Noble Simplicity Versus Post-Conciliar Sanctuary Clutter

Recently I spoke again about the noble simplicity of the traditional Catholic sanctuary order. I thought I would take a slightly different approach this time and show a sanctuary that is not atypical for the post-conciliar era. I am purposefully not identifying the particular parish church that I am showing here because the point is not to critique any particular parish or its pastors. The fact of the matter is this kind of re-arrangement was commonly seen (and frequently mandated) following the Council (though here it is worth noting that none of this really has any direct relation to the Second Vatican Council itself; rather it has to do with the post-conciliar liturgical reforms as they were frequently approached and instituted by liturgists -- something that is quite distinct from the Council itself). In this regard then, this is not about any one particular parish but rather about a more general approach that many will already be more than familiar with from their own parish churches.

In this particular instance we are dealing with a gothic revival building that has had its traditional high altar removed. In its place. the pipe organ's pipes were placed there and a new altar was pushed out into the former nave. There are two versions of this re-ordered church; one shows the tabernacle in the centre (presumably put there more recently) and another where the tabernacle has been placed in a niche that formerly hosted a side altar (mirrored on the other side by the baptismal font) -- a common re-arrangement in the 1970's and 80's. One can also see that an ambo and a lectern have been installed near the altar and the sedilia has been placed, in one instance, to the side of altar and tabernacle, and in another, right behind the altar. 

It's worth noting that the various parts and pieces, taken on their own, are quite decent -- in particular the new altar which is quite noble indeed. However, an assessment of the arrangement of and relationship between these various parts and pieces reveals what I would call typical "post-conciliar clutter" of the sanctuary. In essence it represents what happens when progressive liturgists are allowed to dictate sanctuary orderings.  Progressive liturgists not only tend to oppose traditional sanctuary orderings because of their particular liturgical fads and fixations, they also tend to want to intellectualize sanctuaries with ideas like "balancing the table of the Word with the table of the altar" and so on. The net result is frequently arrangements such as these and many pastors and parishioners are frequently left trying to make the best of it. 

Shift now to the same church with its traditional sanctuary ordering in tact. Regrettably the best picture I have of it includes a wedding party which thereby obscures some of the sanctuary but I trust you will be able to get the gist nonetheless. To my mind the traditional ordering is not only clearly in better harmony with the overall architecture, it is also simpler, cleaner in its parts and better focused. The side altars and their niches frame the high altar, and the altar, reredos and tabernacle set the clear central focus of the church. What's more, there is ample, open space for the sacred ministers to execute the sacred ceremonies, thereby making them more visible to the faithful. 

I tend to emphasize this point because it strikes me as rather ironic that in a time where we hear ad nauseam about "noble simplicity" what has frequently been instituted are arrangements that are not only not "simple" they are also not particularly noble in their design and character. Rather they tend to either be reflections of a cold and sterile minimalism (at one end of the spectrum) or, more commonly, rather cluttered arrangements that are the end result of modern liturgists' particular obsessions. 

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