The Sanctuary

The sanctuary is the area of the church where the main ritual actions of the liturgy take place and where the Word of God is proclaimed.


The Altar

Today's altar is a return to that of the early Church, both in its facing the congregation and in being a table around which the clergy and congregation can gather.  It is the table of the Lord and a place where the Sacrifice of the Cross and banquet of the Lord are made present under sacramental signs.  The one table is seen as a symbol of the one Christ for one community.

The Church Building

Churches are never "simply gathering spaces but signify and make visible the Church living in a [particular] place, the dwelling of God" among us, now "reconciled and united in Christ."15  As such, the building itself becomes "a sign of the pilgrim Church on earth and reflects the Church dwelling in heaven."16  Every church building is a gathering place for the assembly, a resting place, a place of encounter with God, as well as a point of departure on the Church's unfinished journey United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc., Washington, D.C. 2000 toward the reign of God. (Paragraph 17, Built of Living Stones, . [15, CCC, no. 1180; 16, RDCA, ch. 1, no. 2 {DOL, 547, no. 4370}; Cf. Canon Law Society of America, Code of Canon Law {CIC} (1998), c. 1214)

The altar and all other liturgical furnishings were designed by Steven Ginn, an architect at Zenon Beringer Mabrey Partners, Inc., the Omaha firm that designed the new church.   (Leading the ZBM team was company president Dave Beringer, St. James parishioner.)   ZBM's goal was that each piece be unique to St. James, the designs incorporating the legacy and lore of the parish and its patron saint.

A 2,000 pound stone slab, the granite top, is the altar's predominant feature.   The altar, in the shape of a boat, includes a relic from an early church martyr.   Engraved on the top face are five crosses, which signify the five wounds of Christ.  

The altar is the natural focal point of the sanctuary...[and] since the Church teaches that "the altar is Christ,"73 its composition should reflect the nobility, beauty, strength, and simplicity of the One it represents.  (Paragraph 57, 56, Built of Living Stones.  (73, Ibid., no. 299)

Because the altar represents Christ, the Living Stone (1 Peter 2:4), the massive granite top is made of natural stone.   The granite originated in Saudi Arabia (the color, tropical brown, can be found only in that part of the world) and was carved and fabricated in St. Louis by Architectural Stone.   While the edges are rough, demonstrating that it is truly stone, the top surface is smooth and polished.

The boat shape reflects the belief and tradition that the body of St. James was miraculously transported in a stone boat from Jerusalem, where he was martyred, to northern Spain in A.D. 44.

In the Church's history and tradition, the altar was often placed over the tombs of the saints or the relics of saints were deposited beneath the altar.   The presence of relics of saints in the altar provides a witness to the Church's belief that the Eucharist celebrated on the altar is the source of the grace that won sanctity for the saints.79  Paragraph 60, Built of Living Stones. (70, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, General Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass {GILM} (1998), no. 32)

The relic of the early church martyr is in a round, brass container embedded in the altar's granite top and is visible through a clear epoxy covering.   The relic had been in the altar in the former worship space.

The circle in the altar's design also has a tie to the apostle James - it was inspired by the facade of the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela in Spain, which sits over the tomb of St. James.   The circle also ties in to the structural design of the large, round stained glass window above the altar.  

Wood Specialties of Omaha, whose employees include St.

James parishioner Paul Kemp, built the altar's base of mahogany and red oak.   Paul and Wood Specialties also built many of the other liturgical furnishings, including the ambo and presider's chair.

The Ambo

This is the liturgical furnishing from where the Scriptures are read and homilies are delivered.   The ambo's design is similar to the altar's, with a granite top and a wood base.   On the front of the ambo, the wrought iron scroll signifies that this is the place from which our ancient faith is proclaimed.


The Presider's Chairs

The chair of the priest celebrant reflects the dignity of the one who leads the community in the person of Christ.   This chair also is made of mahogany and red oak.   It and the accompanying deacon's chair - as well as the ambo carry the circle design from the stained glass window above the altar.   On the presider's chair and the deacon's chair there is a cross in the middle, similar to those in the bell tower.   That same cross design is found on the ends of the pews and elsewhere.

The cross on the presider's chair matches the bell tower crosses.

Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture and Worship is a document issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on November 16, 2000, to assist those involved in the building or renovation of churches.   That includes parishes and their priests as well as architects, liturgical consultants and artists, contractors and other professionals involved in the design and/or construction of places of worship.   The document also offers explanations of the Catholic tradition regarding church buildings, the arts and architecture.   Built of Living Stones was used extensively the the architectural firm that designed the church, Zenon Beringer Mabrey, to guide its work.   Built of Living Stones © Copyright 2000.   All rights reserved.   Used with permission.