Sanctuary

At the architectural and spiritual center of the building stands the altar.  The altar is bathed in natural light from the oculus Dei, “eye of God,” directly above it.  In the oculus are inscribed words of Christ from Luke’s Gospel:  “I am in your midst as one who serves” (Luke 22).  Christ himself serves his people at the altar, feeding them with his body and blood.  And at the altar we learn to be a servant people in our turn.

The altar, of white marble, dates from 1994.  On the west side, two panels from the original high altar of the Cathedral, 1907, feature imagery of wheat and grapes, symbols of the Eucharist.  This same imagery is echoed on the other three sides, with panels by three contemporary artists:  Mary Jo Anderson (south), Randall Rosenthal (east), and Larry Ahvakana (north).

Directly beneath the altar, in keeping with Church tradition, are deposited the relics of saints.  Relics of Saints Adeodatus, Fortunata, and Boniface were placed in the 1907 altar by Bishop O’Dea.  To these relics, Archbishop Thomas Murphy added a relic of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in 1994.

The altar is placed on a circular platform of black slate.  The juxtaposition of the square, a human invention, with the circle, a metaphor for the divine – without beginning or end – reminds us that the altar is a place where human and divine meet.

The ambo, which dates from 1994, is the work of Long Island sculptor Randall Rosenthal.  In wonderfully intricate relief carving of clouds and rain, trees and undergrowth, Rosenthal depicts a passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah:  “Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows, and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”  (Isaiah 55:10-11).  The carving is a vivid reminder that the scriptures proclaimed here are for believers a living word, bringing new life to those who hear.

The cathedra, or bishop’s chair, is what gives the cathedral its name!  The chair is used by the Archbishop whenever he presides at liturgies in the Cathedral.  It symbolizes the bishop’s role as chief teacher of the diocese.

The “Great Cross” dates from the 1950 remodel of the Cathedral.  The corpus, the body of Christ, is surrounded by medallions of angels holding emblems of the passion – the spear, the lamp, the nails.

The Lenten Cross is used during the seasons of Advent and Lent.  The corpus was blackened in a 1992 arson fire that nearly destroyed the Chapel and sacristy of the Cathedral.