Statue Of Blessed Virgin Mary In Catholic Church - Meaning
Q: I attend a parish named Immaculate Conception. We recently built a new church which has an altar and a crucifix that hangs well above it. There is also a lovely state of our Lady holding the child Jesus off to the right. Recently our pastor also installed a large painting of Mary on the back wall behind the altar and I was upset since I think the altar area should remain wholly dedicated to Christ and not give the impression we are directing worship to Mary. I am so upset that I may leave this parish. – Susan
A: Your concerns are not without merit. While there are no rules absolutely forbidding images of the saints in the sanctuary, current norms and customs speak of the sanctuary area of the Church as emphasizing the altar, the ambo (pulpit), and the chair. There should also be, on or near the altar, a crucifix. Further, the tabernacle, in most parish settings, is usually in a prominent place, either within or very near the sanctuary (cf Built of Stones, #s 54,57,74-‐80).
That said, while images of Mary and the Saints in the central axis of the sanctuary are not common in modern Church design, it is not absolutely forbidden either. There may be some merit to have the patron of the parish Church, in your case Mary, prominently displayed (as many older churches do) somewhere near the front, presuming it does not overly dominate the sanctuary.
Perhaps, since you mention the Crucifix being high above the altar, there may be some merit in placing a small crucifix on the altar. But only if the high crucifix is well out of sight since more than one crucifix in the sanctuary is discouraged (cf Built of Living Stones #91).
It is regrettable that this has caused you such grief as to consider leaving the parish. Perhaps a spiritual way to accept what you consider less than ideal, is to remember that we do gather with the saints at Mass.
Scripture says We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1). There may also be benefit in recalling the description of the early Church at prayer: They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus (cf Acts 1:14).
As you rightly express, we pray with the saints, and they with us, we do not worship them.