Brick by Brick… Altar by Altar

My friend Fr. Richard Heilman, pastor of St. Mary’s in Pine Bluff, WI, in the Diocese of Madison – where there reigneth Bp. Morlino – has made the move to the East.

After a process of catechesis, St. Mary’s has gone ad orientem versus. All Holy Masses will now be celebrated with priest and congregation facing liturgical East.

Here is a happy photo of the table altar being taken out of the church, which I hope to see in many variations in the future.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you might be saying, “Where are they taking it?  That priest must hate Vatican II as much as you!  Now people won’t be able to participate!”

They are taking the altar over to the rectory, where Father will create a nice private chapel.

The New Evangelization continues at St. Mary’s in Pine Bluff.

To put table in front of that splendid altar was just plain silly.

Now they need an altar rail.

Bp. Morlino has spoken clearly about the importance of ad orientem worship.  HERE.

I’m sure that the day will come when we will turn toward the Lord together, in even a more full way when we all face east, when we all turn toward the Lord in the same direction. And when we do that, that’s not the priest turning his back on the people, it’s the priest directing the people to look toward the east, to obey the prophetic word, to believe how concrete, real, physical and visible Jesus Christ was and is. How concrete, real, physical and visible is the last coming, from the east.

The east matters. It matters a lot. That’s why the creator gave us the sunrise from the east to remind us that from there, comes the light, who is Christ.

As we behold the flesh and blood of Christ, in the sacramental sign of the Eucharist, we are turned toward the east, as Jesus comes to use here in mystery, to remind ourselves that our whole life is an eager, prayerful waiting for him to come in majesty, waiting for him to come from the east, turning toward the Lord.

The Diocese of Madison has 35 seminarians.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    It looks like somebody could use a restored altar rail! You know it’s hiding somewhere in bits and pieces.

  2. Julian Barkin says:

    No surprise here, considering his apostolate or catholic organization blog, Knights of Divine Mercy, promoted conservative Catholic materials including Fr. Z’s posts. Birds of a feather flock together.

  3. Spaniard says:

    8 altar servers!! it seems a pretty efficient method to attract young catholics: orthodoxy and fidelity!

  4. servusmariaen says:

    Praised be JESUS CHRIST! both now and forever! This is probably the best news i’ve seen in a long time. I so long to see more and more of the Cranmer and Luther tables rolled out of the sanctuaries or pushed up against the eastward wall. Yes, they definitely need an altar rail. I am assuming that the Diocese of Madison Liturgical authorities would grant them permission for such. I know this is an issue for most parishes.

  5. The altar rail is on the way. We are presently taking bids.

  6. ghp95134 says:

    “…Now they need an altar rail.…”
    Fr. McDonald at “Southern Orders” is having one installed:


  7. Supertradmum says:

    How wonderful and encouraging. Thank you for posting this. Beautiful photo of the Mass.

  8. Athelstan says:

    Good things are happening in Madison. We need more Morlinos. And we need more Fr. Heilmans.

    Something like this would have been *unthinkable* a decade ago – even the mere suggestion of it could have gotten a pastor reassigned to Siberia, or worse.

    The altar rail is on the way. We are presently taking bids.

    The news just gets better and better. Thank you for your stand for liturgical tradition, Fr. Heilman! You have a magnificent sanctuary.

  9. Mike Morrow says:

    What a splendid and encouraging report!

    It contrasts starkly with recent events in my old parish, which until twenty years ago used the old church built in 1916. Before the mid-1960s alterations, it had a classic altar (with baldachinum), sanctuary, and sacristy. There was very ornate and elaborate artwork hand painted in the sanctuary ceiling and on the front of the main and side altars. The balcony at the rear accommodated the choir, served by an large old organ whose output was amplified (in a concession to modern technology) by banks of large 1930s-vintage vacuum tubes. In 1992, a modern new church was completed that bears no similarity to customary Roman Catholic church architecture (but which will be easy to sell to Pentecostals when the parish finally dies out). The old church was converted to a large storage shed. The final insult occurred between Thanksgiving and Christmas when it was completely razed down to the dirt, with even its basement structures removed and filled in. It was more than 96 years old.

    It’s great to see the opposite trend occurring in places like the one shown here. It makes me feel better, after the the sadness of seeing a most fondly-remembered church pass into oblivion. Thanks!

  10. acardnal says:

    Hmmmm…..I guess I will have to send Fr. Heilman a donation in support of his efforts.

  11. Sue says:

    And look how the people are dressed up!!

  12. tonyfernandez says:

    Father, if you wouldn’t mind visiting my parish and instituting these changes, I would be elated. I’ll pay for the airfare, lodging, and amenities. Just please do something with the weak excuse for a church building my parish has!

  13. jhnewman says:

    Avaunt and quit my sight, Cramner sideboard.

    Very cool.

  14. Mike says:

    Amazing! With continued prayer, maybe this would happen in every church!

  15. Joseph-Mary says:

    We have had a priest, who is leaving, offer a monthly TLM for the past 3 months. He had to get permission from the bishop to use the old high altar. It was grand to have that in use again, even temporarily. We also have most of a communion rail that was never ripped out and got to use that too. But now this priest is leaving and we return to no access to a licit TLM.

  16. acardnal says:

    Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “[A] common turning to the east during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of something accidental, but of what is essential. Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. (emphasis added) It is not now a question of dialogue but of common worship, of setting off toward the One who is to come. What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle but the common movement forward, expressed in a common direction for prayer” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 81).

  17. The Egyptian says:

    watch out tonyfernandez, you may start a bidding war

    I need him first, we have 4 of the five churches in out “cluster” that have altars just as nice and all are used as flower tables, 3 of the 4 don’t even use the Tabernacle, Christ has been shunted off the the side in a “modern” apartment at a side altar, handier for the “communion minsters” to access, have tried to bring it up, told that the Church is now “horizontal” not vertical, horizontal as in flat on it’s back I’m afraid, some day I’ll post at my group blog pictures of how the Sisters of the Precious Blood turned their Sanctuary into an adoration chapel and overflow seating, stuck the visiting Priest at a tiny roll around on the main floor, I guess we have not hit bottom yet

  18. tonyfernandez says:

    The Egyptian,
    I guess we just need more priests like Fr. Z around. I’m working on cloning, I just haven’t quite figured out the soul part. Sticky issue, you know.

  19. jaykay says:

    “That’s why the creator have us the sunrise, from the east, to remind us that from there comes the light, who is Christ”

    So beautifully expressed. And yet so many, who constantly bang on about “sacred symbols” just can’t, or won’t, get their heads around that age-old fact. And 35 seminarians in one diocese… mote than from the whole of Ireland in the last..
    aaarghhh. Wake up, Irish Bishops, and stop pasturing yourselves with the spirit of the age.

  20. benedetta says:

    Quite an interesting post, Fr. Z!

  21. This is a good place to observe that one can offer Mass ad orientem quite nicely on a freestanding altar as long as no physical impediments are in the front of that altar. In fact, I think that doing so when possible is important to underscore what the documents of Vatican II really had in mind– the hermeneutic of continuity at its finest. Telling a “spirit of Vatican II” type that “this is what Vatican II is all about” or something like that would be really fun while the person fumed as he witnessed what he would perceive as a liturgical abuse.

    If the church is modern and has no earlier altar against the wall and the priest can stand in front of the freestanding altar– just do it. No renovations required– no excuses necessary.

  22. James Joseph says:

    I have been troubled with what to do with the superceded table altars. Certainly, they must be given a degree of holy respect. Perhaps they can be utilized in homes and rectories as private altars.

  23. Elizabeth D says:

    Yay Fr Rick! Great things happening at St Mary of Pine Bluff.

    Thank you Bishop Morlino!

  24. Therese says:

    “It looks like somebody could use a restored altar rail! You know it’s hiding somewhere in bits and pieces.”

    A friend relates that his pastor recently found a beautiful old procession canopy stuffed into a basement crack. No water damage at all, and just a few days later they were using it. ;-)

  25. Pingback: Ten Easy Ways to Prevent Liturgical Abuse | Big Pulpit

  26. Ben Yanke says:

    Way to go, Fr. Rick! Your church looks much more beautiful and open without it.

  27. jhayes says:

    Fr. Richard Heilman wrote:
    “The altar rail is on the way. We are presently taking bids.”

    In the photo I see the prie-dieu for people who opt to kneel and receive on the tongue.

    After he rail is installed, how will people who opt to stand and receive in he hand do that? Will they be close enough to the rail to just stand between kneeling people and reach forward to receive the host as the celebrant moves along the rail?

    Or will there be a gap in the center of he rail where the celebrant can step forward to be closer to them?

  28. acardnal says:

    Most altar rails have gaits which open in the center. This is so the priest, servers, et al, can process down the center aisle up to the altar, for example, during a High or Solemn Mass. I expect that Fr. Heilman will ensure that is the case at his parish.

  29. Hidden One says:

    jhayes, the geometry of altar rails means is such that it should work just fine. The only real difficulty may be those who wish to stand and receive on the tongue, but the opening in the middle should take care of that (even if there is a gate that is closed).

  30. jhayes says:

    Back in pre-Vatican II days, my recollection is that the gates were closed during Communion so people could kneel across the whole width of the altar.

    It was simpler in those days because everyone knelt to receive Communion

    Now, GIRM 160 says:

    The norm established for the Dioceses of the United States of America is that Holy Communion is to be received standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum, March 25, 2004, no. 91).

    When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister. The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the Precious Blood.”

    Opening the gates so the celebrant can come forward to be within reach of persons who stand and receive in the hand could work

    My question was just asking how Fr. Heilman planned to accomodate people who don’t kneel for Communion.

  31. acardnal says:

    Everyone kneels at an TLM/EF Mass. The gates are closed by the servers before communion.

    If Fr. Heilman is celebrating an OF, I assume the gate will be open and he can offer communion to anyone standing at the open gates or even standing at the communion rail if the gates are closed. The infirm at an EF Mass just stand at the rail or if in a wheel chair the priest will go through gate to reach them. Shouldn’t be any concerns there.

  32. MichaelJ says:

    Is it just me (quite likely) or does GIRM 160 referenced above seem rather pointless.
    “The norm.. is that Holy Communion is to be received standing, unless…” it isn’t?

  33. jhayes says:

    MichealJ. In the past, most complaints about GIRM 160 that I have heard have been from people who were reprimanded by their pastor after kneeling for Communion at an OF Mass (which is all that he GIRM applies to)

    It’s clear that the celebrant must respect the wishes of each person as to whether to stand or kneel and whether to receive in the hand on on the tongue.

    The pastor can instruct the parishioners that the norm is to stand but can’t tell them not to kneel if they prefer to do that.

    Installing an altar rail in a church that is used for OF Masses raises some new issues.

    I think he pastor could instruct parishoners on the desirability of kneeling to receive Communion, but couldn’t say that it is the norm for this parish or tell parishioners not to stand if they prefer to do that (they don’t have to be unable to kneel).

    It’s sort of a long reach to give Communion on the tongue to someone who is standing beyond the kneeler, so it may be good to tell parishioners ahead of time where to go to receive while standing.

    I was interested to hear how Fr. Heilman plans to deal with these issues.

  34. benedictgal says:

    I am surprised that no one has yet mentioned the name of the priest who has literally written the book on “ad orientem”, Fr. Uwe Michael Lang! We do owe him a debt of gratitude for really digging deep into this important issue and thoroughly explaining it. “Turning Towards the Lord” should be required reading for bishops, priests and seminarians everywhere.

    The New Liturgical Movement has a picture of him celebrating Mass “ad orientem” at the London Oratory.

  35. cyejbv says:

    Good news…Oh how I love thee!
    Thanks for posting about this Fr Z; it gets discouraging sometimes out here in the NO/non-ad orientum world. (Any of you that are so inclined to pray for parishes like mine, thanks in advance.) And thanks to Fr Heilman in the here and now for giving Fr Z this good news to give to us!

  36. Support priests who make this move.

  37. cyejbv says:

    Done. (and will be continued…)

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