Adventures in Altar Placement!

Hello Friends!

We’re back with some fun pictures and a little instruction.  It is Eastertide, so Fr. Kenny is wearing his white chasuble for the occasion.  It is a bit stained and old, but it functions.

So, generally speaking, there are 2 places to put the altar in a church, there is east facing, and west facing.  East facing is when the altar is against the wall and the priest’s back is to the congregation during the Eucharist, as follows:

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Now, this is an “older” style of church.  The theology behind this, briefly, is that the priest is part of the congregation, facing God with the congregation.  So the priest is the representative of the whole and they are all praying together.  A lot of people think this is impersonal and secretive, because no one can see what the priest is doing.  When this was in high fashion, the Mass was said in Latin, making it more inaccessible to people.

There is also west facing, which is when the priest is behind the altar, facing the people.  My friend calls this “the cooking show.”

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In this model, the people can see what the priest is doing, so it is looked at as a more inviting posture.  Here the priest is the leader, but the Eucharist is in the middle of the priest and the people, so it is like a circle.  The people are surrounding Jesus.  Younger people are more used to this style, and often think that the east facing way is “old fashioned” and impersonal/uninviting.  (I used to feel that way, until it was explained to me.)

Here is the thing.  This wasn’t an issue until Vatican II in 1962.  This was an ecumenical council when we all tried to get along.  It was here that the Roman Catholic church decided to switch the mass to English and we all decided to pull the altars away from the wall, as you are able.

So, you can do either, or both.  Most churches just left their altar against the wall (the High Altar) and added an altar farther out.  Well, here at Emmanuel in Great River, NY, the church is way too small for 2 altars.  So they compromised.  A parishioner who was a woodworker, cut the altar off the wall and added wheels.  So the altar is wheeled in and out for Eucharist.  If you leave the altar out during distribution, you can’t walk back and forth along the rail.

Fr. Kenny shows us how to roll out the Altar.

Fr. Kenny shows us how to roll out the Altar.

Push Fr. Kenny!  Push!

Push Fr. Kenny! Push!

The last priest here refused to roll that altar.  It is awkward and takes away from the service a bit, it caused some conflict, but that was his decision.  But, I decided to compromise.  For the 8am service, I do not roll it, and do the service east facing.  For the 10am service, when I have copious amounts of altar servers, we roll it out during the peace and I shimmy behind it for the Eucharist (it doesn’t roll that far out).  We have gotten it down to a science with little disruption of the service, (I think).

Anyway, that was your lesson for today!  I hope you feel enlightened!

-Mo. Lauren and Fr. Kenny


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