Rorate Caeli

Basket case:
The craze for strange new altars and "youth churches"

In the past few days this photograph has circulated among some Catholic blogs (and at least one Orthodox blog):

It shows Cardinal Marx spreading chrism on what surely has to be one of the strangest altars ever consecrated for a Catholic church in the past 60 years.

This event, the consecration of this altar, actually took place in 2010 for Munich's Jugendkirche ("youth church"). More pictures of the event can be found here. The altar is not as light as it appears: it is made of galvanized bronze and weighs 160 kg (350 lb) all in all. 

Below we see the altar in use during a Youth Mass in 2011 led by Bishop Engelbert Siebler, at that time an Auxiliary Bishop for Munich and Freising (source):

Speaking of youth churches: all in all there are more than a hundred Catholic "youth churches" in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg. There is a website on the activities of the various Catholic and Protestant "youth churches" in German-speaking lands: Jugendkirchen. There are no words to describe many of the pictures. For example:

Coming back to Cardinal Marx and his attitude to strange altars: he consecrated or will be consecrating 2 of them this month. 

On the 10th of November, he consecrated a new altar for the Church of the Annunciation in Traunstein-Haslach, one of the oldest parishes in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, dating back to the 14th century. (More photos here.)

Then on the 24th of November (today) he is scheduled to consecrate the following altar, for the church of St. Michael in Attel. According to the linked article, the altar is made of glass, with a metal framework inside.

These are no "isolated instances" but part of a wider trend that has not stopped at all in these past few years. This is the continuing trend of permanently erecting deliberately "modern" (normally cube or irregularly-shaped) free-standing altars versus (or in place of) traditional and venerable altars, implanting dissonance, rupture and ugliness in the middle of so many old churches in Europe. This trend has continued and will continue, Benedict XVI or no Benedict XVI, Francis or no Francis, with or without the blogs documenting them, and despite the fantasies of some that insanity in liturgy and sacred art is over. In this article alone we show, or link to pictures of, 48 examples of these modernist altars. All but one have been set up in traditionally-designed churches constructed before Vatican II, and all were set up after the election of Benedict XVI, with 42 being installed in the period from 2010 to the present year (2013) -- we are talking here of a continuing trend, on top of thousands of churches already disfigured during the post-Conciliar era. In setting up these "dissonant" altars the intent to destroy harmony in very heart of the sanctuary, and therefore of the liturgy, is obvious.

To see more examples from Germany, the old version of Fides et Forma has a post with pictures of Archbishop Gerhard Müller consecrating five very "modern" altars as Bishop of Regensburg between 2006 and 2012 (three of them between 2010 and 2012), all in beautiful old Bavarian churches. In 2011 we reported about the horror in Hildesheim's seminary and the devastation of the Augustinian church in Würzburg. As for Austria, Eponymous Flower featured the consecration of a red "lego altar" in an 18th-century Baroque church in 2012.

This year, France saw the consecration of a decidedly modernist new sanctuary (and altar) in the Church of Our Lady of Accoules. France also has this blank-looking altar consecrated in May of this year for the 12th century Abbey of Leoncel, this round altar (with scarcely enough space for the sacred vessels) consecrated in December 2012 in St Etienne de Corbeil-Essonnes (see also this link), a tiny altar made in 2012 for an old church in Nerbis, and this disturbing altar (with seemingly headless bodies) consecrated in 2011 for the old church of St. Pierre du Mont:

New altar, St. Pierre du Mont, 2011.

Even in Paris the mania has taken its toll: witness the new altar of the church of Saint Medard (consecrated by Cardinal Vingt Trois in 2011; click here for more pictures) or the new altar of the church of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Paris, consecrated early this year (scroll down this page for the date, and pictures of the consecration):

Church of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Paris. New altar, 2013.

The creator of the above altar, Jacques Dieudonne, made a similar altar for one of Lyons' old churches, Saint Polycarp, where the new altar was set up in 2011. The year before (2010), the Cardinal-Archbishop of Lyons consecrated a new altar for the church of Saint Louis de Fontaines sur Saône in the Archdiocese of Lyons. Judge for yourselves (and note that the denuded old High Altar still has a neglected tabernacle):

 New altar (2010) of Saint Louis de Fontaines sur Saône in the Archdiocese of Lyons

In addition, France has such delights as the monument to dissonance consecrated in 2011 for the 18th-century Sainte-Madeleine de Besançon (see below), the Cathedral of Amiens' new altar dedicated in 2011, and this cramped little altar established last year in the historical Église Sainte-Marguerite de Soppe-le-Haut. There was also, in 2011, the infamous "restoration" of the historic church of Saint Hilaire, in Melle (Deux-Sèvres, Poitou-Charentes).

The new altar and ambo of Sainte-Madeleine de Besançon, 2011.

Want more? See this tree-trunk-like altar consecrated in 2011 for the medieval church of Notre-Dame de Pré-en-Pail in the Diocese of Laval. And then we have this nondescript table in Brassempouy (also blessed in 2011), this cube consecrated for the medieval Basilica of Paray-Le-Monial (2011), this altar "on fire" (the article doesn't say the year, but this was installed in the centuries-old Carmel of Angers in 2012), this new altar made for the church in Givry in 2012 (the new altar is shown past the 3:00 mark, see also below) and this (the new altar, along with the new ambo and throne of the Gothic-style Cathedral of Nantes, set up in May of this year).

Givry's new altar, 2012.

Deserving their own category for bad taste are the irregularly-shaped altar consecrated in Notre Dame d'Urville in 2011 (see this and this) and the plainly weird altar installed in the ancient church of Saint-Paul-lès-Dax in 2012. And how can we forget the "ikea" altar of the Cathedral of St. Vincent in Viviers, placed around 2011?

Examples just a bit older are the square altar consecrated in 2008 in Sayrac, the new altar consecrated in 2008 in St Martin de la Canourgue, and the new altar and sanctuary of Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville in Paris (inaugurated in 2008). We are not sure when this green cube was stuck into the magnificent church of Saint Pierre in Besançon, but from its style and design it would seem to be of recent vintage.

In neighboring Belgium, Archbishop Leonard of Mechlin-Brussels blessed a glass altar in 2012 in the splendid neoclassical (18th c.) Église Saints-Jean-et-Étienne-aux-Minimes in Brussels. In that same year, the Cathedral of Liege was gifted with this green horror:

Tiny Luxembourg has not escaped the trends: see this example from 2011.

For examples from Italy, we have this cube altar consecrated only last month for a neoclassical church, this new asymmetrically designed altar consecrated in August this year for an 18th century church in Trent (!), yet another cube altar of rough stone consecrated in December last year for the 16th-century parochial church of Montorfano, this "work of art" installed in a large Renaissance church in Bergamo in late 2010, the Cathedral of Reggio Emilia's controversial new altar (and sanctuary area) consecrated in 2011, and the infamous red cube of the Camaldolese monastery in Montegiove (that we reported in 2010).

The Gesù in Rome was not spared. This monument to banality was installed only a couple of years ago, when Benedict XVI was Pope. (More pictures can be found here.)

And there are so many other examples on the Internet...

These aberrations can and will continue, as these are but symptoms of the profound dislocation of the sacred liturgy of the Roman Rite. This dislocation cannot be set right either by purely voluntary movements for the promotion of the sacred from among the clergy and the laity or by the "good example" and "encouraging words" of any Supreme Pontiff.

And the "Liturgical Art and Sacred Music Commission" that was supposed to have been set up in the Congregation for Divine Worship late in 2011? No one seems to have heard of it after its creation was announced... Has it already joined the long list of aborted liturgical projects from the last two pontificates?