Pope Francis' altar for D.C. Mass

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WASHINGTON - The crowd of people who will gather at Pope Francis's open air Mass in Washington in September won't be able to experience the interior beauty of the Basilica of the National Shine of the Immaculate Conception during the Mass.

So the winning students of an altar design contest decided to bring the architecture of the grand church out to the people.

A jury consisting of representatives from the Archdiocese of Washington, the national shrine and The Catholic University of America picked the design of the winning team, featuring Catholic University architecture students Ariadne Cerritelli, from Bethesda, Maryland; Matthew Hoffman, from Pittsburgh; and Joseph Taylor, from Eldersburg, Maryland.

Their design for the altar, ambo, and other pieces of liturgical furniture, which was unveiled at Catholic University June 2, features arches in the Romanesque-Byzantine style of the national shrine and consists of two types of marble that match the church's interior pillars.

A symbol featured in the center of the altar will pay homage to Mary, for whom the shrine is dedicated. The papal Mass will be celebrated Sept. 23 on the east steps of the shrine, overlooking the Catholic University Mall. The students' designs were based on the assumption that the papal Mass furnishings could find continued use after Sept. 23 as permanent fixtures inside the shrine.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl thanked the architecture students for embarking on the "extraordinary task" of making the altar that millions around the world will see when Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Washington. "Thank you for reminding us, whatever we do, we do it to the glory of God," he said.

The cardinal attended the announcement of the winning altar design, along with Msgr. Walter Rossi, the national shrine's rector; John Garvey, Catholic University's president; and Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout, the chair of the competition's jury.

The winning design team noted the front of the altar will have four columns to represent the four vows that Jesuits, like Pope Francis, take to join the Society of Jesus. The three arches symbolize the Trinity. The banner that will hang from the shrine will feature a background of yellow and white, the colors of the Vatican, and a blue Calatrava cross, which appears in the coat of arms of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The pope is the former archbishop of Buenos Aires.

It is an emblem that would have been familiar to Blessed Junipero Serra, whom the pope will canonize during the Mass.

"It's clear to me that the contestants all did their homework. They put a lot of thought and creativity into their designs and rationales," Msgr. Rossi said.

Eighteen teams of at least two students each participated in the design competition at Catholic University's School of Architecture and Planning, which was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and the national shrine. The teams had to build a scale model of at least one of the furnishings and make presentations of their designs to the jury on May 15.

Pope Francis will be the third pope to visit the national shrine and Catholic University, following Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. The papal visit to the United States will be the first by Pope Francis, and Blessed Serra's canonization will be the first such ceremony held in the United States.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015