Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A Moveable Feast

Apse of the Karaganda Cathedral.

Recently, we have seen on some Blogs a coverage of the construction and consecration of the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Karaganda, Saint Joseph's.  What appears to be an historic altarpiece has been installed as the High altar and focal point of the Cathedral.  It is an extremely impressive ensemble visually, constructed of timber,  polychromed and gilded.

The two altars sit in harmonious proximity to each other
and appear almost as one unit.

Standing in front of the High altar is another altar,freestanding, which has been the subject of some discussion in the Comboxes.  A timber altar, with rather beautifully done carving, is the altar at which Mass is intended to be celebrated.  But it is not fixed: it sits on a splendid carpet at the same level as the High altar, and the whole thing could readily be moved out of the way.  But this altar was consecrated and a rather ingenious method of construction was then revealed.  Approximately two-thirds of the mensa was a slab of marble, incised with consecration crosses and set into the timber table of the altar.  This stone itself was consecrated by the Dean of the Sacred College, Cardinal Sodano during Mass on 8th September.  Beneath the mensa was placed a small house containing the sacred relics.

The large marble stone set into the mensa of the freestanding altar.
According to the old Pontifical, such an arrangement was not permitted for an altar, but the revised Ritual Books are more flexible.  The General Instructions of the Roman Missal no. 263 says: According to the Church's traditional practice and the altar's symbolism, the table of a fixed altar should be of stone and indeed of natural stone. But at the discretion of the conference of bishops some other solid, becoming, and well-crafted material may be used.  The Ceremonial of Bishops and the Code of Canon Law restate this instruction.  Thus, it is not uncommon and perfectly licit, for a consecrated altar to be made entirely of wood or metal, and sometimes, as in the case of the Karaganda Cathedral, a stone mensa is supported by a structure of timber or metal.

Detail of the High altar shewing the patina of the old paintwork.
This flexibility is surely an advantage when there is an existing High altar intact in a Church, but yet not usually the altar at which Mass is offered.  How often do we see churches with two altars sitting one in front of the other?  Usually, the two sit in uncomfortable proximity to each other, vying for attention.  But not at Karaganda.  Congratulations to those who devised the ingenious solution.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.

A relic house about to be placed beneath the freestanding altar.

Please note that the images are the copyright of the Diocese of Karaganda.