent tabernacle space to the list. A bigger altar is definitely needed to be proportional to the entire space. As it is now, the disconnect in size serves to diminish the altar and the sacrifice upon it. “The bishop descending from his chair to the altar” seems inappropriate IMO. BTW, isn’t there somewhere a tradition at least of having an odd number of steps from the main floor of the church to the altar? If so, why?

    Good time to rediscuss these concerns, with the Feast of the Sacred Heart this coming Friday. Mass in the evening; good time to pray for our diocese, and especially to thank God for Bishop Matano.

  10. avatar CPT Tom says:

    The traditional formula for the altar in a Cathedral: From the Catholic Encyclopedia: Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

    When the custom of erecting the episcopal throne on the gospel side of the sanctuary became prevalent, the high altar was removed nearer to the wall of the apse. The object of this was that sufficient space might be allowed between the lowest step of the altar and the communion-rail (six to twelve feet) for the proper carrying out of the ceremonial, and for the accommodation of the clergy who frequently assisted in large numbers at the solemn celebration of Mass and of the Divine Offices. The high altar was erected on steps, which for symbolical reasons were usually of an uneven number — three or five, including the upper platform (predella) [I would think for the trinity, the 5 wounds of Christ, and the 7 virtues] and the pavement of the sanctuary, thus placing it on a higher level than the body of the church, a practice which is still maintained in our churches.

  11. avatar Bernie says:

    CPT Tom: Thank you. That’s clearer to me, now.

  12. avatar CPT Tom says:

    Thank you to you too Bernie, for such a wonderful post, I like all of your posts dealing with Church Art and Architecture, especially the ones on local churches, as I am not from Rochester originally and I live down in Corning, so I’ve only been to a few churches in Rochester.

    It is good to discuss these things now that we can. I believe we now have an Ordinary who has a respect for the liturgy that was missing before, and understands the importance of it to sustaining the faith. Once he gets around to re-ordering the Cathedral, I am sure it will be done in a thorough and manner consistent with our traditions, as well as worthy of the Sacrifice of our Lord and our God.

    God Bless and his peace to you Bernie.

  13. avatar annonymouse says:

    I like the idea of the ciborium, although I disagree that the altar as is isn’t sufficiently prominent. The altar is quite substantial and set out by four quite large candles. There is no doubt that is the altar of sacrifice. And the ambo is also quite well emphasized, so as to visually present, with the altar, both Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of Eucharist.

  14. avatar Interstate Catholic says:

    FWI: That organ (named Halloran-All Saints) cost over 1 million dollars. It’s not going anywhere.

  15. avatar CPT Tom says:

    Interstate Catholic, I am floored, I did not realize it was that much. Big and heavy (40,000 lbs). That article is amazing as well, there really was some grand ideas behind this organ. “Designed to last for a 1,000 years”…”a global organ facility for Rochester.” Oh my. the last is telling, Not a sacred place but an organ facility.

    Okay leave the organ where it is, but screen it off somehow,to reduce the emphasis and then extend the old sanctuary platform by 3-6 feet and restore the sanctuary layout from there. That would most likely be less expensive than moving the organ. It would also unify the liturgical and eliminate the “roller coaster” effect on processions, and the going up and down to the altar.

    Well, in the end, none of us are Architects. Again, there are actually architects who specialize in undoing “wreckovations.” Doing so in practical and beautiful terms. Hopefully something is done that is worthy of the building and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    God’s peace!

  16. avatar CPT Tom says:

    that should be 25,000 pounds for the organ, speed reading mashed in the height of 40 feet. Still a big heavy object. wow.

  17. avatar snowshoes says:

    Put it back,
    Put it back,
    All the way back!!!

    Les Orgues a Notre Dame de Paris are in the choir loft, so there’s your historical precedent, there, folks.

    The sound is best from the loft, not from in front. It’s stupid to have the main pipes in front, musically and acoustically wrong. Anybody who knows will tell you. Yes you can have chancel pipes in the gallery… UP UP HIGH in the gallery…

    Theaters acoustically designed to have the musicians/instruments in front are different from a roman basilica-style church.

    But there’s no reason why it can’t be put back right. AD ORIENTEM!!! We’ll all contribute, I’m sure! It won’t cost all that much, and think of the thousands of souls who will return to Christ in the process! Can you put a price tag on that??? Happy Visitation Day!!! Magnificat Anima Mea Dominum!!!

  18. avatar CPT Tom says:

    Btw this is where the original Organ ended up Mary, Mother of Hope Parish, New Castle, PA and what it looked like when it was first installed at our Cathedral in 1964…notice it doesn’t block the window, which was the excuse to replace it.

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