Friday, October 16, 2015

A Great Cathedral Restored

Back home in New York for my 50th High School Reunion tomorrow, I took the bus over to 5th Avenue to check out the recent restoration work at Saint Patrick's Cathedral. It was well worth the effort. Since it was opened in 1879, Saint Patrick's Cathedral has been not only the heart of this great archdiocese but in so many ways the spiritual hub of this great city, as well as a treasured cultural and artistic landmark and always popular tourist site. That was so even when it was dark and grimy from a century of candle smoke! It is no less so now that no effort has been spared to restore its beauty and sparkle.

In the process, some well-intentioned but unfortunate recent renovations were undone. Added to the main sanctuary for several years, the old Holy Family altar gratuitously duplicated the function of the High Altar while taking up space and breaking the sight-line from the nave to the main altar. That additional altar is now gone. Where to? Hopefully, it may be eventually restored to its original place at the northeast end of the transept. Likewise, the wooden Gothic canopaoeum over the pontifical throne has been restored to its rightful place. 

Work is still being done at the Sacred Heart altar, but all the other side altars seem to be set. I stopped to light a candle at the altar of Saint Therese of Lisiuex, to venerate her exposed relic and to honor her parents whom Pope Francis will canonize in Rome on Sunday, as a fitting complement to the current Synod on the Family.  The Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the Lady Chapel. So I couldn't take any pictures there, but the Chapel and its glorious windows were gleaming. It was also nice to see 24 candles lit at the altar of exposition - no modern minimalism there!

My one disappointment was that the 1970s statue of Saint Elizabeth Seton is still in place. She certainly deserves a statue, and the one there is not per se ugly and would probably look fine in some other location, but it still screams 1970s and so clashes excessively with the cathedral's dominant style. 

That minor quibble aside, it was a joy to be back in that great cathedral, which I have visited so many times in my life and to see so many other tourists and pilgrims visiting and praying there. 

Built at about the same time that the Paulist Mother Church was built, Saint Patrick's permanently reminds us of a glorious era in the Church's history in America. It was a time of growth, expansion, and great hope for what was a, poor immigrant Church. It is amazing what projects those poor, struggling Church communities could undertake - projects that richer, much more prosperous and established communities would shy away from as unmanageable today! (It's not unlike the United States that 50 years ago could go to the moon, but today cannot maintain its infrastructure or even pass a budget!)

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