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.