South Ashford Priest reorders the sanctuary

Our friend South Ashford Priest, Fr. John Boyle, has alerted me to a fine renovation project going on at his parish Church ofSt. Simon.

My emphases and comments.

Sanctuary Reordering

I know some readers are curious as to what has been happening over the last couple of weeks. Well, all can now be revealed.

The sanctuary needed to be extended since, as my predecessor aptly put it, celebrating Mass on the previous construction was like celebrating Mass on a mantlepiece. The altar was at the very edge of the sanctuary. Whenever one wanted to incense the altar, or carry the Gospel book in procession, or hold a service of Exposition and Benediction, one had to leave the sanctuary and ‘perform’ from the floor of the church. This clearly was unsatisfactory. [And theologically problematic.]

A secondary reason to extend it was to facilitate the now regular celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Mass. In order to enable eastward celebration, heavy boxes had to be brought in and placed in position, and then removed after the Mass.

Now, with the extended sanctuary, Mass can be celebrated properly facing east or the people.

Last January, on the feast of the Epiphany, I introduced the option of kneeling for Communion.  The numbers of people who took up this option were not insignificant, so as an addition to the original plan I decided that altar rails should also be put in place.

Many have commented very favourably on the result. A few have raised objections, among which are the following:

"I thought altar rails were gone now"

Well, as alluded to in a previous post, nowhere did the Church indicate that there should be no altar rails. Rather, the absence or removal of altar rails was something that became common, I think under the pretext of removing any barrier between the priest and people, which brings me to a second objection:

"You are putting a barrier between priest and people, reminding people of hierarchy and separation…"  [Well…. yah!  That’s right.  There is a hierarchy in the Body of Christ, the Church.  That hierarchy should also be manifest in the church building.]

Well, actually, although the priest is a human being like anyone else, and although we all share in the common priesthood of the baptised, the priest is set apart for sacred duties, and the sanctuary is a separate and sacred space within the Church. The priest and ministers enter into that area and co-operate in a real manner with Christ the Head of the Church, and his priest acts in the person and in the name of Christ the Head of the Church, in relationship to his bride the Church. [Excellent.  This is what I have been pushing in my WDTPRS articles for years.] The structure of the Church and the distinction of roles within the liturgical celebration illustrates sacramentally the ministry of Christ the Head to the members of the Mystical Body. So, actually, there should be some sign of separation. Indeed, in the Eastern Churches, the sanctuary is screened off from view by an iconostasis, and only the priest may pass through the Royal Door. In many ancient churches in this country, one can still see evidence of Rood Screens which were in place before the Reformation, and some which were removed were reconstructed in Victorian times.

So, here’s a video of the works:


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  1. Mitch says:

    Looks like the work is coming along very well..Praying the TLM in the Chapel was a good sign of what is to come to the new improved sanctuary. The altar rails look so appropriate and do remind me of the way Sanctuaries used to look everywhere. When watching the video and the rails were shown my immediate thought was “That is the area behind which Christ comes down from Heaven” Given that outward symbol (the altar rail) generated a mental picture of the event. It seems to redirect focus to a given point within the Church. A focal point for the whole mystery. I was happy to read most of the congregation are happy with the changes. Good Luck to them all and beyond that, treasure what you have all re-gained. And spread the word. The more this kind of news is spread and broadcast the more it will become the norm for other parishes to do the same..Unified, Dignified Worship is what we are all striving for.

  2. Bertha says:

    The altar rails look pretty awful and are hardly necessary as the sanctuary’as raised area is already clearly distinguishable from the rest of the church. I thought all new church reorderings were required to go through a diocesean liturgy/church architecture committee. I’m guessing these plans didn’t as I can’t see any experts agreeing to this rather plain and unbecoming garden gate and fence altar rail combination. If it hasn’t had approval then I’m guessing the bishop may be rather surprised when he next visits and the thing could have to come down. I think the new raised platform is an improvement and the ‘renovations’ could have stopped there.

  3. Royce says:


    I think you have forgotten the primary reason for the communion rail: to facilitate the proper reception of communion. The aesthetics are merely secondary. Even still, I believe that the raised platform is not sufficient to create the necessary distinction between sanctuary and nave. Of course, the communion rail is not really enough either, but it is a great step in the right direction when the parish can not afford a structural renovation.

  4. This is great to see. Even if they’re made out of wood, it’s better than no altar rail.

    At my parish we still have our altar rails, and they’re put to good use :)

  5. Michael says:

    Fr. Boyle has done a good job, which should be appreciated. The rails are not all that attractive – I agree with Bertha – but serve the purpose. And I am sure she will raise funds for better rails before suggesting to the Bishop the removal of the present ones. We have had enough of vandalism at out expense

  6. Nicknackpaddywack says:

    Frankly, the new altar doesn’t look so good either. Maybe the best they could do under the circumstances? It would have looked better on the wall with the tabernacle.

  7. Father gets an “E” for effort. God bless him! A little stain to make the rails darker would make a big difference, then minwax the finish.

  8. bostoncatholic says:

    What a wonderful transformation. Things are changing. There is a similar transformation going on at St. Ann’s in Charlotte, NC. There is a posting on it at a new blog called “Recovering our Catholic Identity” ( )

  9. I think it’s a huge improvement. The previous setup was awkward to say the least. The sanctuary is tiny to begin with, so this does help it look less like a fashion runway. I’m sure some other details will improve over time as well.

    The fact that a priest is even willing to use the extraordinary form is a great grace in itself.

  10. quodvultis says:

    One remembers visiting this quite new church some five years ago. The sanctuary furnishings were, if memory serves, salvaged from a convent chapel. There is some rather fine work, though admittedly not to everyone’s taste, on the back wall of the sanctuary, sadly marred by the intrusion of a Resurrect (as opposed to a Crucifix).

    It is sad to see that only persons “well stricken in years” feature in the “video”. Tradition attracts the young, as many can attest. Is something rotten in the county of Kent? There ought to be a team of young traddies to push the platform, serve the Mass, etc.

  11. David2 says:


    The altar rail is primarily to assist kneeling. Some of us who want to receive in the traditional (and proper) way sometimes have creaky knees. The rails help us kneel and rise….

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