Architect Adam Hermanson shares these design images of the sacramental furnishings.
Altar of Repose:
Epiphany : a theological introduction to Catholicism
by Aidan Nichols O.P.
Chapter 9: The Rites of the Church
The principal object to which the eye should be directed on entering the body of a church is the (high) altar. Early Christian altars were very small affairs, but gradually they underwent an expansion. Originally, nothing was placed on the “table of sacrifice” except the bread and wine, perhaps the book of the Gospels, and a small casket in which to place the consecrated elements for the communication of the sick. The expansion was due to a number of factors. First, when it became commonplace to “say” Mass rather than sing it, the epistle and gospel ceased to be chanted from ambos (the little pulpits in the early basilicas) and were read instead from two sides (ends) of the altar. Second, with the growth of popular devotion to the saints, reliquaries were placed behind, beneath, beside, and even upon the altars.
In the Byzantine Rite, in which the altar is covered in silk or linen cloth embroidered with the instruments of the passion, the relic-bag (antimension) takes the place of the stone containers of the West. Sometimes an altar would have a retable, a decorated screen adorning a fixed platform behind the altar. From that there developed the higher reredos, sometimes a wonder work of statuary, which grew throughout the late medieval and early modern period until by the eighteenth century it filled the entire rear wall of the Church. Though the modern tendency is to reemphasize, by simplifying the surroundings, the starkness of the altar, it must still have a small cavity in which the relics of the saints are placed. It must also be related to an image of the crucified Savior; other images, of our Lady and the saints, are also appropriate in its near vicinity as a reminder of the entire worshiping Church made present in the liturgy.
Also highly prominent in a Catholic church is the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. The earliest tabernacles appear to be in the form of a kind of small tower, on the gospel side of the sanctuary. Later there were metal doves suspended above the high altar, or a pyx (a kind of veiled chalice), or a small cupboard built into the lower part of the reredos. The modern tabernacle has evolved as a combination of the tower and the cupboard. It is covered in a veil, usually of silk, brocade, or damask, to signify the preciousness of its contents and the divine presence which is thus both concealed and revealed. The veil, in Latin tabernaculum, gives the sacrament house its name.
Photo of the Day: Altar and Tabernacle as decorated for the weekend service. Photograph taken Saturday 25 August 2007.
Image courtesy of Allan Eckert.