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The General Instruction of the Roman Missal
ARRANGEMENT AND FURNISHING OF CHURCHES FOR THE
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253. For the celebration of the eucharist, the people of God normally
assemble in a church or, if there is none, in some other fitting
place worthy of so great a mystery. Churches and other places of
worship should therefore be suited to celebrating the liturgy and to
ensuring the active participation of the faithful. Further, the
places and requisites for worship should be truly worthy and
beautiful, signs and symbols of heavenly realities.
254. At all times, therefore, the Church seeks out the service of the
arts and welcomes the artistic expressions of all peoples and
regions. The Church is intent on keeping the works of art and the
treasures handed down from the past and, when necessary, on
adapting them to new needs. It strives as well to promote new works
of art that appeal to the contemporary mentality.
In commissioning artists and choosing works of art that are to become
part of a church, the highest artistic standard is therefore to be
set, in order that art may aid faith and devotion and be true to the
reality it is to symbolize and the purpose it is to serve.
255. It is preferable that churches be solemnly consecrated. The
faithful should give due honor to the cathedral of their diocese and
to their own church as symbols of the spiritual Church that their
Christian vocation commits them to build up and extend.
256. All who are involved in the construction, restoration, and
remodeling of churches are to consult the diocesan commission on
liturgy and art. The local Ordinary is to use the counsel and help of
this commission whenever it comes to laying down norms on this
matter, approving plans for new buildings, and making decisions on
the more important issues.
II. ARRANGEMENT OF A CHURCH FOR THE LITURGICAL ASSEMBLY
257. The people of God assembled at Mass possess an organic and
hierarchical structure, expressed by the various ministries and
actions for each part of the celebration. The general plan of the
sacred edifice should be such that in some way it conveys the image
of the gathered assembly. It should also allow the participants to
take the place most appropriate to them and assist all to carry out
their individual functions properly.
The congregation and the choir should have a place that facilitates
their active participation.
The priest and his ministers have their place in the sanctuary, that
is, in the part of the church that brings out their distinctive role,
namely, to preside over the prayers, to proclaim the word of God, or
to minister at the altar.
Even though these elements must express a hierarchical arrangement
and the diversity of offices, they should at the same time form a
complete and organic unity, clearly expressive of the unity of the
entire holy people. The character and beauty of the place and all its
appointments should foster devotion and show the holiness of the
mysteries celebrated there.
258. The sanctuary should be clearly marked off from the body of the
church either by being somewhat elevated or by its distinctive design
and appointments. It should be large enough to accommodate all the
259. At the altar the sacrifice of the cross is made present under
sacramental signs. It is also the table of the Lord and the people of
God are called together to share in it. The altar is, as well, the
center of the thanksgiving that the eucharist accomplishes.
260. In a place of worship, the celebration of the eucharist must be
on an altar, either fixed or movable. Outside a place of worship,
especially if the celebration is only for a single occasion, a
suitable table may be used, but always with a cloth and corporal.
261. A fixed altar is one attached to the floor so that it cannot be
moved; a movable altar is one that can be transferred from place to
262. The main altar should be freestanding to allow the ministers to
walk around it easily and Mass to be celebrated facing the people. It
should be so placed as to be a focal point on which the attention of
the whole congregation centers naturally. The main altar should
ordinarily be a fixed, consecrated altar.
263. According to the Church's traditional practice and the altar's
symbolism, the table of a fixed altar should be of stone and indeed
of natural stone. But at the discretion of the conference of bishops
some other solid, becoming, and well-crafted material may be used.
The pedestal or base of the table may be of any sort of material, as
long as it is becoming and solid.
264. A movable altar may be constructed of any becoming, solid
material suited to liturgical use, according to the traditions and
customs of different regions.
265. Altars both fixed and movable are consecrated according to the
rite described in the liturgical books; but movable altars may simply
be blessed. There is no obligation to have a consecrated stone in a
movable altar or on the table where the eucharist is celebrated
outside a place of worship (see no. 260).
266. It is fitting to maintain the practice of enclosing in the altar
or of placing under the altar relics of saints, even of nonmartyrs.
Care must be taken to have solid evidence of the authenticity of such
267. Minor altars should be fewer in number. In new churches they
should be placed in chapels separated in some way from the body of
268. At least one cloth should be placed on the altar out of
reverence for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and the
banquet that gives us his body and blood. The shape, size, and
decoration of the altar cloth should be in keeping with the design of
269. Candles are to be used at every liturgical service as a sign of
reverence and festiveness. The candlesticks are to be placed either
on or around the altar in a way suited to the design of the altar and
the sanctuary. Everything is to be well balanced and must not
interfere with the faithful's clear view of what goes on at the altar
or is placed on it.
270. There is also to be a cross, clearly visible to the
congregation, either on the altar or near it.
VI. CHAIR FOR THE PRIEST CELEBRANT AND THE MINISTERS, THAT
IS, THE PLACE WHERE THE PRIEST PRESIDES
271. The priest celebrant's chair ought to stand as a symbol of his
office of presiding over the assembly and of directing prayer. Thus
the best place for the chair is at the back of the sanctuary and
turned toward the congregation, unless the structure or other
circumstances are an obstacle (for example, if too great a distance
would interfere with communication between the priest and people).
Anything resembling a throne is to be avoided. The seats for the
ministers should be so placed in the sanctuary that they can readily
carry out their appointed functions.
272. The dignity of the word of God requires the church to have a
place that is suitable for proclamation of the word and is a natural
focal point for the people during the liturgy of the word.
As a rule the lectern or ambo should be stationary, not simply a
movable stand. In keeping with the structure of each church, it must
be so placed that the ministers may be easily seen and heard by the
The readings, responsorial psalm, and the Easter Proclamation
(<Exsultet>) are proclaimed from the lectern; it may be used also for
the homily and general intercessions (prayer of the faithful).
It is better for the commentator, cantor, or choir director not to
use the lectern.
273. The places for the faithful should be arranged with care so that
the people are able to take their rightful part in the celebration
visually and mentally. As a rule, there should be benches or chairs
for their use. But the custom of reserving seats for private persons
must be abolished. Chairs or benches should be set up in such a
way that the people can easily take the positions required during
various celebrations and have unimpeded access to receive communion.
The congregation must be enabled not only to see the priest and the
other ministers but also, with the aid of modern sound equipment, to
hear them without difficulty.
274. In relation to the design of each church, the <schola cantorum>
should be so placed that its character as a part of the assembly of
the faithful that has a special function stands out clearly. The
location should also assist the choir's liturgical ministry and
readily allow each member complete, that is, sacramental
participation in the Mass.
275. The organ and other lawfully approved musical instruments are to
be placed suitably in such a way that they can sustain the singing of
the choir and congregation and be heard with ease when they are
276. Every encouragement should be given to the practice of
eucharistic reservation in a chapel suited to the faithful's private
adoration and prayer. If this is impossible because of the
structure of the church, the sacrament should be reserved at an altar
or elsewhere, in keeping with local custom, and in a part of the
church that is worthy and properly adorned.
277. The eucharist is to be reserved in a single, solid, unbreakable
tabernacle. Thus as a rule there should be only one tabernacle in
278. In keeping with the Church's very ancient tradition, it is
lawful to set up in places of worship images of Christ, Mary, and the
saints for veneration by the faithful. But there is need both to
limit their number and to situate them in such a way that they do not
distract the people's attention from the celebration. There is to
be only one image of any one saint. In general, the devotion of the
entire community is to be the criterion regarding images in the
adornment and arrangement of a church.
279. The style in which a church is decorated should be a means to
achieve noble simplicity, not ostentation. The choice of materials
for church appointments must be marked by concern for genuineness and
by the intent to foster instruction of the faithful and the dignity
of the place of worship.
280. Proper planning of a church and its surroundings that meets
contemporary needs requires attention not only to the elements
belonging directly to liturgical services but also to those
facilities for the comfort of the people that are usual in places of
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