Information on this page written and/or compiled by the Art and Spiritual Tour Committee: Patty Skain, contact
photos by Dan Bernskoetter

The Tabernacle

The Tabernacle in Catholic Churches houses the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It is a resting Place for our God, similar to the Tabernacle of the Israelites in their temple. On the doors of our Tabernacle is a relief depicting a cross in the center and flanked by angels on either side. The angel on the right holds the Body of Christ in the Eucharistic Host. The angel on the left holds the chalice containing the Precious Blood. This represents the teaching that all the sacraments flow from Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and more specifically from the water and blood that flowed from his side.

Our Lord explained this image to Sr. Faustina: "The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous; the red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the depths of My most tender Mercy at that time when My agonizing Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. ... Fortunate is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him."

John 19:34, read on Good Friday, speaks of the blood and water flowing from the pierced side of Jesus. The Preface for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus says: "From His wounded side flowed blood and water, the fountain of sacramental life in the Church. To His open heart the Savior invites all men, to draw water in joy from the springs of salvation."

Here for more information

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) decreed that the Blessed Sacrament be kept in a secure receptacle and placed in a clean, conspicuous place. The Synods of Cologne (1281) and Munster (1279) stipulated that the Blessed Sacrament be kept above the altar, sometimes in tabernacles shaped like doves and suspended by chains. (An example of this type of tabernacle is on exhibit in the medieval collection of the National Gallery of Art.)

Overall, during these times, the Blessed Sacrament was reserved in four possible ways: in a locked cabinet in the sacristy, a custom originating in the early Church; in a cabinet in the wall of the choir area, or in a cabinet called the "Sacrament House," which was constructed like a tower and attached to a wall near the altar; in a "dove" receptacle suspended from the baldachino above the altar; and in a tabernacle on the altar itself or in the reredos of the altar.

In the sixteenth century, the Blessed Sacrament became customarily reserved in a tabernacle that was placed on the altar or part of the reredos. However, only in 1863 did the Sacred Congregation of Rites prohibit the use of suspended doves and sacrament houses.

The liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council prompted a "rethinking" of the location of the tabernacle in the church. Two important points must always be kept in mind: First, reverence for the holy Eucharist must be preserved and promoted. The "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy" reminded us that the holy Eucharist is "a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace and a pledge of future glory is given to us."

Second, the significance of the offering of the Mass itself, where the holy Eucharist is confected, must be preserved and promoted. The "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church" asserted, "Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the source and summit of the Christian life, they offer the divine victim to God and themselves along with it."

Accordingly, the "Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery" (1967 issued regulations (later incorporated into the new "Code of Canon Law") concerning tabernacles (cf. No. 52-57 and Canons 934 944): The holy Eucharist may be reserved only on one altar or one place in any church, and a vigil lamp must burn at all times to indicate and honor the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. This tabernacle must be immovable, made of solid and opaque material, and locked to prevent theft or desecration of the Blessed Sacrament. The tabernacle "should be placed in a part of the Church that is prominent, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer" (Canon 938).

Here is where some confusion emerges. To promote prayer and devotion, the "Instruction" stated "It is therefore recommended that, as far as possible, the tabernacle be placed in a chapel distinct from the middle or central part of the church, above all in those churches where marriages and funerals take place frequently, and in places which are much visited for their artistic or historical treasures" (No. 53).

For example, in the new Cathedral in St. Louis which has a constant flow of tourists, the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a beautiful side chapel. This chapel provides a quiet place for the faithful to pray without the distraction of the comings and goings of people viewing the magnificent mosaics.

Moreover, the "Instruction" recommendation does not prohibit having the tabernacle in the center of the church, stating, "the Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a solid, inviolable tabernacle in the middle of the main altar or on a side altar, but in a truly prominent place" (No. 54). The tabernacle can be located in the "center of the church," perhaps on an elevated area behind the altar so as not to diminish the attention to the Eucharistic sacrifice. The visual alignment of the tabernacle and altar emphasizes best both reverence for the Holy Eucharist and the significance of the sacrifice of the Mass.

From a purely educational perspective, the goodness of having the tabernacle in the body of the church either in the center, or at least to the side, is that it fosters devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. For instance, people genuflect in reverence to the Blessed Sacrament. Since the one day most parishioners visit their church is on Sunday, having the tabernacle visible in a prominent and conspicuous location makes them aware of the Eucharistic presence of our Lord. The people are more mindful that church itself is the "House of God" and a sacred space, not just a meeting house. In an age of doubt and disbelief, we need to do all we can to promote and foster devotion to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Altar

The Immaculate Conception Altar was designed and built by Fr. Tim Tatro with some specifications from Msgr. Higley, at the time of the last renovation in 2000 in preparation for the Jubilee year. The design of the altar is again the arch and column motif that is found in the interior structure of the church. In fact, the arch design when the altar is viewed from the front is that of the triumphal arch. In addition, the altar contains 12 columns. These refer to the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus to guide His apostolic Church, the Church of the new covenant. And of course, the twelve apostles are to “replace,” if you will, the twelve tribes of Israel under the old covenant.

In addition, the altar also has corbels which appear to hold the weight of the column capitals. This design repeats the corbels below the ribs of the barrel vault of the church on the piers between each arched window.

On the front of the altar is a star pattern surrounding the initials IHS. This is a monogram of the name Jesus Christ.


From the third century the names of our Saviour are sometimes shortened, particularly in Christian inscriptions (IH and XP, for Jesus and Christus). In the next century the "sigla" (chi-rho) occurs not only as an abbreviation but also as a symbol. From the beginning, however, in Christian inscriptions the nomina sacra, or names of Jesus Christ, were shortened by contraction, thus IC and XC or IHS and XPS for Iesous Christos. These Greek monograms continued to be used in Latin during the Middle Ages. Eventually the right meaning was lost, and erroneous interpretation of IHS led to the faulty orthography "Jhesus". In Latin the learned abbreviation IHC rarely occurs after the Carlovingian era. The mongram became more popular after the twelfth century when St. Bernard insisted much on devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, and the fourteenth, when the founder of the Jesuati, Blessed John Colombini (d. 1367), usually wore it on his breast. Towards the close of the Middle Ages IHS became a symbol, quite like the chi-rho in the Constantinian period. Sometimes above the H appears a cross and underneath three nails, while the whole figure is surrounded by rays. IHS became the accepted iconographical characteristic of St. Vincent Ferrer (d. 1419) and of St. Bernardine of Siena (d. 1444). The latter holy missionary, at the end of his sermons, was wont to exhibit this monogram devoutly to his audience, for which some blamed him; he was even called before Martin V. St. Ignatius of Loyola adopted the monogram in his seal as general of the Society of Jesus (1541), and thus it became the emblem of his institute. IHS was sometimes wrongly understood as "Jesus Hominum (or Hierosolymae) Salvator", i.e. Jesus, the Saviour of men (or of Jerusalem=Hierosolyma).

The existence of altars in the Old Testament is well documented. These were used for sacrifice to the Lord. A sacrifice is the offering of a victim by a priest to God alone, and the destruction of it (the victim) in some way to acknowledge that He is the Creator of all things.

By his very nature man wants to adore and thank his Creator. Men, mistaken at times about the nature of the true God, have offered false worship; but they have always recognized the obligation of adoring the Supreme Being. As far back as the history of man is recorded, there is evidence that men acknowledged their dependence on the Supreme Being by offering sacrifices to Him. Before the coming of Christ, sacrifices were offered to God in many different ways. The patriarchs and Jewish priests at the command of God offered fruits, wine, or animals as victims. Cain, for example, offered fruits; Abel offered some sheep of his flock; Melchisedech offered bread and wine. The destruction of these offerings removed them from man's use and thereby signified that God is the Supreme Lord and Master of the entire created universe and that man is wholly dependent upon Him for everything. Sacrifice, therefore, is the most perfect way for man to worship God.

All these different sacrifices of the Old Law were only figures of the sacrifice which Christ was to make of Himself. His offering of Himself on the cross was the greatest sacrifice ever offered to God. All the sacrifices of the Old Law derived their efficacy, or value, from the sacrifice which Christ was to offer on the cross.

The altar in a Catholic church is where the sacrifice of the body and blood of Our Lord is remembered and continued. It is the principle focus of our attention during the Mass. Traditionally the altar contains the relics of saints. This harkens back to the building of churches over the tombs of saints, most notably, St. Peters.

All the dignity of the altar rests on its being the Lord's table. Thus the martyr's body does not bring honor to the altar; rather the altar does honor to the martyr's tomb. For it is altogether proper to erect altars over the burial place of martyrs and other saints or to deposit relics beneath altars as a mark of respect and as a symbol of the truth of the sacrifice of its members has its source in the sacrifice of the Head. Thus, 'the triumphant victims come to their rest in the place where Christ is victim: he, however, who suffered for all is on the altar; they who have been redeemed by his sufferings are beneath the altar.' (St. Ambrose). This arrangement would seem to recall in a certain manner the spiritual vision of the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation: 'I saw underneath the altar the souls of all the people who have been killed on account of the word of God, for witnessing to it.' His meaning is that although the saints are rightly called Christ's witnesses, the witness of blood has a special significance that only the relics of martyrs beneath the altar express in its entirety."

Cabinet for Holy Oils

Information taken from Catholic Encyclopedia

In the front right corner of the church is a small cabinet which houses the Holy oils that are distributed by the Bishop each year at the Chrism Mass. The three oils are: Oil of the Sick, Oil of the Catechumens, and Oil of Chrism.

Oil is a product of great utility the symbolic signification of which harmonizes with its natural uses. It serves to sweeten, to strengthen, to render supple; and the Church employs it for these purposes in its rites. The liturgical blessing of oil is very ancient. It is met with in the fourth century in the "Prayer Book of Serapion", and in the Apostolic Constitutions, also in a Syriac document of the fifth or sixth century entitles "Testamentum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi." The aforesaid book of Bishop Serapion (d. c. 362) contains the formula for the blessing of the oil and chrism for those who had just received baptism, which was in those days followed by confirmation in such a manner that the administration of both sacraments constituted a single ceremony. In the same book is found a separate form of blessing for the oil of the sick, for water, and for bread. It is an invocation to Christ to give His creatures power to cure the sick, to purify the soul, to drive away impure spirits, and to wipe out sins. In the Old Testament oil was used for the consecration of priests and kings, also in all great liturgical functions, e.g., sacrifices, legal purifications, and the consecration of altars (Exodus 30:23, 33; 39:27, 29; 11:9, 15; Leviticus 6:15 sq.)

In the primitive Church the oils to be used in the initiation of catechumens were consecrated on Holy Thursday in the Missa Chrismalis. Two different ampullae were used, one containing pure oil, the other oil mixed with balsam. This mixture, was made by the pope himself before the Mass, in the sacristy. During the Mass two clerics of lesser rank stood before the altar holding the ampullae. Towards the end of the Canon the faithful were allowed to make use of themselves (Tertullian, "Ad Scap." iv.), but the same oil also served for extreme unction. The vessels holding it were placed on the railing surrounding the space reserved for the clergy. The deacons brought some of these vessels to the altar to receive that blessing of the pope which we read today in the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries. The pope continued the mass while the deacons returned the ampullae to the place whence they had brought them, and a certain number of bishops and priests repeated over those which had not been brought to the altar the formula pronounced by the pope. The consecration of the large ampullae to the archdeacon and one of his assistants. The archdeacon presented to the pope the ampulla of perfumed oil, the pontiff breathed on it three times, made the sign of the cross, and recited a prayer which bears a certain resemblance to the Preface of the Mass. The ampulla of pure oil was next presented to the pope, and was consecrated with less solemnity. The consecration and benediction of the holy oils now take place on Holy Thursday at a very solemn ceremony reserved for the bishop. He blesses the oil which is to serve at the anointing of catechumens previous to baptism, next the oil with which the sick are annointed in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, finally the chrism, which is a mixture of oil and balsam, and which is used in the administration of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Oil of the sick

The use of oil in Christian antiquity was not, as has been maintained, a medical prescription adopted by the Church. In Apostolic times St. James directed the priests or ancients of the community to pray for the sick man and to anoint him with oil in the name of Jesus (James 5:14). And shortly afterwards, probably in the second century, a gold leaf found at Beyrout, in Syria, contains an exorcism "pronounced in the dwelling of him whom I annointed." This is, after the text of St. James, the earliest evidence of the use of oil accompained by a formula in the administration of a sacrament [see Theophilus of Antioch (d. 181), "Ad Autolyc." I, xii, in P.G. VI, 1042]. The oil of the sick might be blessed not only by priests, but also by laymen of high repute for virtue, and even by women. In the sixth century St. Monegundus on his death-bed blessed oil and salt which were afterwards used for the sick ("Vita S. Monegundi", ix, in "Acta SS. Ord. S. Bened." I, 204; Gregory of Tours, "Vita Patr." xix, 4). A similar instance is met with in the life of St. Radegund (Vita Radeg., I, xxxv). In the West, however, the tendency was early manifested to confine the blessing of the oil of the sick to bishops only; about 730 St. Boniface ordered all priests to have recourse to the bishop (Statut., xxiv). In 744 the tendency was not so pronounced in France, but the Council of Châlons (813) imposed on priests the obligation of anointing the sick with oil blessed by the bishop (can. xlviii). In the East the priests retained the right to consecrate the oil. The custom even became established, and has lasted to the present time, of having the oil blessed in the house of the sick person, or in the church, by a priest, or, if possible, by seven priests.

Oil of catechumens

During the time of the catechumenate those who were about to become Christians received one or more anointings with holy oil. The oil used on this occasion was that which had received the blessing mentioned in the Apostolic Constitutions (VII, xlii). This anointing of the catechumens is explained by the fact that they were regarded to a certain extent as being possessed by the devil until Christ should enter into them through baptism. The oil of catechumens is also used in the ordination of priests and the coronation of kings and queens.

Oil of chrism

A mixture of oil of olives and balsam, blessed by a bishop in a special manner and used in the administration of certain sacraments and in the performance of certain ecclesiastical functions. That chrism may serve as valid matter for the Sacrament of Confirmation it must consist of pure oil of olives, and it must be blessed by a bishop, or at least by a priest delegated by the Holy See. These two conditions are certainly necessary for validity; moreover it is probable that there should be an admixture of balsam, and that the blessing of the chrism should be special, in the sense that it ought to be different from that which is given to the oil of the sick or the oil of catechumens. (Cf. Lehmkuhl, Cas. Cons. II, n.102.) If either of the last two conditions is wanting the sacrament will be doubtfully valid. To deal with the subject in a sufficiently exhaustive manner, it will be enough to touch upon (1) the origin and antiquity of chrism; (2) its constituent nature ; (3) its blessing ; and (4) its use and symbolical significance.

Click here for more information.

Baptismal Font

The Baptismal Font at Immaculate Conception was constructed at the same time as the other furniture pieces in the renovation of 2000. The IC font is the more traditional version of the Catholic font. This more traditional font is usually a free-standing “pillar” of some type with a basin incorporated into it. In some Catholic churches, recently built or redesigned, a full-immersion fonts have been incorporated. Either way is absolutely correct in practice.

The IC font is topped with a removable statue of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. The basin for Holy Water used during the Baptism resides beneath the statue. For convenience, the artist of this topper chose to show water being poured over the head of Jesus when, in reality, Jesus was probably submerged in the water and rose up from the river. This submerging and rising out of the water was seen as a rebirth.

Another attractive element of the IC font is the fact that it is on rollers and can be moved about the church. In past centuries, baptismal fonts or baptisteries were positioned in the front vestibule of the church or even in a completely separate building outside the church. Examples of this can be seen in numerous places in Italy and Europe. A notable example of this is the famous Baptistry in front of the Cathedral in Florence. See that here The tradition in past centuries was to baptize the individual before admission into the church, both spiritual and physical.