I recently went out to have Mass in another parish. I edited out a lot of details.
The parish was established in 1904, and in 1907 it opened a school. The present church was consecrated in 1951. The neighborhoods around the church--and nearby churches--have, unfortunately, changed drastically for the worse in the years since. One wonders if the folks at that time--under the leadership of his grace, Archbishop Karl J. Alter--could have known they were at or near the high-water mark for city parishes?
When we pulled in, I noticed immediately the paving is a mess; these things are terribly expensive. (The school has been closed since the 60s.) The church has no air conditioning, but all the windows were open, and that helped create something of a breeze.
One of the seminarians living at the parish came with me; as we pulled away after Mass, I said to him, "if you want to know what not to do to a church--that's it!"
It was a classic example of what "wreckovation" looks like. And it is examples of this sort of wreckovation that causes me--when asked by folks, "why did this things happen?" I simply say, "we went insane." There's a much longer answer, but it boils down to that.
You can see how lovely it might have been, and might be again.
It has a beautiful mosaic where the altar once was--no doubt the tabernacle as well. I can only imagine what sort of altar had been there; now nothing is but some marble steps, leading nowhere. In front of these steps--toward the nave--is a newer platform, carpeted, likely wood, on which sits a table altar. I would be curious to see what it looks like; however it was covered a couple of cloths. Approximately six feet to the left of the void (as you face the void where the altar had stood) is the tabernacle, on a--I'm sorry, but a rinky-dink table. Up on the wall are two ledges mounted--a perfect place for a pair of statues; no doubt they were there once. In their place were bouquets of artificial flowers. I wondered what became of the statues?
All the chairs and tables in the sanctuary, as well as the pulpit, were mediocre. They all looked not more than 40 years old, some much less. My point being not to fault the folks for not affording better; but to wonder why the older stuff was cleared out for this stuff?
After Mass, as I made my way back to hear confessions, one of the volunteers whispered, "you may not realize it, but they don't use the old confessionals; those are used for storage. Go back where the water fountain is and turn right, that's the room for confessions." So I walked by the beautiful, carved-wood confessionals, and found the room mentioned. Because of a table, a refrigerator, and some other items, there was only room for two chairs--no option for anonymous. There wasn't even room to move the chairs further from the door to allow folks to remain anonymous by standing. Why was this arrangement better than the old confessionals?
Oh, and by the way, I found the statues: they were literally in the closet. What was probably an ushers' closet, in the back corner of the nave, had had its door removed, and was now home to lovely statues of our Lady and Saint Joseph.
So back to my conversation with the seminarian as we left. He asked: if you're going to move the tabernacle, what is accomplished by moving it six feet? I can't explain it. All I could come up with was either a bureaucratic mindset, that says, "Someone sent an edict to move the tabernacle, so that's what we'll do"--without bothering to ask if it made sense; or else it was someone who was enthusiastic about the "move the tabernacle" movement, without having enough understanding to wonder if it even applied in this case.
I know what you're thinking: so why did they move tabernacles?
All right, I'm going to explain it to you. And you're not going to believe this: but it's absolutely true.
Some time after the Second Vatican Council, someone developed the idea that our Lord's "static" presence in the tabernacle would be a "distraction" from, or in competition with, his "dynamic" presence on the altar, during the celebration of the Mass. A related idea was that when the "Eucharistic Assembly" gathered for the liturgy, their focus should be on the proclaimed word, or on the presence of Christ in the people, or on the work of Christ in the liturgical action--not on the reserved sacrament...which, by the way, was mainly about keeping the Eucharist for the sick; the reservation of the Eucharist wasn't for adoration! As another priest I know was told (and I heard this too): Jesus said "take and eat," not keep and adore.
Now, let me be plain: there is absolutely nothing in the documents of Vatican II about any of this; any more than you will find a thing about shoving statues into closets, or ripping out altars and throwing out, or selling off, beautiful furnishings; or removing altar rails, or whitewashing artwork; or painting over multicolor statues with beige (this really happened in one parish I know of; it was the compromise in lieu of removing them altogether).
So why did they do these things?
Because someone told them to; because someone thought it reflected badly on the Gospel to have too many fancy items decorating the church (never mind they had already been purchased, with some money coming from the wealthy, yes, but much of it from folks of limited means who wanted God's House to be beautiful); because somehow it's more "authentic" to have drab things rather than attractive things--because of course, our Lord would never have worn, or used, anything elegant, even if someone gave it to him. And our proof for this is...er...um...let me get back to you.
In short, someone thought this would help you pray better.
Make any sense to you? Me neither.
That's why, when folks ask me why these things happened, I tell them:
We went insane.