Q: I wonder if you could help me with a bit of a problem. Speaking to a guy locally, who is considered the authority on such matters, he suggested I contact you to see what you have to say.
My pastor, a lovely man whom I like and admire enormously, wants me to put the Christmas Nativity scene in front of the main altar, in the Sanctuary. I have, for the past two years, managed to dissuade him from this. My reasoning has been that a) it’s not for public worship, really intended as a private devotional aid – b) it’s something of a distraction during Mass which is, after all, a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation, and c) we have a large sanctuary but I still feel it detracts from the principle points, if I can put it that way, of the liturgical action, the ambo, the altar, the presidential chair. Am I right in saying all this?
Are there any documents I can quote? In the Book of Blessings for a Nativity Scene it specifically states that it should NOT be in the Sanctuary. I find it bewildering that I should be arguing with a priest over such things.
Can you help and advise in any way? I should be so grateful.
A: All of your arguments are spot on. For documentation, you have found the Book of Blessings. You should also consult Built of Living Stones, which was promulgated by the USCCB in 2000. The US bishops usually want you to buy such documents, rather than read them online for free, so they usually do not post them on their web site – just the link for buying the book. But the internet being what it is, someone else posts things from time to time, and here you go: http://www.sfdslg.org/
Do a search on the word “Christmas” and you’ll find what is supposed to be paragraph 124 but for some reason is unnumbered: “The altar should remain clear and free-standing, not walled in by massive floral displays or the Christmas crib, and pathways in the narthex, nave, and sanctuary should remain clear.”
Here you have a specific reference to the ALTAR, not just to the sanctuary.