altar-consecrateSJCA-032Archbishop Henry J. Mansell incenses the new altar at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford as part of its consecration ceremony, which took place at a Mass celebrated on April 28. (See Photo Gallery by Lenora Sumsky at right)

HARTFORD – When Archbishop Henry J. Mansell celebrates the Mass on May 20 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, it will be on a recently installed permanent altar.

That’s because the altar that had been used for the past 48 years was erected as a temporary altar.

"I assume it is because the cathedral was built before the changes in the liturgy were implemented, so the main altar – the main altar is the one that you see in the back – was put in when the priest had his back to the people," said Msgr. John J. McCarthy, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Hartford and rector of the cathedral.

Workers from D’Ambrosio Ecclesial Art Studio in Mount Kisko, N.Y., erected the new permanent altar and the platform on which it rests during the month of April.

Anthony D’Ambrosio, president, said that the new altar is 4 feet wide and 10 feet long, simulating the original altar that is under the baldachin. That high altar will remain in place.

As the 50th anniversary of the cathedral approached, it was decided that it was high time to replace the temporary altar, which was made of plywood wrapped with silver leaf, said Mark Flückiger, plant manager for the cathedral.

He thought the temporary altar was constructed in 1964.

The original plan was to move the high altar forward, to the temporary altar’s location.

"The floor just wouldn’t support it," said Msgr. McCarthy. "The weight was such that it couldn’t be done."

Mr. Flückiger said that the top portion of the original high altar alone is close to the weight the floor can sustain. The mensa, or top, which measures 12 feet long by 4 feet wide by 8 inches deep, is solid Bianco marble and weighs in at 4,800 pounds. The remainder also is solid Bianco marble.

The new altar stands a few feet forward of the one it replaced so that it could rest directly atop a support beam. As is the case for altars that are constructed today, the new altar is a wooden frame with applied marble on the top and sides. The platform beneath it also is made of wood with applied marble.

Mr. D’Ambrosio said that the light-colored Perlato marble on the altar was selected to match the original Communion rails in the cathedral. The red Lavante marble used for inserts was chosen to blend with the sanctuary flooring, paved with French rouge antique marble, and other elements of the cathedral’s original design.

An aluminum cross in the center of the altar echoes the aluminum screen that surrounds the sanctuary proper.

Relics from the high altar were moved into the new altar during its construction.

The new altar was constructed after about six months of discussions and five or six design changes, said Mr. D’Ambrosio.

Msgr. McCarthy said he wasn’t sure why cathedral officials didn’t replace the temporary altar sooner, or closer to the time of the liturgy change. "Maybe they foresaw the same problems that we foresaw when they thought about moving the altar, or maybe they had just [exhausted] their budget and figured this would have to do," he said.