Last night I was invited to St Robert`s Morpeth for the dedication of the new altar and the re-dedication of the altar rails ( more on that later). The sanctuary at St Robert`s is tiny. The parish was founded by Benedictines from Douai. High Mass must have been a bit of a squash. Actually I`ve taken part in a few EF High Masses there and it was a bit of a squash. I never enjoyed preaching there as a curate as the lectern was right up against a wall. However following a fire in the sacristy during an eleven o`clock Sunday Mass last year repairs needed to be done and the parish priest, Fr Lawrence Jones decided to alter the altar.
Here is a photo of the new altar
The arches are based on those of the ruins of the cloister of nearby Newminster abbey. Which means they fit in quite well with other overall Gothic look of the church. This interested me because the last new altar dediction I went to was a few years ago at Our Lady and St Cuthbert`s in Prudhoe. I attach a picture of the dedication Mass
Here the altar is a white block of Chinese marble which does not blend in with anything else. On asking Fr Zielinksi, the then parish priest, why something more sympathetic to the style of the church was not made he told me that he had been told the new altar was not to blend in on the principle that each age adds it`s own contribution to a church and so the altar should look modern. Well it`s true you can find Gothic churches with baroque altars I suppose but I still thought it a terrible clash which made the rest of the church look out of place: a pity as it had been restored at great cost and was rather splendid otherwise.
The observant may notice that the old high altar is also still in place in Morpeth. This did surprise me but I was told that it had to be left. In front of it you will see the altar rails moved from the entrance of the sanctuary. The altar rails were commissioned as a memorial to parishioners who fell in the First World War and so as a war memorial could not be disposed of. The altar rails were rededicated last night after communion. It`s the first time in my twenty-five years as a priest I have ever known there be any official recognition that such things as altar rails exist! There is a plaque in the church porch with the names of the fallen.
So all in all more of a nod to continuity than normally is the case. Here`s something else in matters liturgical to be getting on with.