Friday, January 4, 2013


The two renderings below show how the vintage altar railing we will acquire will be placed in our church. The first step from the nave of the church to the altar will be extended all the way across the church to accommodate this railing. This will require the removal of one complete set of pews across the front so that the same width of an aisle in front of the first step will be maintained. You can see this on the right side of each photo. Once the first step is extended, making for a wide landing, then there will be three more steps up to the altar itself, the side chapels will have two additional steps to climb. This will make it less threatening to descend these steps from the point of view of the eye's perception. The current four steps appear as a dangerous cliff to the eye, but three steps do not for some odd reason. This will allow us to remove the ugly hand railings and if a lector or communion minister finds the three steps difficult, they can depart the sanctuary by the side chapels which will only have a two step decline to the wider new landing.

Someone sent me this sermon from the blogs, Father Ryan's Sunday Sermons/The New Theological Movement. It shows the Jewish antecedents to our Catholic Mass and priesthood and has a tiny bit on altar railings too.

Sunday, August 14, 2011
The Jewish heart of Christian prayer, Sermon of August 14th

The Jewish heart of the Mass
by Father Ryan Erlenbush

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
August 14th, 2011
Romans 11:13-15,29-32

For if their [i.e. the Jews’] rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.

The three readings of today’s Mass bring to the fore this relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles. In the first reading from Isaiah, the Lord tells us my house will be a house of prayer for all peoples. He asserts that all nations and all peoples (that is, the Gentiles) will be incorporated into the covenant which God has formed with the Jews. Again, in the Gospel, our Savior heals the daughter of the Canaanite woman – and we have to recall that the Canaanites were not Jews, but were pagan Gentiles. Here the good Jesus first says that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but then he grants the prayer of this Gentile woman. The Lord is helping us to learn that the Gentiles will be united to the Jews and become one chosen people with them.

The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans is certainly one of the most theologically complex portions of the Scriptures, and this is seen especially in his discussion of the relation between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Apostle tells us that the Gentiles will not be saved without the Jews – that the Jewish people have, for a time, stumbled; but that they will not fall and be left behind. No, rather, the Jews (as a people) will turn again to the Lord, and this will bring about the final redemption of the whole world.

In a very real sense, Gentile Christians are “spiritual Semites” or “spiritual Hebrews”, as Pope Pius XI stated. We are “spiritual Semites” in the sense that we have been incorporated into the covenant which God established with Abraham and which he made new in Christ Jesus.

Remember, the Savior did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill it. And so, the Old Covenant is not so much thrown out, as it is made New!
The Christian faith comes from Judaism and is the fulfillment of that Covenant which God had made with his Chosen People.

So, this is the cosmic dimension of the relation between the Jews and the Gentiles; but what does it mean for us on a more personal level? We can say that Christianity ought to have a Jewish heart. In particular, I would like to point out that all true Christian Prayer has a Jewish heart.
Now, you might be thinking to yourselves – “How can my prayer have a Jewish heart? I don’t speak any Hebrew? What is Jewish about my prayer?”
To that I would respond that we might not even just how Jewish our prayer already is.

The Rosary, it seems to me, is the best example of a common Christian prayer that has a Jewish heart. Many don’t realize it, but the Rosary is a deeply Jewish prayer.
Consider that there are three sets of mysteries and that each set is made up of five decades. That means that, in the core of the Rosary, there are one-hundred fifty “Hail Mary” prayers said. And why do we have this number, one-hundred fifty? It is a commemoration of the one-hundred and fifty Psalms which the Jews would pray every week.
The Psalms were the heart of Jewish prayer, they were at the heart of Jesus’ own prayer – and the Rosary is one very important way that we recall the Jewish roots of our prayer.

What is more, the mysteries of the Rosary are extremely “Jewish” insofar as they remind us of the simple historical fact that Christ was a Jew. Consider the “presentation of Jesus in the Temple” or the “finding of Jesus in the Temple” – these mysteries remind us that our Savior was born a first century Jew.

If we all prayed the Rosary every day – something we most certainly should be doing, especially this month which is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary – if we all prayed the Rosary every day, we would be much more mindful of the Jewish heart of our prayer.

Now, today, there are certain forms of “Eastern Mysticism” which have become popular even among Catholics – I refer especially to things like “centering prayer” and “yoga”. What should we say about these things?

This is what I will say: These “eastern” forms of prayer are not Christian, they’re not even Jewish. What is more, they are not Christian, precisely because they are not Jewish!

Enough of all this fascination with “eastern” prayer or with “nature worship” – we simply must return to our Jewish roots, and this means especially the Rosary and meditation on the Scriptures.

We also should point out that our public prayer in the Liturgy, should have a Jewish heart. The Mass has a deeply Jewish heart.

When people today, and even some Catholics, try to make the Mass more about “community” than about worship; they are denying the Jewish roots of the Mass. The Jews understood worship to be primarily a matter of offering sacrifice, and the traditional Catholic approach to the Mass emphasizes this point. The Mass is a sacrifice; first and foremost, the Mass is a sacrifice of worship, the sacrifice of the Cross.

A first century Jew would be scandalized by the way many Catholics approach the Mass today – as though it is a casual meal. Not at all! Let it not be so! We are losing the Jewish roots of the Mass.

Let’s look at a couple of particulars: Almost everything we do at the Mass comes from the Jewish worship. Consider the whole structure of the Church – there is the nave (the part of the church building where the people sit) and there is the sanctuary (where the altar is, where the Mass is offered). This corresponds to the structure of the ancient Jewish Temple. There was the place of the people and there was the Holy of Holies which was set apart by a wall and a veil. There was a clear distinction between the place where the people gathered and the place where the altar was – and yet, both priest and people were united in one common prayer.

Now, I know this might be a bit controversial, but it must be said: It was a mistake to remove the altar rails from the churches. Taking out the altar rail was one step in utterly destroying the Jewish roots of the Liturgy, because it denies the connection between the Jewish “Holy of Holies” and the Catholic sanctuary.

Again, there was a time when people wanted to make the altar in the church look more like a table – removing the beautiful stone altars and replacing them with altars that looked more like wooden dinner tables. This was a mistake, it was a denial of the Jewish roots of the Mass. There wasn’t a wooden table in the Jewish Temple, there was a stone altar! It is a place of offering sacrifice, and a sacrifice requires an altar.

Now you might say, “But, Father, the Mass is a supper and a meal!” And I say, “It is no mere supper, it is the ‘Wedding Feast of the Lamb’ – happily, the new translation will correct this common error.” The Mass isn’t a casual meal or a common supper; it is a feast, a wedding feast! This is the difference between a lunch and a feast: A feast if filled with all sorts of solemnity, everyone has their proper roles and all respect the traditions. The Mass is a feast and a sacrifice, and the only way we are going to understand the Jewish heart of the Mass is if we regain the sense of the sacred and the sense of solemnity which was so honored in our tradition.

Remember, Jesus was not born as the son of a Roman Emperor, and he was not born as a 21st Century American; no, he was born a first century Jew. It is far time for us to recall this fact, to return to the Jewish heart of worship – then we will come to understand that all of history rests with the Jews.


Anonymous said...

You must be bored.

Marc said...

Father, is this similar to how the altar rail was previously?

Is there any other parish in the diocese with an altar rail, as far as you know?

Marc said...

Some further questions: Do you think this rail will stop all the laity from walking around the sanctuary before and after Mass? This is a huge problem at St. Joseph. I think there are many who think the sacristy entrance is the only entrance to the Church, so they go in there and walk thru the sanctuary to get to their pew.

Also, how do you envision implementing the usual army of EMHCs with this rail? Will they cross the rail during Mass? If so, doesn't that defeat the purpose of the rail? The same applies to the lectors... Will they read from outside the sanctuary?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

This railing is much nicer and of better quality and more substantial than the one that was there. The previous one was on the top level of the sanctuary and people had to climb three steps to get to it and becasue of this truncated the sanctuary considerably.

Most Holy Trinity in Augusta has its full railing and gates in tact, as does the Cathedral, although a portion of it removed. I think Holy Family in Columbus does as well. I think St. Michaels on Tybee Island still has theirs and Sacred Heart in Savannah. I suspect too some of our smaller rural parishes have maintained them, but not sure which ones.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Marc, you are giving ammunition to those who don't want altar railings precisely because of what you are highlighting. The lectors by way of the GIRM read the readings at the Ambo and the Ambo is not in the sanctuary since this is where the readings are proclaimed. The same is true of EMMC's, I do not foresee a change it our method, but time will tell. So if you want railings to become more common place you are going to have to adjust some of your pre-Vatican II notions of the purpose of these to post-Vatican II reform within continuity.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Mistype on the post above, should read, the ambo is now (not not) in the Sanctuary as the readings are always read in the sanctuary.

Marc said...

And where did Vatican II address a change in the purpose of the altar rail?


I'm just asking questions, Father. Want trying to start an argument about Vatican II. I apologize if it came off that way.

James I. McAuley said...

Wonderful post.

John Nolan said...

I have noticed that churches that have retained their rails now have most people receiving on the tongue.

EMHC - what is the point of them? You have two deacons and a curate, for God's sake! Since they cannot hear confessions their role in ministering to those who cannot attend in person is cicumscribed. It was never intended that they should form a separate lay female ministry.

A New Year's resolution for you. Get women and girls out of the sanctuary. They have NO BUSINESS WHATSOEVER substituting for clerics and dressing as such. You know it makes sense.

Anonymous said...

What Church did this Altar Rail come from? Can people ( For Home Chapels, For example) purchase other things from this church and who do they contact?

John Nolan said...

Father, you are quite right to highlight our Judaic heritage. The Church's liturgy is focused on singing the psalms (all of them every week, if you do it properly). It is difficult to prove, but the Chant of the Church may well have had its origins in the Temple chant (in Our Lord's day they did not sing in the synagogue) and those who are fortunate enough to hear the Gospel tone in Holy Week are struck by its resemblance to Jewish cantillation.

St Thomas reminds us that at the Last Supper:
In supremae nocte cenae, recumbens cum fratribus, observata lege plene, cibis in legalibus, cibum turbae duodenae, se dat suis manibus.

And that's where we part company with our Jewish brethren : Et antiquum documentum novo cedat ritui.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Just google King Richard's Atlanta and you should find its web site

Joseph Johnson said...

Wouldn't this be the first altar rail to be installed in a church in the Diocese of Savannah since the Second Vatican Council? If so, that's a pretty big deal for the Reform of the Reform movement in our diocese.

For those in our diocese who don't know what is going on at St. Joseph in Macon doesn't this merit a story in the "Southern Cross" perhaps with a catechetical explanation as to why this is being done?

I will tell anyone in my parish who will listen about your blog but I wonder how many (from my parish) actually remember to pull it up and look at it. I'm sure many of them regularly at least skim and maybe read certain parts of the "Southern Cross." An article about this would be a great idea!

Anonymous said...

St. Joseph Anonymous here.
Dear Father:
1. We get the message that we are never quite good enough.
2. We get the message that you just can't leave things alone for a period of time and we must always be in flux.
3. We get the message that we need less pews.
4. We get the message that persons with not so great ambulatory skills shouldn't bother because the hand rails will be gone.
5. We get the message that persons in wheelchairs won't have space up front anymore. (how are they being accommodated?)
6. We get the message that new funds have to be raised on new projects while current ones aren't complete.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

St. Joseph Anonymous, perhaps I misread you, but you strike me as an angry person, or at least you dislike me, and that you have some authority issues and don't completely comprehend the nature of the Church and its governance especially as canon law (in light of Vatican II) makes clear. Thus this leads you to spew forth false information or half truths and thus betrays a need for conversion or at least confession. So let me correct your horribly incorrect conclusions:

1. This is an outright lie and your perception only--get over it, it is unhealthy for you!

2. Change is a part of life, health changes, people die, church changes, especially upkeep and renovations--most people handle this with great dignity and appreciate that the Church and parish are living organisms not dead and inanimate.

3. We can get by with less pews, yes, this is true especially has I added an additional Mass (Saturday Vigil) in 2005.

4. Outright lie again, betrays your issues which you alone must address with the help of trusted friends. It will actually be easier for people depart the sanctuary, especially when leaving by the side chapels.

5. Complete lie and shows you didn't really look at the drawings right side! Really! The place for wheel chairs will be exactly as they are now, which I might add, I insisted upon when the Church was restored in 2004--the spaces for the wheel chairs were by my decree and these remain. Please don't lie and if intentional on your part a mortal sin.

6. At total of 9 people have already contributed almost $43,000 and one gave $30,000 in cash. Please do not denigrate the generosity of our parishioners! Catholic Stewardship is about conversion and discipleship. No one is forced to give and the track record of this generous parish should be obvious to all and I hope to you!

Anonymous said...

St. Joseph Anonymous here.

Father - we love you, the Church, and St. Joseph's.
If one disagrees with what you say you get judgmental - how can we have a discussion like that? How can we get you to hear criticism without being defensive? How does this attract people to want to be Catholic?

Marc said...

Dear St. Joseph Anonymous:

While Fr. McDonald has already provided a more that adequate defense of his decision making, which as he points out is his province, I provide my own reproach of your "critiques":

1. We are never quite good enough. Fixing that is the whole purpose of the spiritual life. If any priest has ever told you that you are good enough just as you are, he lied to you. Repentance is the purpose of our lives.

2. We are in flux because prior priests caused havoc at the parish. You should blame them for making changes inconsistent with the Catholic religion. Fr. McDonald, for his part, is doing what he sees necessary to fix those mistakes.

3. This is just ridiculous.

4. No one should be entering the Sanctuary from the nave except priests and servers during the Procession. Priests and altar servers enter from the sacristy. Moreover, they are ambulatory. You, presumably a layperson, have no business entering the Sanctuary so it makes no difference whether it is accessible to you or not.

5. Look at the renderings to correct your misunderstanding.

6. Thank God and Fr. McDonald that you attend a parish that is so well-funded. My guess is the priests at the other local parishes would love to be able to do projects that were as well funded as St. Joseph.

Finally, try getting up the courage to post your actual name instead of relying on the anonymity of the internet. No one will take your complaints seriously when you make them anonymously.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

To have a fruitful discussion I would recommend evaluating what has happened including the plans that clearly show what will take place properly.

Then if there are legitmate questions ask them in a non-accusatory way.

Don't denigrate those who give to this special project, which I might add has been approved by the pastoral council, the legitmate organ of the parish for these things to be discussed and finally approved by the bishop based upon consultation with the pastoral council and a finance package approved by the Finance Council, which has yet to take place as not everything is known about the cost of the extension of the floor's first step.

Finally it is unhelpful to throw out statements that are patently false and misleading.

Marc said...

Additional comments since I cross-posted with St. Joseph Anonymous:

I'm sure Fr. McDonald appreciates your second post and the changed tone.

I hope you'll see that Father was being appropriately judgmental because you are patently incorrect in your previous assertions. He was also being forceful because of the nature of your wrongness.

I would suggest again that Father might take you more seriously if you (1) avoid posting anonymously, and (2) use something as a barometer other than your own feelings about the situation.

For my part, I have questioned Fr. McDonald on this blog for however long it has been in existence. I have also championed him when he made good decisions. I've done this both publicly and privately.

In fact, I did both those things in this very thread (see above at comments 2 and 3 by me). I have always done so under my own name.

I'm not saying that I have always been right in my criticism, but I have always attempted to back it up with reference to actual Church teachings (as I understand them) and history/tradition.

On the other hand, you came in with a multi-part criticism backed up by nothing at all. So, who was being judgmental and defensive in this discussion? I think Father acquitted himself appropriately given the tone of your first post...

ytc said...

Yikes people! Calm down. I do not get the feeling that St. Joseph Anonymous is a wacko liberal or is being hateful or malicious or anything. I think that, probably from his/her perspective, the statement-critiques are legitimate. (Please consider that.) I don't think this person is a recurrent nuisance (?)

Fr. M, good Lord! I think your response was a bit of an overkill.

Anonymous said...

Hey John Nolan, a woman-hater, I take it. Or maybe a woman is only good enough if she tends to your needs. The women of St. Joseph Parish do most of the grunt work in this parish. Cooking, cleaning, laundering, are all the menial tasks men take for granted. I see the installation of this railing as a sign that EEMHCs at St. Joseph will be eliminated because the priests will be the only distributors of Holy Communion after it is installed. The only purpose of EEMHCs was way back when the Churches were full on a weekly basis and this part of the Mass took forever. I plan on resigning as an EEMHC so I do not have to get a pink slip through my e-mail.

Anonymous 2 said...


What I am about to say is not intended as criticism of you at all, although it will critique something you said. I am doing this because, just as you felt the need to come to the defense of Father McDonald, I feel the need to come to the defense of another priest.

I do understand what you mean when you say that “We are in flux because prior priests caused havoc at the parish. You should blame them for making changes inconsistent with the Catholic religion. Father McDonald, for his part, is doing what he sees necessary to fix those mistakes.” I do understand that Father McDonald and others, especially various St. Joseph’s parishioners who follow this Blog, consider that prior priests made mistakes. That’s all well and good, and the changes we are experiencing at St. Joseph’s are part of the “working out” and the “working through” of this perception. And I really don’t want to challenge that here (although I have asked questions about certain aspects of it in other threads, and I do believe that asking questions that explore limits and ramifications is appropriate).

I would respectfully suggest, however, that your use of the phrase “caused havoc at the parish” must be seen in context and must be heavily qualified. I assume you mean liturgical havoc; and you can only be referring, or must be mainly referring, to Monsignor Cuddy who was pastor at St. Josephs for over thirty years. Now one can disagree with what Monsignor did, one can say he made mistakes, one can perhaps even suggest that he caused liturgical “havoc” if that is one’s rhetorical inclination. But – and, again, I am not intending to criticize you here because, like many relatively recent newcomers to St. Joseph’s, I don’t think you ever really knew Monsignor Cuddy in the way that those of us who have been members of the parish for much longer have come to know him – I think it is important also to emphasize that Monsignor was, and still is, a much beloved priest who has done wonderful work for the Church and has been a true Godsend to so many of us over the years (I know he has been such to me). I would be very surprised if any priest in the diocese ever attracted more people to join the Church or tried as hard to help people understand and know God’s great love for us.

Monsignor Cuddy and Father McDonald are very different personalities. They both have very fine qualities, and they both have some faults, as do you, as do I, as do we all. They both love the Church, they both love their parishioners, and they both have done what they think is best for the Church and for their parish. And I sincerely believe that God must be well pleased with both of His good and faithful servants.

Again, Marc, this is not intended as criticism of you. I just want readers who might not know Monsignor Cuddy, but who might know of his prior tenure at St. Joseph’s, to think of him as more – much more – than as a priest who “caused havoc at the parish” (quite apart from the fact, of course, that many would likely disagree that he caused such “havoc” or made serious “mistakes” in the first place; but that’s a different point).

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

If anything was over the top, I apologize, but of course the truth must be served and when the truth isn't served, that should be pointed out. In terms of EMHC's there will always be a need at St. Joseph unless there are enough clergy to assist. With intinction we need four stations and with the chalice at our 9:30 AM Mass, we need ten stations.
The liturgical law is that if there are enough priests and deacons, we do not need the use of extraordinary ministers, as the name "extraordinary" implies. That seems clear to me.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

In terms of what transpired here prior to my arrival in 2004, there wasn't anything out of the ordinary in that regard. What I had to do was simply implement and at the request of our bishop I might add, the new General Instruction of the Roman missal which had been issued in 2002. This meant re-orienting some things liturgical, but not a great deal at all. The biggest challenge was placing a major capital campaign and fund raising on a better footing and prioritizing the work according to what the bishop at the time had requested, which was the Church first and the first and second phases of the school's renovation. The gym and additional classrooms would be last and when funding became available. One must keep in mind that the previous pastor here was nearly murdered by having his throat sliced and his money taken at a motel in Atlanta and that this caused him to have to take care of health concerns and at the age of 75 when it happened was very difficult for him to recover quickly. All this took place while a major capital campaign and building project was going on and liturgical updates were being issued. With that said, a very active laity took leadership roles that made possible the completion of the first phase of things and the paying off of a million dollar debt in six years. So when we began our new campaign we were debt free. I believe we will be debt free in a similar period of time when construction is completed in late 2013 or early 2014, so add six years to that by 2020 we'll be debt free and in a new campaign to build a office building and update the Church's campus.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I should add that the altar railing is needed for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass that is celebrated here regularly. The Ordinary Form of the Mass will have distribution of Holy Communion as it is normally done already, at stations, where the communicant is instructed that in the ordinary form of the Mass, the norm in the USA is to stand to receive Holy Communion, kneeling is the exception, both are allowed and the choice is the communicants. The same is true of Holy Communion on the tongue or in the throned hand--both options are equal and the choice is the communicants, not the ordinary or extraordinary minister's. The Extraordinary Form of the Mass does not allowed for EMHC's nor for Holy Communion in the hand the the norm is to kneel unless there is a physical reason for the exception of standing.

Marc said...

Anonymous 2,

I appreciate your critique for what it is and take no offense. Having personally known the nature of the priest about whom we speak, I agree with your assessment of him personally.

Having come into St. Joseph at a time when the Tabernacle was left forgotten at a side altar and a cantor led the congregational singing from the ambo during Mass, I have to persist in use of the word "havoc" to describe the situation. Although, you are partially correct I meant "liturgical havoc."

You see, for me, there is no divide between liturgy and doctrine/dogma/faith -- just as the Church teaches. So, to create liturgical havoc is to create doctrinal havoc and negatively impact the faith of the parishioners.

Please refer to the continued remnants of this havoc at Mass this Sunday when you see people holding hands during the Our Father, all the laity walking around the Sanctuary before and after Mass, and any number of things that seem minor but actually demonstrate meaningfully the state of the spiritual lives of the parishioners.

I will bow out of posting on these subjects now to avoid touching a nerve.

Marc said...

By the way, my previous comment was speaking merely objectively. I am not attempting to discuss anyone's subjective decision making -- I am hopeful that every priest, especially pastors, makes decisions out of a place of purity and hope that they are doing the best thing for their flock.

It is very easy to judge the effect of those decision in hindsight. That, in my view, does not make a particular bad decision correct, but excuses the bad decision based on its result.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

There are some traditionalists who lament that the post Vatican II Mass pays to much attention to the laity's participation and what they are doing, so, in a sense, the priest of course should not ask anyone to hold hands, but if family groups do so, why should anyone be concerned, the same with the orans position at the Lord's Prayer.

Marc said...

You, as a catechist, should be concerned that they do not understand the reason for what they are doing.

There are many in your congregation who say the words of consecration in the pews along with you... should be avoid correcting that errant understanding as well?

Marc said...

The further answer to your question is that we care because there is a qualitative difference between the ordained priesthood and the laity. This is not a pre-Vatican II vs. post-Vatican II thing.

Although, you throw around this "pre-Vatican II people" thing so much (particularly toward me) that it is really difficult to buy into your actually believing there was no rupture. Indeed, you are the one citing rupture, I am citing continuity.

If it was wrong then, it is wrong now. If it was holy then, it is holy now. Continuity.

It was wrong then, but is allowable now. It was holy then, but is more available now. Rupture.


Anonymous 2 said...

Thanks for your response, Marc. I don’t see that you need to bow out of posting on such subjects. I certainly intended no chilling effect from my observations, just to correct a possible misapprehension on the part of some readers.