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“Rome Made Us Do It !”

Behind the security gate and fencing, St. Joseph’s church seemed as much a captive of the new totalitarian rule as the people, and its immediate future looked just as hopeless. Anx­ious parishioners could only look on helplessly from the street, absorb the noise of hammer and drill busily engaged within the church and guess at their intended targets. The anxiety and guessing mounted until Fr. W revealed a game-plan in the parish bulletin of 17 September:

Dear Parishioners

We anticipate returning to the church early in 1990. The next year or so will be a period of time when we work at deciding on the most reverent and practical way to worship as a community.

The progress of work in the church has dictated a timetable to us. Therefore we have had to make several decisions. … We have made them after careful study of the Church’s liturgical documents and in consultation with liturgists and architect and with the approval of Bishop Daly.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Mystery of the Eucharist (another Roman document) and all Church liturgical teachings instruct that there is to be one altar in the body of the church and that it is to be the focal point around which the Eucharistic assembly gathers. Hence, the main altar is to be moved and the sanctuary floor restored to the two step level. The marble floor is to be relaid and the front Of the existing altar returned to the rear wall beneath the stain glass window. The side altars are to be moved and the front of each placed on the adjacent side walls. The dedication plaques on each are to be retained.

An arch will be created where the left hand side altar was situated looking towards the front of the church. This arch will provide access and visibility from the body of the church into what will become the Eucharistic chapel. This space will be designed specifically to foster personal devotion and prayer. The tabernacle situated in the Eucharistic chapel (again compliance with Roman documents) will be acces­sible from the body of the church and visible at all times. A lamp will be suspended to indicate the presence of the Blessed Sacrament as is traditional.

The present sacristy will be the work sacristy; some of the women parishioners have assisted in redesigning this area.

… Outside the entrance of the church we plan to ‘soften’ the space with shrubs and seating; this will lead into a narthex or gathering area. Placed to the right under the stairwell there will be a vestry to facilitate processions and to allow the priests proximity to parishioners before and after Mass.

The Reconciliation room will be situated on your left as you enter the church; this will be designed in such a way that the penitent may either sit facing the Priest or confess anonymously.

We thank you in anticipation as together we discover the most satisfactory and holistic way in which to worship in St. Joseph’s Church.

With the big decisions already taken, the inevitable and to­ken parishioner consultative committee was left to assisting in decision-making. concerning the following:‑

  • Seating and sanctuary design (there will be a number of seating designs employed)
  • Sanctuary furniture
  • Marian devotional area and types of Statues, Crucifix and Stations of the Cross
  • Morning Mass arrangements, and the many other practical issues which will occur.

It all sounded too horrendous and a mild panic set in as parish­ioners tried to visualize the extent of the proposals. Perhaps the only comfort to be drawn from the ultimatum was the fact that the main altar appeared safe. Or was it?