Renovation follows church norms
The renovation of Sacred Heart Cathedral was undertaken not only for structural and aesthetic purposes, but also to bring the cathedral into line with church regulations and norms for cathedral design, according to Father Joseph A. Hart, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the diocesan Pastoral Center.
The revised Ceremonial of Bishops, published by the Vatican in 1984, contains an entire section devoted to cathedral churches, which provides diocesan leaders clear guidelines about the configuration and purpose of a cathedral. Prior to renovation, several elements of Sacred Heart were at odds with these guidelines, Father Hart said.
Renovating the cathedral had been twice discussed since publication of the revised Ceremonial of Bishops, and in 1999 the bishop and other diocesan officials decided it was the right time to begin the renovation process.
They hired Father Richard S. Vosko, a priest of the Diocese of Albany, as liturgical design consultant for the project. Father Vosko has overseen the redesign and renovation of numerous churches and cathedrals around the country.
The renovation enabled the diocese to bring key elements of the cathedral in line with the guidelines set forth in the Ceremonial of Bishops, Father Vosko said.
According to the Ceremonial of Bishops #48, the altar “should be so placed as to be a focal point on which the attention of the whole congregation centers naturally.” Before the renovation, the altar had stood in the center of the sanctuary, Father Hart noted, and was not the cathedral’s focal point for several reasons.
The old altar could be seen clearly by those in the nave, where most worshippers sat, he said, but was not in the direct line of vision for those sitting in the transepts, or the two arms of a cross-shaped church that are situated at right angles to the nave.
A massive statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus hung on the wall at the back of the sanctuary, and this also diverted attention from the altar, Father Hart added.
“The thought was to place (the altar) at the crossing, where the nave and the transepts meet. There, all chairs can be moved to face that altar,” Father Hart said, explaining the new design. The cathedral’s pews have been replaced with chairs, which face the altar. Members of the choir will be seated behind the priests, also facing the altar.
“Among so many other important improvements, this one is the most significant,” Father Vosko said. “I proposed this modification to foster active conscious participation by the assembly during all liturgical events.”
According to the Ceremonial of Bishops #49, “It is recommended that the tabernacle, in accordance with a very ancient tradition in cathedral churches, should be located in a chapel separate from the main body of the church.” For this reason, Father Vosko said, the tabernacle was relocated to a separate eucharistic chapel, which can better accommodate private prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
The cathedral also needed a permanent place for baptisms. According to the Ceremonial of Bishops #52, the baptismal font should ideally be the first liturgical point encountered in a cathedral because Christians embrace the life and death of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of baptism, Father Vosko said. The cathedral’s new, full-immersion baptismal font is located near the cathedral’s front entrance and on the same axis as the altar.
Construction of the narthex, another major element of the renovation, was inspired by Ceremonial of Bishops #54, which states: “If at all possible, provision should be made for a gathering place of the people near the cathedral church … where the blessings of candles, of palms, and of fire, as well as other preparatory celebrations, may take place and from which processions to the cathedral church may begin.”
In addition to providing room for presentations and other gatherings, the narthex affords ample enclosed space for the formation of liturgical processions. Previously such processions had formed in the cathedral’s cramped vestibule and outdoor steps, often in inclement weather, Father Hart noted.