Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Altar at Christmas

As we escape our abominable Advent altars, we must now face the Christmas altar…that is, if you can actually FIND the altar! Before we turn to the abuses, though, let’s look at a couple of pretty nice ones. 

I found this one (and most of the ones below) by googling…it’s one of the few decent jobs that showed up under “altar decoration Christmas”:


This next one is from a parish in my diocese – nice job, Father! You can actually see that there’s an altar here!

And kudos to Father for the 6 candles AND a crucifix
on the altar!  I haven't seen this in the parishes
in our diocese that I've visited.
Once I put 6 candles on an altar in a certain parish,
and the priest moved them into triads
on either front corner of the altar so that
the people could see him better.

Now we will see the multitude of examples of how NOT to treat your altar at Christmas! 

Shawn Tribe, in 2009 article (well worth reading in its entirety) at The New Liturgical Movement, concludes:

This desire to place these items in front of or around the altar seems to stem from a desire to mark certain liturgical seasons with some kind of additional decoration, and in a certain sense, is very likely rooted in a recognition of the central importance of the altar since it desires to ornament it or tie it into those seasons in some fashion. 

Without excluding a proper manifestation of these things, I would take this opportunity to again propose that as regards the altar itself, far better and far more liturgical is it to do so by vesting the altar with a proper altar frontal, letting the colour of the liturgical season speak to the time in the liturgical year. This has the effect of not only fully vesting the altar, but further emphasizes the centrality of the altar itself, thus accomplishing both ends.

Sadly, it would seem that few have heeded these wise words.

Let’s take a look, and try to maintain a sense of humor. And also, I must say that I think that some of these are really nice decorations…and should be transferred to a more appropriate location, like the parish hall.

There's always the temptation to overwhelm the altar with a nativity scene:

The altar is well-hidden and disguised as a ceiling of sorts.

OMG. This one is bad on many, many counts! this in a mall?

Nativity scene with large rectangular ice block behind it?

From the pews, I'll bet the altar is barely visible.

Do you get the impression that the floral arrangement is primary?

Um....couldn't they have found room
for a few more poinsettias?

As my daughter would say: "Seriously?! I mean...seriously?!"
Sigh. Our Lord deserves better. How did YOUR parish do? I welcome photos!


  1. Oh, good grief. That last one? I agree with your daughter. Seriously?

    Didn't get a chance today to get up the hill and look at that house. It'll probably be Sunday as I work the next three days.

  2. Yes, that one really takes the cake, doesn't it?!

    Don't stress over that house!

  3. Let me see if I can figure out how to download a picture of St. Francis de Sales Oratory ....I try to take a picture this Sunday at Holy Mass ....don't have a very good camera , just one of those throw away ones. Yikes maybe I should get with the times and get a digital one ! My girls just laugh at me with my silly throw away one !
    Yes the last one takes the cake ...Our Jesus does deserve better ...HE is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and people treat HIM as some dead object .
    God have mercy on this world!

  4. There are a lot of photos on their website, in the "gallery", and there is a wonderful "virtual tour" - WOW!! No Christmas photos, though. I think for the most part we'll find appropriate decor for traditional parishes, though sometimes the flowers get a little overwhelming even there. If you find a way to digitize a photo, Jeannie, send it to me in an email!

  5. The last one rang a bell for me. We use to do it for Easter, when we had the space ship. It was done in white.


  6. Merry Christmas, Dr. Jay!

    Pardon the Canadian sarcasm, but aren't you glad when the decoration committee imposes their lavish seasonal extravagances on us to relieve us from the sensory deprivation we experience the other 300+ days of the liturgical year?

    I've heard many times, as you've probably heard as well, the faux criticism that the sanctuary and nave should not distract from the central act of worship. In other words, no statues, no icons, no decoration. How is a forest of foliage not a distraction?

    (Our poor eastern brethren, ever distracted by their icon screens and lush vestments.)

    These poinsettia parades are as distracting and liturgically inappropriate as the Advent twig display at one parish in our diocese. It's penitential alright, but not in the way intended. Mangled branches stuffed into dollar store pots. Someone manages to pawn off their yard clippings on the parish every Autumn.

  7. Wendell...all I can say is...LOL!


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