Tabernacle by Tabernacle

A while back there was a flurry of discussion in Madison, WI about the long-standing, patiently-implemented, diocesan-wide policy of returning the tabernacles for the Blessed Sacrament to the center of churches.

News reached me that in Brooklyn, a church is being restored to its focus on the Blessed Sacrament with the restoration of its altar that was (heinously) removed some 30 years ago.

From the Brooklyn Daily:

Second coming! Church’s rescued relic restored [See what they did there?  Cutesy.]

An important piece of a Bath Beach church’s century-old altar has returned from the grave thanks to a pious parishioner whose de-shrine intervention saved it 30 years ago, his pastor said.

“The high altar is right in the center of the church, and the piece Bill saved is an important piece of it,” said the Rev. Michael Louis Gelfant.

Bill Coppa rescued the face of St. Finbar Church’s tabernacle — where Catholics store what they believe is the body of Jesus Christ — from a garbage pile during a 1984 renovation. A previous pastor didn’t give a frock about the gilded marble masterpiece, but Coppa thought trashing it was a sin, so he put it in his den, he said.

“I ran back in and I said ‘Father! There’s this beautiful piece there, and it’s thrown in the trash,’ and I asked if I could take it,” Coppa said. “He didn’t mind, so I grabbed it, and I’ve had it in my home office for 32 years.”

The congregation is in the midst of a larger renovation, and Coppa jumped at the chance to return the relic, he said.

Gelfant discovered two other pieces of the altar in a forgotten storeroom shortly after inheriting the flock in 2010, and the revelation inspired him to return the church to its former glory, he said.

“Those two great finds sparked the possibility we could restore it to the way it was,” Gelfant said.

Parishioners raised nearly a million dollars for the renovations, which started in October 2015. The church is tearing up 30-year-old tile to reveal the main sanctuary’s original terrazzo floor, sprucing up pews, and rehabbing the building’s exterior.

Gelfant expects they’ll resurrect the sanctuary, including the altar, in time for Easter, and anticipates the rest done in the following months.

The project has many long-time parishioners excited, and some handy churchgoers even volunteered their talent, Gelfant said.

“The people are so proud they’re getting their church back, and some have donated their labor — it’s been a real community effort,” he said. “People were never really happy with the 1984 renovations, a lot of them called it a ‘wreck-o-vation.’

No, they weren’t.  And they still aren’t.

Church architecture and decoration reflect what the Church believes about herself.  When we wreck beautiful church, stripping them of any trace of the transcendent, and turn them into confused and tacky meeting spaces, when we build church that look more like municipal airports than they do sacred spaces, we have a clue that something is deeply twisted in our prevailing Catholic identity.


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  1. Pigeon says:

    St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Houston, based on a picture I saw in a bulletin a couple months back, is fixing the altar and tabernacle so they’re not staggered (currently the tabernacle is on the left and the altar is on the right), and also adding altar rails.

  2. frjim4321 says:

    As much as I may not like some of the artifacts I found in this church when I got there I would never think of discarding them. Somebody paid for them. [EXACTLY. This is something that many priests didn’t grasp/forgot/ignored.] And you can’t buy quality stuff anymore. I really don’t like hearing about priests throwing stuff out, simply because it does not conform to their personal taste.

  3. acardnal says:

    I funded the replacement of a tabernacle in a previous parish I once attended.

    The existing tabernacle was a cheap, lightweight, brass (bronze?) sphere sitting on a table off to the side. It was most certainly NOT worthy of the Blessed Sacrament and could easily have been stolen or tampered with. The new pastor took advantage of my offer and purchased a refurbished, classic tabernacle from a church used-goods store in Milwaukee. I paid for a new rear altar (reredos?) to be built, placed against the rear wall and the new tabernacle was placed inside of it; it is now in the center of the sanctuary behind the main altar. Prior to implementation, the parish council was consulted and approved the use of the new tabernacle. The pastor implied that the old, brass spherical tabernacle would be sent to the missions.

  4. cda_sister says:

    @Pigeon….This renovation is in abundant thanks to their new, and our recently former..(insert sad face with tears), pastor, FrSBR. This church was/is in need of some serious work and TLC. His architectural vision for restoring traditional beauty to our churches, especially the sanctuary, is phenomenal. And they are even getting an altar rail!!!! How awesome is that??? If you want to see the results of his gift of vision, come visit and see what he brought about at St Theresa’s in Sugar Land. When you walk thru the new doors (made of wood salvaged from the floors of St Mary’s Cathedral – thanks again to Fr), you know instantly that you are in a Catholic church. Your eyes are drawn immediately, straight up the center aisle, to the breathtaking, lifelike Crucifix ( I will never forget it’s unveiling), hanging on the back wall behind and above the altar, and just below, the beautiful gold tabernacle to hold the precious body and blood of our Lord. Christ Crucified and Christ Risen, all in one place. Next is the gorgeous marble altar, with reliquary holding relics of St. Therese in the center of the base. And who can forget our fabulous pipe organ that resounds with sacred music every Sunday. Little did anyone realize what a gift all this beauty would be to us but along with it, and the gift of FrSBR priestly ministry, came a renewed reverence and sacredness to the celebration of the Holy Mass. You truly feel the presence of our Lord. All of this a result of this amazing, humble and dedicated priest’s vision and prayers. Through the tremendous financial generosity of parishioners, his visions became reality. Though there are many of us who continue to dearly miss his presence with us, we’ve but to look around our campus….the church, chapel, school….and of course, just across the street to the beautiful new rectory that was also a result of his vision and much prayer, to know that he will never be far from us. His spirit is with us thru the fruits of his visions…ours to treasure and share… his legacy to us and to those yet to join the family of St T’s. We are praying for him and the success of his renovation efforts at St Elizabeth Ann Seton, and cannot wait to see the finished results.

  5. Charivari Rob says:

    I don’t know how much one can really say that you can/can’t buy quality stuff anymore.
    To have something made… perhaps. I think talented craftsmen are more readily available for wood working rather than metal/stone/marble.
    To buy something already made… It’s an unfortunate by-product of church closings that there is beautiful stuff available on the salvage market. My native parish in suburban NJ built a new church several years ago – did a beautiful job acquiring key elements from a salvage warehouse somewhere in PA (the older church remains in use as the chapel, so nothing was removed from there). Altar, ambo, tabernacle in marble; stations of the Cross in marble/mosaic. I doubt they could’ve had pieces of similar quantity made for a similar price.

  6. kurtmasur says:

    Great news! While it is heartening to know that in 2015 efforts such as this one took place to restore this church to its former glory, it saddens me to know that also in 2015 some churches are still going through wreck-o-vations. For those who are familiar with the shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague Church in Prague, Czech Republic, (Church of Our Lady Victorious), the Carmelite superior in charge of the church is of a certain *modernist* mentality that thinks that anything traditional must be discarded with. Just a few months ago he replaced the NO altar with a slab stone altar that while nice, it is something that I would personally choose to have as a fancy table if I had some fancy law office. He took away the pulpit from the sanctuary, and placed a permanent pulpit (as in, attached to the floor), in the area just off the steps leading to the sanctuary, but in front of the pews! Not only that, he removed most of the seating for the clergy, including the celebrant’s chair, out of the sanctuary, and moved it to the same area where the new pulpit is, between the sanctuary and pews. So in effect, clergy only enter the sanctuary as soon as the whole first part of the Mass finishes (Liturgy of the Word), and it is time to begin the second half, starting from the Offertory and remain up in the sanctuary until Communion finishes.
    And yes, he removed the tabernacle from the sanctuary (it was always at the center on the original traditional pre-Vatican II altar), and designated the tabernacle on the side altar (where the statue of the Infant Jesus is) to be the church’s tabernacle. He erected a big ugly cross in place of the old altar tabernacle.

    Now that I think about this, things could have been much worse. From what I understand, the superior had more ambitious plans such as destroying the stone altar rail. Fortunately, the church structure itself is protected by municipal laws that aim to preserve historic monuments and buildings, so the City of Prague told him “NO!” when he wanted to destroy the altar rail. It is quite ironic to think that the Czech Republic being the atheist country that it is, that it was precisely atheists who stopped a church’s destruction in the hands of a priest!

    The only thing *positive* that I see with the changes, however, is that with the pulpit gone from the sanctuary, no lectors (i.e. lay people) will have to enter the sanctuary anymore in order to read the readings. And as for the new altar itself, the only consolation is that the original pre-Vatican II altar still remains there, even if hidden in the back. Oh yeah, for the record, I hate Vatican II :-)

    Anyways, here you can see a series of photos from the consecration of the new altar, and you can see the new pulpit too here: You can see the new modernist cross in the background of the 2nd photo, but it’s not that good of a quality image. In the middle photos, you can see the ugly permanent pulpit right in front of the pews. And towards the last photos, you can see….a guitar!

  7. NoraLee9 says:

    St. Finbar’s is one of the most beautiful churches in a a borough of beautiful churches. What was done in 1984 was criminal. I attended my cousin’s funeral there in 1995. There I was with my mantilla, and Fr. was canonizing cousin from the pulpit. It had been a memorable wake, in that he had been in the Navy, stationed in PR, and married a woman from there. HER family knew what to do at the wake, and when THEIR priest started us in the devotions for the departed soul and the Rosary, the entire family (my side) got behind ME to follow my words and what I was doing. (“Hey Nora, you got any extra beads in your purse?)
    I literally RAN from the Church at the end of the funeral, as the recessional “hymn” selected was “The Rose.”
    We drove over to the VA cemetery in PA where THEIR priest blessed the coffin and the grave and sang parts of Faure’s Requiem. THAT was beautiful. When they lowered him into the earth, the wife tried to throw herself in after him.
    To which I asked the husband, “Are you sure they aren’t Irish?”
    Not to worry, her sisters caught her.
    I am EXTREMELY GLAD that St. Finbar’s is getting a much needed restoration. Undoubtedly Una Voce Brooklyn will set up an ExtraOrdinary Rite Mass there to celebrate the finish. I promised my 18-year old a trip down there, and after prayers of thanksgiving, we will visit one of the many pasticceriae down there and bring a box home.

  8. frgelfant says:

    This might be of interest as well. We appreciate the well wishes.

  9. mburduck says:

    Well done, Father!

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