Thursday, August 16, 2007

Our Chapel and "Liturgical East"

Molly has mentioned, and I have mentioned, on previous posts that one of the requests we gave my brother at the beginning of this whole process was that our chapel face East, as a simple way of uniting it to Church tradition. Why would one want to have a chapel (or a church) face East? This link has a thorough, yet quick, explanation. It's interesting reading.

I was most interested in the comments of some of the early Church fathers in regard to the value of facing East during prayer. Some of the more salient quotes:
Tertullian informs us that Christian churches are "always" oriented "towards the light."

Origen asserts that the direction of the rising sun obviously indicates that we ought to pray inclining in that direction, an act which symbolizes the soul looking toward the rising of the true light, the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ.

St. John Damascene says that, while waiting for the coming of the Lord, "we adore him facing East", for that is the tradition passed down to us from the Apostles. Other Church fathers who confirm this usage are Clement of Alexandria, Saint Basil, and Saint Augustine.
I dispense with any attempt at intellectualism and just say, "way cool." With such a historical legacy of facing East, this was something that we had to try to work into our home. In fact, beyond the historical legacy, with the knowledge of the liturgical basis for prayer toward the rising sun, as Christ is our true light and the light of the world, I think this will really add to our prayer lives in the chapel (I know it will for me).

Though Scheme A and Scheme B accomplish the desire for the chapel to face East exactly, Scheme C was a little different. Here's a reminder of how the chapels look in each scheme, with straight left being North, as shown with the little circle to the side in each case:
You kind of feel like reaching into the Scheme C diagram, grabbing the chapel, and twisting it just a little to get it exactly East. And if were going to have the chapel face East, it might as well be exact (any engineer knows there's always some tolerance, but I won't go there). So, we did tell my brother we'd like to have the chapel in Scheme C rotated slightly, and he didn't see any problem with this. In fact, as this point we thought that it may be a nice touch to have a short hallway connect to the chapel so that it could be rotated effectively AND add to the feeling of the uniqueness of the space and drama as you enter it. One commenter on the previous post actually came up with the same idea independently. We'll see what happens, the design modifications continue as we speak (or you read).


Brian Crane said...

Forgive me if you mentioned this in a prior post... I haven't been able to read all of them.

But do you intend to use the living room for watching movies or watching television? If so, then I think the close proximity of the chapel won't be a good thing. It's conceivable that there will be times when the kids are watching a movie and one of you wants to go pray, or vice versa. You don't want to be distracted by noise that could easily filter in from the next room over. I like the idea of the chapel being centrally located, even off the living room, insofar as it gives it particular prominence in the home, shows that it's important. But maybe, if there would be any possibility of noise, another location could be found. Just a thought.

Brendan Koop said...


You picked up on another issue that we had discussed with my brother. I hadn't really discussed this before, other than one bullet point in the Scheme Wrap-Up post, where I mentioned that we are unsure where to put a TV. It absolutely cannot go by that entry:

A) because it says something about one's family when someone enters a home and the first thing they see is a TV

B) because it's a high traffic area, and we don't want casual use of the TV

So, we're still trying to figure that one out. That living area we actually asked my brother to rename as a sitting area/library. Hopefully that paints the picture as to how we would actually want to use that space.

Evan said...

As the brother who may (God-willing) eventually have the joy of offering mass in your chapel, please let me say, with our current Holy Father, that I, too, believe that the liturgical "orientation" ad orientem is a must. As a priest, I could easily see how celebrating mass ad orientem enables one to concentrate on the task at hand, as it were (i.e. offering the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to God the Father in persona Christi and as representative of God's faithful) and not be tempted to "perform" for the people. This is not a matter of clericalism; on the contrary, to my mind it de-emphasizes the cult of personality that often arises around priests these days, and re-emphasizes that the entire body of the lay faithful are participating in the sacrificial offering to God, in and through the priest who represents Christ the Head. To that end, might I suggest that the altar in your chapel be placed directly against the eastern wall, which will, in any case, free up some much-needed space for the family?

Brendan Koop said...


Great comments bro. We haven't quite figured out the altar yet, but what you mentioned is the intent.

Brian Crane said...

I have been to some lovely Catholic homes where they have a television but deliberately ensured that it was not the centerpiece of the living room. Isn't it interesting how in so many homes today the entire room is arranged around the television? One of the nice homes I visited even had the chairs arranged in such a way that one of them was sort of in front of the TV and would have to be moved in order to watch it (it sounds odd, but looked tasteful). You might be able to accomplish something along these lines by having a built-into-the-wall television cabinet/bookshelves with a door on it, or something.

I know several Catholic families that don't use a television at all, or only have one in the parent's bedroom. While I admire them, I don't think that it's necessary. We can use the TV in a wholesome and vigilant way to great benefit. But it needn't be the centerpiece of any room nor something that occupies much of our day.

God Bless

Brendan Koop said...


I think you're right on. We don't want the TV to be the centerpiece of anything, and having a cabinet with doors I think would be ideal because it can be hidden except for the rare times it is used. I hadn't thought of the cabinet thing before, thank you!

Also (we seem to be on the same page about a lot of things) I agree with your assessment of having a TV. I totally respect any family that gets rid of their TV, and in fact have been tempted to do so myself, since we use it so little. I don't watch television EVER (and I mean that truthfully) except for one show, "Lost" on ABC (and we're in a 9-month interlude between seasons). I also watch the golf majors every few months (the Masters, U.S. Open, etc.). I don't think you need a TV, but there are some things that I would really want it for educational purposes, being homeschoolers and all. I want my kids to be able to watch the funeral of JPII for history, or a DVD on the life of St. Pio or St. Gianna Molla, or any number of things that I think can enhance their education or formation.

Royce said...

Please excuse my ignorance in this matter, but I thought that private chapels were no longer allowed, per Canon Law. Or is it just that reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in private chapels is no longer allowed?

John Curran said...

My understanding of Canon Law is that the permission of the Bishop is required to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in a private chapel, and that Mass must then be celebrated twice monthly. I find nothing against having a private chapel.

I'll be watching for evan's answer to this question.

I am in agreement with his ideas on placement of the altar.

Brendan Koop said...


Good question. I actually, to be thorough, researched this question early on in the genesis of the idea of the home. First I had e-mailed Duncan Stroik and he told me there were no specific regulations on private chapels intended for devotion or prayer, on that they be done in good taste. I know that if a chapel is to have a tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament, that's different, and that would need the permission of the Bishop.

There's actually an entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia that's very insightful, which I came upon when I was researching this issue. It's at:

Scroll all the way to the bottom to "Ecclesiastical Law as to Chapels." In there it echoes that there are regulations for private chapels that are specifically intended for the celebration of mass (which will not be the normal use of our chapel, though mass may be said there on rare occasion), and that there are no regulations for private chapels intended for prayer and devotion (which is the normal use of our chapel). It even says that if you are intending to have a private chapel in a house, that is intended specifically for regular mass celebration exclusively for the inhabitants of the home, you have to get a Papal indult! I don't think I'll try for that.

There's also a history of private chapels in that entry, which I'm sure I'll post about sometime.

Evan Koop said...

Without trying to lead us further afield by reproducing here specific canons (for I am not a canon lawyer), I can say that my understanding of canon law is that there are no regulations regarding private rooms or chapels dedicated to private prayers and devotions. Furthermore, private chapels intended for regular celebration of mass and/or reservation of the blessed sacrament are most certainly allowed, though subject to canonical regulations and episcopal oversight, as some have already mentioned. To my knowledge, a request to reserve the blessed sacrament in a private chapel must be accompanied not only by proof that mass will be offered there at least twice a month, but also a demonstrated "pastoral need" to reserve the blessed sacrament. In fact, I lived in a household this past year in seminary with just such a private chapel with the blessed sacrament reserved in a tabernacle (I literally slept a wall away from Jesus!). I am a member of a clerical association here in MN called the Companions of Christ, who are diocesan priests who live in community and observe the evangelical counsels and a rule of life. Many of my ideas for how to create a beautiful private chapel come from my experience living with the Companions this past year. (view photos of our chapel in one of our newsletters,

In any case, there is little chance Brendan and Molly would get permission to reserve the blessed sacrament in their chapel, nor do I think they wish to seek it. Simply having a special room dedicated to prayer and the reading of scripture which is also suited for an occasional mass-- this I think is their very laudable goal.