Friday, July 4, 2014


The following are pictures of the altar both prior and after Vatican II with the post-Vatican II variations of a free standing altar in one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe, Chartres in France. What does the re-ordering of the main altar of Chartres Cathedral say to us psychologically?

This photo is a pre-Vatican II black and white photo of Chartres Cathedral main altar:
 This photo was one of the first post-Vatican II re-orientations of Chartres with a box like altar placed in front of the original high altar. Psychologically speaking, what does this flimsy altar box tell a person when compared to the altar behind it?
This is a later addition and please note the rounded floor. The altar is a table and see through. Psychological speaking, what does this do to the Catholic eye especially in this period of time when Mass had been celebrated on the magnificent altar behind it. What impression must this have made to reverence and sacred sensibilities? 
This is the most recent re-ordering of the altar in Chartres. It is no where close to the old high altar which remains against the apse behind it, way, way behind it and now completely in the dark! What does this say, psychologically speaking to the Catholic mind, especially those who remembered high liturgies at the magnificent old high altar?
The old high altar today, now just a museum and tourist piece. What does this say to the Catholic mind, psychologically speaking?
The modern altar in the transept. Psychologically speaking, what does this say to the traditional Catholic eye concerning the sacred compared to the original altar above? You can see way back in the distance the original altar's reredos:
Now, within the last week or two, there were Extraordinary Form ordinations at Chartres, but using the box like re-ordered altar, which is way too small for the Extraordinary Form Mass, but the Mass itself had more dignity than most Ordinary Form Masses facing the congregation at this altar:
And the new and the original, now obscured, altar! What comparisons can we make and if we asked someone who wasn't a Catholic to make comments on both altars, what would they say and how would they describe the differences? Again, psychologically speaking what does the modern altar at Chartres compared to the older and now archaic altar at Chartres say to Catholics about awe, wonder, reverence and the sense of the sacred?

But my most important liturgical question that trumps all others in the post is: How in the world do altar boys light those tall candles?????????


JBS said...

A flamethrower?

John Nolan said...

Actually I think the (presumably 17th century) high altar is a monstrosity which does not accord with its setting. But it is at least in the right place, whereas the forward modern cube is not. The same can be said for ND de Paris, Rheims and other places; good historical, liturgical and architectural sensibility might have replaced these with something more in keeping with a medieval building (although the sculpture could be displayed to effect elsewhere).

Two years ago I revisited St-Germain-des-Pres in Paris, and was appalled that it had recently undergone a no doubt expensive but dreadful wreckovation with a massive stone orangey-yellow cube placed more-or-less centrally in the church. What on earth were they thinking of? One knows straight away that the 'liturgy' there is best avoided.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

YIKES and You can see St-Germain-des-Pres in Paris with its orangey-yellow cube altar at this link:

JBS said...

Someone should have warned us John Nolan was going to post here today: "the redcoats are coming!" Just kidding! Actually, I think he said he was in the artillery, and so wore a blue coat. Anyway, happy Independence Day!

Gene said...

John Nolan, Re: St. Germain-des-Pres
Look,it is France. Haven't been there in thirty years, but I can imagine the horror. But, I console myself by saying, "Hey, it is France."

Anonymous 2 said...

John Nolan:

Can you confirm the following, which I just read today on the Palace website?:

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in an act of Sovereign grace and in a spirit of trans-Atlantic reconciliation, has ordered reactivation of the “Forgive and Forget” program first announced two years ago on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee.

Any American who swears allegiance to Her Majesty within seven calendar days of July 4 of this year will receive a full pardon with ancestral retroactive effect to the time of the Revolution. Applications should be postmarked no later and no earlier than midnight GMT on July 11, 2014 and sent, in triplicate, to the following address:

Mr. M.E.L. Gibson, C.B.E.
Forgive and Forget Program
1776 If You Believe This, You’ll Believe Anything Street,
London WC 1
United Kingdom

At the press conference held in conjunction with announcement of the program yesterday, Mr. Gibson was asked why Queen Elizabeth had ordered reactivation of the program at this time. Mr. Gibson explained that that Her Royal Majesty was distinctly not amused that there had been zero applications two years ago and had decided to “have another go” this year to take advantage of the pro-British momentum created by American participation in the World Cup.

JBS said...

Anonymous 2,

After Scotland is accepted as our 51st state (or, perhaps they'll join Canada as just plain "Scotia"), Anglo-America dialogue will surely flow more smoothly, since an ocean will no longer separate us.

Anonymous 2 said...


I believe that Mr. M.E.L. Gibson, CBE, is also heading up the “Keep Scotland in Britain” campaign.

John Nolan said...

I am quite happy to raise a glass to you all on Independence Day. After all, the United States of America is the greatest legacy of the British Empire. A pity you never really took to cricket in the way that the Aussies, Kiwis and Indians have, but then the Canadians haven't either - I expect it's too cold up there.

There is one outstanding problem. The US government refused to compensate the East India Company for the tea that the colonists tipped into Boston harbour. In 1874 the Company was finally wound up and its assets passed to the Crown. With the accumulated interest of nearly 250 years I reckon you owe us a tidy sum.

Anonymous 2 said...

P.S. “since an ocean will no longer separate us.”

Wouldn’t it require an awfully big tug boat?

John Nolan said...


Britain is a geographical expression and as much as the English might want rid of their truculent northern neighbours, they can't cut them adrift and float them off into the Atlantic. This year is the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and no doubt there will be much squirling and hooting north of the border before they vote to stay in the UK and continue to be subsidized by the English taxpayer. Dr Johnson was right; when someone remarked that Scotland had 'many noble wild prospects' he replied: 'Lapland, I believe, has prodigious noble wild prospects. But I tell you, Sir, the noblest prospect a Scotchman sees is the broad highway that takes him to England'.

Talking of Bannockburn, I once worked out that since 1066 there have been over twenty pitched battles between the Scots and the English. The vast majority were English victories, and the vast majority were fought on English soil.

JBS said...

John Nolan,

Being entirely of English descent, I admit to having no natural understanding of Scotland's wavering loyalties. But then, I never really understood why a certain island to your near west was always so determined to set itself adrift, either. Anyway, perhaps when the UK exits the EU, we'll apply for Commonwealth membership and we'll all live happily ever after, provided ya'll agree to give up the metric system.

John Nolan said...


The more far-sighted English politicians in the 1770s were against any attempt to coerce the Americans; partly because they predicted (correctly) that it would lead to a European war, but also because they saw the Americans as free-born English Protestants like themselves. William Pitt the Elder, surely the Winston Churchill of the 18th century, famously said 'if Liberty be not countenanced in America, it will sicken, fade and die in this Country'.

Relations with Ireland (and I am an Irishman on my father's side and when visiting Ireland regard myself as such) were complicated by the Reformation, which was also a disaster for England. But then again, enlightened English statesmen from Pitt the Younger through Peel, Gladstone, and Salisbury recognized Ireland's grievances and strove to address them. The land question was effectively solved by Balfour's ministry in 1903 (Wyndham's Land Purchase Act). Too little, too late, perhaps, but other considerations (the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War for example) did intervene. In both conflicts Britain had to fight for her life, her trade and her empire. And she had to do so again in 1939. Since the Revolutionary War the US has never had to do this. Her only contribution to the Napoleonic Wars was to open an unwelcome and distracting sideshow in 1812; in the Great War she joined too late to be anything other than a bit-player, and even in World War II by the time she joined in the main enemy and the main front had shifted to the east, against the Soviet Union.

JBS said...

John Nolan,

Indeed, the US once tended to enter into warfare too late, so now we do the opposite.

John Nolan said...

At least you managed to be on time for the Civil War!

Anonymous said...

I think that prior to the invention of the Opera and orchestra, a High Mass celebrated in a Cathedral was the 'only show in town' - there was nothing in a typical European town or city to compare with the spectacle and grandeur of such a thing. Add chant or polyphony and an organ, the who's who of society's elites and you have a heady mix.

But once there were alternatives for the elite to spend their money and time... once Mass was no longer an obligatory social marker where women could showcase their 'sunday best', where the local town's best voices and musicians didn't perform there... where the moral authority of priest and religious was no longer unquestionable.... then it's inevitable that people who perhaps only came for the show would seek entertainment elsewhere.

There's a reason why persecution often leads to a re-birth and it's to do with human psychology about cost/benefit and value.

When you have a monopoly then the value or perceived worth is artificial. Once there are alternatives the worth often collapses - only the true believers show up. But since religion talks of the transcendent and invokes morals, two parallel systems creates an unstable culture - culture is based on worship and worship tends towards totality so something will always seek hegemony - ergo, toleration often gives way to one side going for broke and persecution.

Now some persecutions do lead to extinction of the previous thinks of North African Christianity almost buried under Islam. Or Catholicism in England or Norway.

But other times the persecution leads to the creation of worth or value for a new generation that's not satisfied with the hegemonic system. Thus Ireland or Poland survived as cultures even without political freedom.

Once people are willing to die for a faith the perceived value goes up. People start paying attention to the truth claims of the doctrine that endured the loss of political freedom, they begin to wonder about the truth-claims of the new monopoly and the cycle will start anew.