Built of Living Stones 54-55: The Sanctuary Area

Lots of Catholics refer to “the altar” when they really mean the space where the altar and ambo are located. 

§ 54 § The sanctuary is the space where the altar and the ambo stand, and “where the priest, deacon and other ministers exercise their offices.” The special character of the sanctuary is emphasized and enhanced by the distinctiveness of its design and furnishings, or by its elevation.(GIRM 295) The challenge to those responsible for its design is to convey the unique quality of the actions that take place in this area while at the same time expressing the organic relationship between those actions and the prayer and actions of the entire liturgical assembly. The sanctuary must be spacious enough to accommodate the full celebration of the various rituals of word and Eucharist with their accompanying movement, as well as those of the other sacraments celebrated there.

§ 55 § The principal ritual furnishings within the sanctuary are the altar on which the eucharistic sacrifice is offered, the ambo from which God’s word is proclaimed, and the chair of the priest celebrant. These furnishings should be constructed of substantial materials that express dignity and stability. Their placement and their design again make it clear that although they are distinct entities, they are related in the one Eucharistic celebration.

It seems a no-brainer that the altar, ambo, and priest chair would be distinctive. How to unite them in design to one another? How to unite what takes place among ministers with what takes place in the nave? Many churches, probably most, have declined to use railings–that’s an obvious step. Equally important would be the use of materials in seating, and the floor, I suppose.

Note the importance placed on space around the sanctuary for the sake of movement. Some differentiation in the locations would seem to be important.

All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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