Saint James Sanctuary Restoration & Renewal

November 2022

Dear Friends in Christ, 

I am excited to share with you our project of “Restoration and Renewal.” This project will both restore many original elements to Saint James sanctuary and add new elements to enhance our worship.

What are we restoring?

Restoring the Tabernacle. The principal feature of this project is the restoration of our beautiful tabernacle to its original location – that is, in the center of the sanctuary, at the foot of the Cross. This will entail moving the altar forward a little bit to create room and then building a marble altar to hold the tabernacle. By restoring this original design, we call attention to the centrality of the Eucharist in our faith. The Eucharist will be architecturally what it is spiritually, the axis of our lives. This restoration will also bring into line visually the various elements of the Eucharist: sacrifice (the crucifix), presence (the tabernacle), and nourishment (the altar).  

Restoring Statues. With the tabernacle placed back in the center of the sanctuary, we will move the statue of Saint Joseph back to its original location, where the tabernacle is now. This will also include restoring the old Saint Joseph altar, which corresponded to the Mary altar on the other side.

At the time our church was built, it was common to have statues of Mary and Joseph flanking the main altar and the tabernacle. In that way, the sanctuary presented to us the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We were, in effect, invited into that family at worship. By restoring the Saint Joseph statue and altar, we bring the family back together and again emphasize our union with them.

Once Saint Joseph and his altar have been restored, we will likewise return the statue of Saint Anthony, now in the old baptistry in the back, to where Joseph currently stands. I have no idea why Saint Anthony received such a prominent location when the church was expanded in 1952. But with that space coming open, it seems only fair to restore him to his original location.

Restoration Areas

Our Lady’s Chapel. Since the Saint Anthony statue will be moved, we will have an opening in the old baptistry. We will erect a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in that place. Thus, the baptistry will become Our Lady’s chapel, where the faithful can come to light a candle and ask her intercession. The statue we have chosen is an image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This statue will complement the beautiful Sacred Heart of Jesus statue in the church. It will also honor the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM Sisters), who have served our school so generously for almost a century.

A New “Baptistry.” At some point after the liturgical changes to the rite of Baptism, our baptismal font was moved from the baptistry to the sanctuary, right in front of the pulpit. This change made sense insofar as the new rite of Baptism presumed more people in attendance and thus needed more space. Unfortunately, it has also meant that the beautiful font has kind of been lost in the sanctuary. Further, the significance of Baptism is not as evident when there’s not a space set aside for it. So, to give Baptism greater prominence, the font will be moved to an area in the left transept and surrounded by a railing to set it apart for ceremonies. The railing for this “baptistry” will match the sanctuary communion rail, thus signifying the relationship between Baptism and the Eucharist.

A Proper “Ambo.” The liturgical reforms after Vatican II sought to give greater emphasis to the proclamation of the Word of God during Mass. More readings were added to Mass and a Sunday homily became required. To convey the importance of scripture in Mass, the current wooden pulpit (“ambo” is the technical term) will be replaced by a marble one. The design of the new ambo will match the altar as a way of expressing the unity of the Word of God in scripture and the Word of God in the Eucharist.

Aside from the liturgical and theological purposes for this, there is also a practical motive. The current ambo is small and provides little room for the lectionary itself, not to mention homily notes. Further, although most people don’t notice, the current ambo continues to slide out of place. Every so often, I need to push it back to its proper location. Yes, as Saint Paul tells us, the “word of God is not chained.” (2 Tim 2:9) But one presumes it should be stable!

Presider’s Chair. Another liturgical change after Vatican II was the use of the presider’s chair for the principal prayers of the Mass (a practice formerly reserved to a bishop). As such, we have arranged for a chair that fits the overall design of the sanctuary. The old one had seen better days and, as our priests would tell you, it wasn’t the easiest to get in and out of…

Gates. Finally, another restoration to the sanctuary will be the gates to the Communion rail. In a beautiful way, they will set off or communicate the sanctity and sacredness of the sanctuary.

Please review the rendering of this Restoration and Renewal below. For context, we’ve also provided a picture of the church as it was prior to the changes.

Next Steps

This project is scheduled to begin at the end of January 2023 and be completed by March 2023. We have contracted with O’Briene and Keane for the design and Rugo Stone to perform the work. O’Brien and Keane have done a lot of work for the Church, including Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh, North Carolina, and many projects in the Diocese of Arlington. Brett Rugo is a master craftsman, who has done work for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Basilica of Saint Mary in Alexandria, Holy Spirit in Annandale, and Corpus Christi in Aldie. He also has a soft spot for Saint James, as he is a parishioner and his children have gone to our parish school.

February 2023 Update

Good News! As shared in a recent Pastor email from Father Scalia, we are pleased to announce that we have reached our $500,000 goal for the Sanctuary Restoration & Renewal Project. Thank you to all who contributed! May God reward your goodness and generosity. 

In terms of the start date, there have been some delays so work will not begin until the end of the month. Please note that this project will not disrupt Sunday Masses. We will continue to keep you all updated on the sanctuary restoration via the bulletin and our website.  For real time updates, we recommend that you sign up to receive Father Scalia’s weekly emails by sending your name and email address to [email protected].

As a reminder, registered parishioners received a mailing in November 2022 about the Sanctuary Restoration and Renewal Project.

Thank you all again for your generous response.  We are so grateful!

Through the intercession of our Lady and Saint James, may the Lord bless and keep you.

Sincerely in Christ,       

Very Reverend Paul D. Scalia