Sanctuary Renovation

As many of you may remember, St. Mary’s sanctuary underwent major renovations in 2010 under the pastorate of Father Dennis Kleinmann. His vision included redesigning the sanctuary to make room for an altar rail, reflecting St. Mary’s original 19th century magnificence. (Historically, an altar rail adorned our church from its very beginning until it was removed in 1972.)

I am pleased to announce that Bishop Michael F. Burbidge has now granted us permission “for the installation of an altar rail for the purposes of demarcation of the sanctuary from the other areas of the interior of the church as well as restoration of the artistic patrimony of the Basilica.”

The work is scheduled for Monday, July 30 until further notice. During the renovation, our weekday Masses (6:30 a.m., 8 a.m. and 12:10 p.m.) and Confessions (after the 12:10 p.m. Mass), Monday through Friday, will take place upstairs in the Lyceum Auditorium at 313 Duke Street. Wednesday Adoration (immediately after the 12:10 p.m. Mass) and Holy Hour (7:30 p.m.) also will be in the Lyceum. Our new elevator should be functioning by then! Mass and Confession times on Saturdays and Sundays will not be affected. Click here for a detailed schedule.

Why an Altar Rail?

The altar rail is an extension of the Altar of Sacrifice, bringing it closer to the people. When we gather at the altar rail, we symbolically gather at the altar. Our new rail will be made of marble, the same material used in the Altar of Sacrifice and the Altar of Repose that supports the Tabernacle, making that connection even more meaningful.

Altar rails provide a clear demarcation for the sanctuary, the holiest part of the church, the very place where heaven meets earth – they are coming together but are not yet completely united. In fact, the word “sanctuary” comes from the word “holy” or “set apart.” The rail is low, openly designed and has a gate. So it does not prevent us from participating in heaven. The priest, acting in persona Christi, reaches from heaven to earth to give us the divine Eucharist.

Will This Change the Way We Receive Communion?

The norm for receiving Holy Communion is standing, preceded by a bow. That will not change with the return of the altar rail. You can freely choose to stand or kneel. The area just in front of the rail will be extended a bit to make it easier and more comfortable to kneel, if you choose to do so.

The rail also will be a visual and spiritual bridge between the Ordinary Form of the Mass and the Extraordinary Form Mass, or Traditional Latin Mass, where kneeling to receive Holy Communion is the normative posture. The Extraordinary Form Mass is celebrated here at the Basilica at 7 p.m. on the third Friday of the month. The rail will make reception of Holy Communion easier during that Mass and eliminate the need to use heavy, moveable pre dieux (kneelers).

What Else?

We are removing the top two steps on each side of the Altar of Repose, leading to the priests’ chairs. Priests will now be seated appropriately a bit lower than the Blessed Sacrament reposed in the Tabernacle.

Thank you for your patience as we undertake this restoration and beautification of our sanctuary. Anyone wishing to contribute financially to help realize this project in memory of their loved ones is more than welcome to do so, simply contact the Parish Office.



Sincerely Yours in the Heart of Jesus

Very Rev. Edward Hathaway

Rector of the Basilica of Saint Mary



Images courtesy of Barnes Vanze Architects

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