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Renovation Notes - PART 2

RECONCILIATION CHAPEL
The reforms of the Second Vatican Council also touched the sacrament of forgiveness. It was called "Confession" or "Penance." It has a new name, already widespread, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And it has an added public dimension springing from an awareness that our sin offends not only God but our brothers and sisters. Provision must be made for communal celebration of the sacrament. However, private reconciliation remains intact, but is now focused in atmosphere more joyful and restful rather than one of darkness and the "fear of hell." This is accomplished by opening, lighting and even simply decorating the place of the sacrament and providing acceptable chairs for a comfortable face to face encounter. The small, dark "box" becomes a room.

This renewed understanding of the sacrament comes with the awareness that the occasion for reconciliation is joyful rather than fearful. God's love is unending and always forgiving. To share in that forgiving love more fully is to be anticipated with gratitude and relief not dread and apprehension.

The "box" becomes a room and the room becomes a small chapel. Ideally, it should have some understandable connection with the location of the baptistery and the altar.

DOORS
Why are doors an important consideration in the building or renovation of a cathedral or church? Are they just to let us in? Are they just to keep something out? You could use plywood for that. Cathedral and church doors are more than that. They symbolize something.

Cathedral and church doors symbolize, and remind us, that we are entering a sacred presence. A special place set aside for us, as a people, to recognize both publicly and privately that we are in God's presence. Certainly God's presence is everywhere. But behind these doors we find his special presence in the sacred interior space. We also find it in the community of people who gather there for that clear and intended purpose.

The builders of the great cathedrals of the world knew that very well. The doors of many of these cathedrals are works of art in themselves. But, the symbolism was recognized long before these cathedrals were built. How many times have we prayed the words of the Psalms like "Lift us you gates...be lifted up you everlasting doors and the king of Glory shall come in?"

Often our present doors may be security helpers and weather protectors but lack any symbolism of this more exalted and ancient meaning. We need doors that are substantial and beautiful in themselves. We need doors that speak a richer and more resounding greeting. Our doors must manifest an opening to the presence of God!

THE MUSIC SPACE
Perhaps one of the most challenging problems in the renovation of a church or cathedral in the age after the Second Vatican Council is locating the "music space." The choir has a definite ministry but is not to simply perform totally as if in a concert. Music belongs to the entire assembly and while the choir has times to perform as a specialized voice of sung prayer it must not overpower or supplant the active participation of the assembly. The choir, cantor and musicians are part of the assembly, bolstering, assisting and ministering to the assembly.

The problem is compounded when the proper "place" for music must be discovered in a physical space built many years ago when the choir was essentially a performing concert. Adequate acoustics for both spoken and musical sound is a prime consideration. But acoustics cannot be concerned with concert perfection to the disadvantage of liturgical participation. Many churches and cathedrals undergoing renovation today must face the task of properly relating organ, choir, instrumentalists and assembly to form a worshiping community in old, often rectangular physical space, desirable for concert sound with an essentially passive audience.

Most new churches since the Council can plan music, music makers and people into more ideal and attractive spaces. Old buildings often do not have that luxury. The buildings themselves were designed when a different liturgical understanding was present, many times without the benefit of the simplicity of the early Church or the clarity of a developed liturgical theology.

THE ALTAR
Like a dining room or kitchen table for a family, the altar should be more or less centrally located (to symbolize a welcome gathering around the table). For the first few centuries of the church's existence it was a simple free-standing table. In later centuries when the liturgy became a performance by the clergy, it moved physically away from the people to the rear wall. It was no longer a family table but a kind of stage. In those "middle times" the altar was oblong to allow the priest to proclaim two readings from Scripture from opposite ends and separate from the Eucharistic action in the center.

The Second Vatican Council led us back to the earlier practice of the church.

Our tables today are a variety of shapes. So altars may be. Since the sacred food (communion) is distributed as part of the action taking place the tabernacle (reservation) is removed and given another place of honor.

The altar should be beautiful and noble as befits the mystery being celebrated there. But it should be of a simplicity that can be seen as welcoming even to the most humble who might approach it.

THE AMBO
Exactly what is an ambo? It has been called a number of things: pulpit, lectern, ambo. But it is simply the dignified place from which the Word of God is proclaimed. What it is not is a catch-all place for announcements, soloists, choir or even prayers. This space and item of furniture is the "throne" for God's Word.

It can be used for the extended proclamation (homily) on God's Word, but the presider's chair or central sanctuary space may accommodate the homilist as well. This is the place that unmistakably says "God's Word is proclaimed here." Since the Second Vatican Council which once again emphasized the important and essential item of furniture for that celebration. It is a permanent and dignified item of furniture, not a portable stand. Since from this place and this distinguished piece of furniture God's Word is again publicly spoken, the material and design must be in harmony with the altar to indicate the essential relationship between Scripture proclaimed and the Eucharistic offering.

Where should the ambo be located and how shall it be crafted? These too are challenges for the renovation process.

ROSE WINDOW
A rose window in the great cathedrals of Europe was, and is seen as one of the major elements of beauty in the fabric of the cathedral building. Almost all of them have a Marian theme. They are visually immediate in their impact as one looks forward upon entering the cathedral and they become a visual point of ongoing interest that calls back attention again and again.

Would such a thing ever be possible in our cathedral? It seemed like an illusive dream. But suddenly it does not seem like "an impossible dream." The thought of a rose window that could be a memorial of the late Bishop John Sullivan was suggested as a possibility that might attract donors who would like to see both a rose window in our cathedral and a memorial in honor of Bishop Sullivan.

The symbolism in the design by Michael Pilla is based on the title "Mystical Rose" in the Litany of the Virgin Mary. It incorporates all of the various elements of the text of chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation commonly applied to Mary. The text reads: "A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars...Michael and his angels fought against the dragon." In this sketch of Pilla's design (too small to see easily) the central figure is the "Mystical Rose," the center of the rose blossom is a crown of twelve stars; the inner next ring has the daily span of the sun at the top and the phases of the moon at the bottom; the outer ring is of stylized angels.

PEWS AND CHAIRS
There will be new pews and chairs in our renovated cathedral. Why? For one reason the wood in our old ones has many splits and their design will not correspond to the renewed and restored interior space. Also they should have a genuine beauty of their own. But there is a more basic reason for pews and chairs.

When we worship we sometimes stand as a sign of praise, we kneel as a sign of penance and we sit as a sign that we are ready to listen to the Word of God. Pews and chairs are to assist each of those basic attitudes.

They will not be like easy chairs which are to induce rest and sleep. As a matter of fact the seats will not be cushioned. One of the architectural blessings in our worship space is the acoustical fineness provided by the barrel vaults. To cushion the seats would be to muffle and mute the resonance of sound.

In their own basic and humble way pews and chairs are to help us worship and pray better. In their humility they do not provide our attention but they would like to encourage it.

CONSECRATION CANDLES
The twelve candles around the walls of the cathedral have a real significance. They are not just nice decorations. They mark the twelve places on the walls that are anointed with chrism in the ceremony of dedicating or blessing the building.

During the first two centuries of the Church's life there was really no "place" set aside for the gathering of the believing community. The "gathered people" were themselves the "place." Gradually, as the Church grew, buildings were set aside for the worshiping assembly. And gradually a ritual "Marking" the building developed. With the altar being central, the entire physical space is considered sacred.

Just as the physical bodies of people are set apart by Baptism and Confirmation so also is the physical body of the church building. The walls are sprinkled, anointed and marked to indicate that the entire space is set apart as holy. In the thirteenth century candles were added. They are lit for the first time after the altar candles to indicate the primary place of the Eucharist among the rites to be celebrated within. At each place to be marked and anointed the presider intones "Light of Christ shine forth in the Church."

Twelve places are marked and anointed. These are seen to represent both Old and New Testaments: the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles with the church symbolizing the holy city Jerusalem. (If circumstances such as size call for it, four instead of twelve places are anointed to represent four points of the compass.)

After the renovation is completed the cathedral is re-dedicated with twelve places marked and anointed anew with chrism.

CATHEDRAL RENOVATION NOTES PART 3

CATHEDRAL RENOVATION NOTES PART 1

CLICK HERE for Cathedral Renovation Pictures

BISHOP BOLAND'S HOMILY AT THE REDEDICATION

HISTORY OF THE CATHEDRAL

CATHEDRAL HOMEPAGE

 

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