Friday, July 10, 2020


The Old Basilica of Saint Patrick’s in New York City, the original cathedral, Underwent a renovation in 2009. While I would not call it a wreckovation, it misses the mark and it would have been better to leave what was splendid enough alone.

Why, in the name of God and all that is holy, do parishes which need restoration to their building feel that a liturgical make-over will make the liturgy of the Church better? If the old altar remained in place with the Liturgy of the Eucharist ad orientem and communion at the altar railing still practiced, would that have led to more departures from this parish or an increase with the renovation or simply the status quo?

Rohn and Associates were the liturgical consultants and provided the designs for what is new. We used this company for St. Joseph’s renovation/restoration. I was mostly pleased but I did not like all the steps up to the altar and while i approved the removal of the altar railing, that was a mistake which I rectified many years later. Rohn basically did the same thing to Old St. Patricks, a mistake and too many stairs and the horrible railings for people who are insecure with all the steps, including priests with problematic knees and aging priests.

Also, the four massive candlesticks are a trademark of Rohn and he designed and provided almost exactly the same for the new altar at St. Joseph, graciously donated by an anonymous donation in memory of loved ones. Unfortunately when I visited St. Joseph not too long ago these were exiled to the sacristy. I feel bad for those who contribute things to the church only to have them dismissed by those who don’t like what is there. Renovations do that too and alienate original contributors of liturgical artifacts as well as their family members years and generations later.


 After photos:

Please, please, please, never place floral or plant arrangements in front of any altar!!!!!!

Rohn’s mistake with St. Joseph in Macon, similar to the mistake at Old St. Patrick’s.

St. Joseph before:

Rohn’s renovation:
After Rohn’s renovation:

Rohn’s renovation:

After Rohn’s renovation:

Altar without four donated in memory of loved ones anonymously at huge expense floor candlesticks:


Anonymous said...

My uncle Frank had his funeral mass at the Old Saint Patrick's in 2002, which was the first and last time I was there. It was stunningly beautiful. The Church had a "sacredness" dare I say "holiness" about it that made his funeral one that has left an indelible memory for me.

It is really difficult to tell from the pictures just how much has changed, and reality says the Church was old and needed "fixing" but I would be saddened to think that the Church was "modernized" to such a degree that it would lose its ancient sense of "sacredness". Uncle Frank worshipped there his entire life and loved it. He I am sure would not be a happy camper.

ByzRC said...

It is difficult in some of these photos to count the number of steps before and after but, as I understand it, there's an algorithm that elevates the altar to a certain height relative to the length of the nave. This ensures that those sitting in the back have as much opportunity as those sitting in the front to see what is taking place in the sanctuary. The longer the nave, the more steps you will have. Old St. Patricks appears to have seven steps before as well as after, though rearranged. I agree that Old St. Patricks would have been a stronger project if it had been a restoration as opposed to a renovation. The sanctuary was intended to look a certain way by its designer and Rohn failed to acknowledge that (or, the customer was emphatic they did not want that). It's a shame so much money has been wasted ripping out the grand old altars (that people donated/memorialized for but, they never seem to matter) and replacing them with tabernacles on silly pedestals so as not to "confuse" the faithful or, "take away from the altar". The modern NO altar is a table, nothing more, nothing less. It's effortless to take away from that. Plus, at Old St. Patricks, it just looks plunked down not being on a predella. In a dining room, people would notice the china closet (reredos) first, not the table (altar). To me, the same notion applies here.

Last, 100% agree, nothing should be placed in front of the altar that would prohibit the priest from standing there. I really dislike this pile of flowers in front of the altar thing for
holidays in most modern churches. Unless you are in the first 5-7 rows, you won't be able to see that the church has been 'decorated'.

John Nolan said...

The placement of candles on the floor seems to be more common in north America than elsewhere. Nothing wrong with it of course - the placing of cross and candles on the altar dates only from the beginning of the 13th century.

I base my attendance on the liturgy and the music which accompanies it; architectural considerations are of secondary importance.

ByzRC said...

I'm not a fan of those massive candle holders either. In certain applications, it looks almost sinister like something other than the non bloody sacrifice is going to happen there (see Christ Cathedral f.k.a. Crystal Cathedral). Ominous/masonic, not sure of the best descriptor. Put candles on the altar. It helps the usually beyond plain NO altar to not look so barren. And, why do some priests choose to fast from candles and incense during penitential seasons??? It helps no one to anticipate anything.

TJM said...

Father McDonald,

A bit off topic but I think you will enjoy a virtual reconstruction of St. Thomas More's Shrine at Canterbury Cathedral which is posted today at the New Liturgical Movement.

Matthew said...

John Nolan brings up something I've been thinking about recently, about liturgy/music vs. the architectural setting. For me, the architecture is of the highest importance to make the liturgy truly work. I'm reminded of masses by the late Bishop Morlino; since he had no cathedral in Madison, he used a terribly spartan modern church that could fit diocesan masses. Now the liturgy, vestments, and music were all top notch, but, IMHO, the "building" always won out in the end; no amount of other "good" elements could make up for the banal (architectural) setting. It just brings the whole thing down. Now if it were that situation vs. a guitar mass at Old St. Patrick's here, well...I just hate that we'd have to choose between a great setting for mass, and a great mass itself (in a bad setting). I know that was an extreme example, and I hope that wasn't too much off topic. The best, then, is a great liturgy, with top-notch music, IN a glorious space (the church building).

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

In terms of the candlesticks flanking the free standing altar, this came about shortly after Vatican II but probably in the early to mid 70's. Many priests felt the small candlesticks on the altar distracted from the chalice and paten and decanter of wine. So nothing on the altar but candles on each side on the floor and in different arrangements. Many used the funeral candles for the casket on the floor.

I personally do not like the four candles hemming in the altar as though a casket. I experimented with the humongous ones that Rohn created for St. Joseph duplicated at Old St. Patrick's which you can see in the photos I provided.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I've added St. Joseph photo of new altar without floor candlesticks in post.

rcg said...

I agree with John, but note that the form follows the function. It would also be a concrete way to show disagreement with Pope Benedict’s position that both Masses are valid. Why do any changes at all if the old form was still valid and both forms could be done in the same space? Even if you want to have a NO Mass in the old space you could put the free standing altar up when needed. The changes in most cases prevent the old Mass from being prayed effectively. I think it was and is a permanent break with the old Mass so that it cannot be done.

Anonymous said...

Matthew you are right on point. If I were to attend another funeral at Old Saint Patrick's now, I suspect the new "architecture" would not hold the same sense of the "sacred".

ByzRC said...

Blogger Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...
I've added St. Joseph photo of new altar without floor candlesticks in post.

To my eye, this looks much more balanced and less cluttered - the hallmark of the NO sanctuary, candlesticks, little tables and chairs all over the place in the sanctuary. Pope Benedict seems to have agreed with the so-called Benedictine Arrangement.

TJM said...

In terms of the placement of the candles, if the sanctuary is extremely plain, the placement of them on the altar with the crucifix adds a great deal of dignity and demonstrates this is a Catholic sanctuary. However, that preference of mine goes away when you have sanctuaries as lavish as those posted above.

Fr Michael said...

I have viewed this site several times and finally understand what all the consternation is about. There are people who believe that if they can't have the mass celebrated in the TLM form, with the old high alter then the mass isn't valid. Does anyone honestly believe that God sits above all of us and looks with either an approving or disapproving look on the design of the sanctuary or whether the mass is either the TLM or the NO? I sincerely doubt it. The entire purpose of the mass is to give worship to God.