What’s wrong with this picture

My friend John Sonnen has posted a photo about which I ask a question.

What is wrong here?

The main altar was designed by Michelangelo, if that makes any difference.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Ann says:

    There is a wood table altar in front of a really beautiful altar that looks like it is carved stone….and chairs and…

    I do hope they will remove the junk and start using the beautiful stone altar again–it is so pretty.

  2. Sieber says:

    Again, it’s the difference between “Ave Verum Corpus” & “Taste and See.”

  3. The difference between the two altars is quite similar to the difference between the Extraordinary form and the Ordinary form.

  4. Margaret Comstock says:

    At first glance the moveable altar seems to be outside the sanctuary. I cannot really tell if that is an altar rail between the two altars.

  5. Paul says:

    The table does’t have wheels on it;
    so we can’t call it meals on wheels.

  6. Racjax says:

    It appears to me that the wooden table and chairs are outside the original communion rail and not situated in the actual santuary.

  7. Margaret Comstock says:

    It seems that the moveable altar is outside the sanctuary. It is hard to tell if that is an altar rail in the background.

  8. Kristen says:

    it just looks funny

  9. Linda says:

    I would assume that it is located somewhere…but at first glance I do not see a crucifix.

  10. mrteachersir says:

    I think it is obvious: there is no semblence of modernity in this sad display of traditionalism. It is no wonder that churches like this are sparsely attended. The altar is too far in the front, so the priest/ess is at the front of the Eucharistic Meal Assembly. Seeing as we all equal and the priest/ess has no more rights or responsibilities than the laity, the table should be in the center. After all, shouldn’t we all see what the celebrant is doing so when s/he isn’t around we know what to do?

    And I won’t even talk about the deplorable use of images and “art”.

    [end sarcasm]

  11. Will says:

    Are the candles on the high altar electric? If so, that bothers me a lot more than the wooden altar.

  12. mrteachersir says:

    I forgot to mention that there is not enough microphones. How are we supposed to hear what the celebrant is saying?

  13. Thomas Burk says:

    An altar designed by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simon! And it’s relegated to a museum-piece. Shameful.

  14. Benedicta says:

    – The Blessed Sacrament is exposed, no? I see a monstrance above the main altar. And a crucifix on the side is facing the “people”, but the priest will be facing the Congregation, and turning his back to everything else.

  15. Roland de Chanson says:

    You mean other than the novus ordo detritus strewn about?

    Well, there are only four candles on the true altar instead of the six required for a High Mass. But that can’t be it because it probably never gets any use anyway.

  16. I haven’t seen any Savage Chickens in a while.

  17. Eric says:

    I would say the microphone on the NO altar is a problem.
    Also the altar cloth is too short on either side, though I’ve seen much worse.

  18. RichR says:

    One altar is made by Michelangelo, the other by Home Depot. One is designed to draw your thoughts to heavenly things and help you to elevate your mind to eternal things….the other is designed to remind you precisely of the humdrum, everyday, nothing-specialness of earthly life.

    Now, here is the million dollar question: “Which altar is a visible sign of the invisible reality that exists at the Mass?” Which one projects the idea that you are at a solemn sacrifice, and which one projects the idea that you are at a picnic?

  19. boredoftheworld says:

    It’s San Silvestro in Capite and there are two pictures missing from either side of the altar.

  20. Martin J. says:

    If the picture was taken during Lent, the only thing that is really wrong is that the altar cloth ought to be purple, not white.

  21. Tzard says:

    What’s the color of the banner on the ambo? Though I’m colorblind, it looks awfully pink to me. (I do see a shade of purple being covered up underneath).

  22. Charivari Rob says:

    Isn’t having the monstrance highlighted by electric light prohibited? Or does that only refer to a light in the monstrance (or any sort of spotlighting or backlighting of the Blessed Sacrament)?

  23. John Enright says:

    Um . . . obstructing the view of the Altar by placing a table in front of it?

  24. Dino says:

    It looks like a setting for a romantic, if distant, dinner in a museum.
    My parish has a similar moveable altar that is actually set up in a side aisle for use, leaving a nice NO altar bare in the middle of the sanctuary. The church also has two side altars from which the stone and relics have been removed.

  25. Londiniensis says:

    It is not a monstrance, it is a sunburst decoration. This picture shows the altar more clearly: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/28/SanSilvestroAltare-SteO153.jpg

    The “picnic table”, on a sort of podium, is outside the raised sanctuary and in front of the confessio.

    The shame is that this is the English church in Rome. It is run by the Irish Pallotines. Its current protector (!) is the Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin; it used to be the late Basil Cardinal Hume, of Westminster.

  26. Ian says:

    How dumb does the Priest have to be to want to celebrate Mass on that thing when he could celebrate on the altar behind him?

  27. Greg says:

    not the main point, but interestingly the paintings on either side of the High Alter (up in the wall) are not there.

  28. Londiniensis says:

    Another pic of the whole sorry (soggy) ensemble is on this site: http://www.romecity.it/Sansilvestroincapite.htm

  29. caveat emptor says:

    What’s wrong? Someone has been fly-tipping in a beautiful old church. The environmental health people ought to be informed to have that old sideboard removed.

  30. IvoDeNorthfield says:

    What’s right about the picture is that the wooden altar is easy to remove, and was probably not very expensive, so that things can be set right without much effort or cost.

  31. Aelric says:

    I’m with Will wondering about what seems to be an electrical cord running from the “candle.”

  32. MenTaLguY says:

    What’s wrong with the implementation of the NO is what we ought to be asking. The NO could perfectly well be celebrated using the perfectly good Michaelangelo-designed altar in back. The “table altar” out front is a gratuitous novelty which is not, in fact, specified as part of the NO.

  33. MenTaLguY says:

    That is not to say that there may be some legitimate complaints about the NO, but I think an important distinction needs to be made between what it actually requires, and what has been gratuitously (and in some cases even disobediently) introduced into its typical celebration.

  34. MenTaLguY says:

    er, I meant to say that there may be some legitimate complaints about the NO. I need to do this “think then post” thing more often.

  35. Mike says:

    Aren’t there supposed to be 3 steps leading up to any altar?

  36. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Are the candles on the high altar “contaminated” such that they couldn’t be used on the “people’s altar”?

  37. Jeff Pinyan says:

    The cord from the floor to the altar is CLEARLY a microphone cord, and not a plug for the candles.

  38. M. G. Hysell says:

    I’m not sure whether aesthetic trumps praxis (and not just “practise”).

  39. Ann says:

    I clicked on the picture and the larger version seems to show niches for statues that are empty.

    And that looks like a stone altar rail behind things too.

  40. Bill in Texas says:

    I’m probably missing the entire point here, and most likely I’m wrong about this, but … I don’t believe the Sacramentary and the bookstand are supposed to be on the altar in the situation depicted (i.e., it doesn’t seem to be the time between the Preparation of the Gifts and the Post-Communion prayer). I don’t think there’s supposed to be anything on the altar outside of that part of the Mass. But I’m not a liturgist, and I don’t know what I’m talking about other than from observation.

  41. thomas says:

    Where is this located?

  42. shadrach says:

    That’s laughable.

  43. Bill in Texas says:

    It’s in Rome.

    Now that I’ve taken a moment to look at Sonnen’s blog post, the correct answer to “what’s wrong with this picture?” is, apparently, “everything.” My bad. Told ya I’d miss the point.

    And I still say that the Sacramentary and bookstand should not be on the altar in this picture.

  44. Brendan says:

    Is there ever a specific answer on these things Father is looking for, or is it always “there’s a table in front of the altar?”

    I do notice that it appears the candles on the table, err I mean “altar,” are electric.

  45. S in Severn says:

    That’s not the communion rail, it’s the railing surrounding the entrance to the crypt underneath the main/high altar. Enlarge the photo, you can see the railing going down and the opening behind the chairs.

    The candles do not appear to be electric, but the photographer could have used a tripod to keep the camera steady for the exposure.

    It looks like too many beautiful churches in Europe that have been “modernized.” : (

  46. Nick says:

    I don’t see anything “wrong” with the altar if 90% of the altars in Rome are the norm. After all, it is the business of the bishop, in this case His Holiness, to set guidelines, and I suspect his vision is quite alright.

  47. Father Bartoloma says:

    I see this all over the place in Rome, and it used to bother me quite a bit. What bothers me more though is this: In Rome and in churches in other countries like this one, the cheap free-standing altar and other furnishings may be silly looking, unsymmetrical and out of place when, through tear-dimmed eyes we can see the magnificent high altar in the background. However, in more churches in the U.S., the high altar is not seen in the background because it has long since been demolished. To fix the situation in the photography would not be too difficult, to fix the situations in churches that have been physically altered and wreckovated, it simply cannot be.

    Who knows. In a few years you may see the free-standing altar, lectern, presider’s chair, etc., easily moved out of this church and other noble, older churches. But to put back what has been long since ripped out or destroyed in many American parishes is either a physical or financial impossibility.

  48. Mark S. says:

    If you look in between the altar and the lectern, there is a chair, presumably for the priest to sit on during the readings. This chair is directly behind the modern altar, in the middle, directly in front of the tabernacle, which means the priest sits with his back to our Blessed Lord for a significant amount of time through Holy Mass. I don’t know whether this is what Father is referring to when he asks “What is wrong with this picture,” but I know that in the past, it was strictly forbiden for the priest to turn his back completely to the Blessed Sacrament, except perhaps momentarily.

  49. Aelric says:

    Well, Jeff, perhaps what you so CLEARLY see is based on your experience with or knowledge of microphone jacks. Perhaps some of us Luddites are not so blessed and hence our question. All you needed to have written is that, in your opinion, the cord was for a microphone, not the candles.

  50. Charivari Rob says:

    I’m a little disappointed. I was hoping there might be some actual point of edification or education. Reading Sonnen’s commentary at the link, though, it appears the answer is “everything”, as Bill in Texas said.

  51. TJM says:

    Ugliness, the highest virtue of modern liberal Catholic thought and practice. Maybe the Last Judgment should be painted over with a big “Smiley” sporting a “Have a Nice Day” slogan. I think Rome needs a Carrie Nation type to come in swinging with her axe to remove this ecclesiastical eyesore. Tom

  52. prof basto says:

    I see things like that all the time here.

    Catholic country. Churches dating from the 16th, 17th, 18th centuries, richly built, with silver, splendid altars, etc, completely deformed by the addition of the Novus Ordo altar that almost always is nothing more then an ironing board or a simple wooden table that would best fit an old-style kitchen.

  53. supertradmom says:

    A people who have lost the sense of beauty are doomed to disappear. Ugliness will disappear, eventually.

  54. David says:

    It’s absolutely fabulous! [fabulous from the Latin fabula, -ae meaning story, fiction]

    I love how the new obviously trumps the old in this set up. At first I was annoyed that they didn’t rip out Michelangelo’s altar and all those trappings from the dark ages before Vatican II, but after thinking about it, I’m happy. I mean, that wonderful table, which I’m sure every working man and woman and those in between will immediately identify with, overshadows all that old dark ages stuff, clearly demonstrating that we liberal elites have triumphed, and there is no longer any room for those nasty traditionalists tyrants. Traditionalists, please move to the back of the bus, and please drink out of the other water fountain!

    It’s just fantastic! [fantastic from the Latin phantasticus, -a, -um meaning imaginary, unreal]

  55. Christbearer316 says:

    I wish I had something more to add after all of these post, but the only thing that keeps coming to the front of my mind is; when will this “ordinary (I find that word quite fitting as how nothing could be more plain and unnoticable) form” be banished to the pits and our once glorious Liturgy be restored to it’s rightful place?

  56. Roland de Chanson says:

    Wait, someone’s absconded with the statue of Marty Luther!

    But seriously, it’s no wonder that Papa Ratzinger prefers synagogues.

  57. thomas tucker says:

    I see dead churches.

  58. Tanna says:

    What’s wrong?


  59. Peter Xuereb says:

    In simple terms,

    modernism = heresies = schisms = Altar table to face the people thereby priests giving their backs to God because people are so much more important = Vatican II

  60. D says:

    The church is not an art exhibit, we should stop treating them as such.

  61. jeff Labelle says:

    And we the people who know better don’t say enough to make them stop doing this to our churches. I am tired of the silly things that go on at the novis ordo and when i point them out, to the people who should know better they make me feel as if i have committed a sin.
    Also I have asked for the tlm in my parish since July of 2007 and still i get the same blank look.

  62. Dan says:

    A shame. Cramer’s table really needs to be removed from all sanctaries.

  63. Dan says:

    oops, Cramner’s that is.

  64. D says:

    Dan, calling the altar that is used to celebrate Mass “Cramner’s Table” really denigrates the sacred. How can we mock where Mass is celebrated?

    How far we have come.

  65. ssoldie says:

    A table is what we eat on, an Alter is for Sacrifice, Whats with the step stool against the….Alter

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