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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward an STL in sacred liturgy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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“I have, on the other hand, retained several more or less traditional tunes, absolutely valueless and without merit from a musical point of view, but which seem to have become a necessity if a book is to appeal—as I hope this one will—to the varied needs of various churches.”
— A. Edmonds Tozer (1905)

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Peculiar Altar Decorations
published 4 November 2013 by Fr. David Friel

ALL IS A BIG SEASON for peculiar altar decorations. They range from pumpkins to cornstalks to cornucopias. I imagine there have been even stranger things done, but I have mercifully been spared their sight.

It seems to me that the steps leading up to the altar are often perceived as a canvas for inventive decoration. Very often, the altar steps serve as a showcase for whatever display the pastor or liturgy committee feels is seasonably appropriate. In certain churches, there may be validity to placing a manger scene there, although, generally speaking, a side altar is more appropriate. But jack-o-lanterns and hay bales and zombies are never appropriate.

Might I suggest that we resist the urge to perceive and use the altar steps in such fashion? Those steps do, in fact, serve a purpose. At the very least, we should have been reminded of this by Summorum Pontificum. We should, moreover, be conscious of this reality even in the Ordinary Form, especially since celebration ad orientem is still perfectly legitimate and the presumption of the GIRM.

The altar steps are not simply an empty palette awaiting the blossom of creativity. They serve both symbolically and practically to set the place of sacrifice apart from the quotidian.