Is this a good church? Does it properly serve the purpose of a church? Many would say no. In fact this church is frequently presented by traditionalists as a prime example of terrible church design. Why?
Michael Rose had some thoughts on this topic. The basics are presented here. In short, the idea is that there is no journey towards God, from the profane to the sacred, in a round church design. It is, rather, made for a celebration of community and not the Eucharist. Though perhaps providing excellent acoustics for singing prayers, it is arguably not designed for proper worship in terms of offering sacrifice by a priest to God on behalf of the Church. Of course, in our Novus Ordo world which is focused more on the “people of God” in communion with each other more so than on the Bride of Christ worshiping God, many would argue with this argument. A round church, one supposes, serves better the idea that the faithful are gathered around a table for a meal.
Also, the church was completed in 1962, before the council had done anything, and long before the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated. These architectural ideas had been around for some time before the council.
Perhaps what I found most telling in the video linked above is the moment when Fr. Timothy says, “neither the architect nor we knew what we were doing.” I find this particularly emblematic of that era. It was a time when so many felt the strong need to throw off the past and create the future, but then discovered they didn’t know what to do. It made me think of this famous passage from G. K. Chesterton:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
There’s nothing wrong with asking if the way we have always built churches is the best. There is nothing wrong with exploring other possibilities. But, at the end of the day, we always discover our experimentations come from someplace, and the more we are unclear in our own minds the more likely other forces, spiritual or otherwise, will rule the day, and us. My take, and this applies to the “spirit” of the council and all that means, is that a great deal was done, including a great deal of destruction and deformation, because people had grown tired of the old ways and of old things. And I believe they grew tired because they ceased to truly know what they meant and what they were for.
Nonetheless, I pose the question: Is this a good Catholic church? Is it a proper design for what a Catholic church is meant to be?
Below is a time capsule Mass celebration in the church made for television:
I may be somewhat of an anomaly. On the one hand I am an advocate of Traditional Catholicism, including Traditional Catholic architecture designed to serve Traditional Catholic worship. (If you search through this blog you will know this.) On the other hand I love much of modern architecture. I love many buildings that many others do not like. I grew up in a modernist house, I studied modern art and architecture in college, and I have been a fan of early twentieth century and mid-century modern art and design. With this in mind, I found this lecture about one of the more famous (infamous?) modernist churches to be quite fascinating, not only for its informative content, but also because the lecturer gives a highly (almost ecstatically) positive perspective on exactly the kind of church design many would deride without hesitation.
This lecture below is by monk, educator, and artist David Paul Lange, OSB. Whether you agree with his assessments or not, this is an excellent overview of modernist principles in architecture, especially at the mid-twentieth century point, and why it made sense to people at that time to build a church according to those principles. It is also an excellent “unpacking” of the design, and the ideas behind the design, of a particular church, the Saint John’s Abbey Church:
I find Brother David Paul Lange’s speaking style to be a bit too breathless for my tastes, but he is a great evangelist for the modernist perspective in architecture, and for this church. But I have some questions:
Is his understanding correct about both modernist architecture and his interpretation of this church? I think absolutely.
Is this church a good representation of modernist architecture? Yes.
Is this church worthy of praise? As an example of modernist thinking, yes. As an example of excellent construction, yes. As a place for worship, you tell me, but I think no, at least not within a proper understanding of ideal Catholic worship.
Therefore, does this church represent a different ideal of worship than traditional Catholic worship, I think so. But you tell me.
Notice a few things:
He speaks of praying more than worshiping. This makes sense given this church is for a monastic community which is focused a great deal on prayer, but it is also significant. The focus is more about the nature and needs of praying than offering a sacrifice to God. Praying in a church is a good and normal thing. However, prayer is a part of worship, but not the only part. Many spaces can be prayerful. Only specific kinds of spaces serve the needs of worship.
He speaks a lot of his own feelings. In a sense this entire talk is an explanation of his personal experiences of this church, and his feelings during and about those experiences. There’s nothing wrong with that up to a point, but as a Catholic would it not be better to also foreground the Body of Christ as a corporate entity a bit more? In that sense he would then speak more of the nature of man in general and his relationship with God. And then tie it back to this church and how it functions.
This is more about a “modernist space” than a church (hence the title of the lecture), even though it is a church where the Eucharist is celebrated. He points out the way the outside comes into the church interior, reminding those inside of the connection with nature, what time of day it is, what weather is outside, etc. In this sense I gather the space functions a bit like stepping into a forest and praying. I like this in a sense, but when I think of celebrating Mass I wonder about the idea of Heaven on earth and the traditional way churches close off the outside world and creating a space that is more heavenly than earthly.
He speaks of the honest use of materials, and how older churches seem dishonest somehow, using paint to create false impressions and faux marble, etc. This is a particularly important part of the lecture. I too love the modernist focus on materials. I also don’t believe such focus is necessarily bad for church design, but a church interior should be (traditionally speaking) a kind of three-dimensional icon of Heaven. Rough, earthy materials that evoke nature have their place, but they should serve a heavenly image, no? Here’s something I might explore in another post, but consider this: Is not a statue of St. Michael (for example) fake because it is not actually St. Michael? Same for the Holy Mother, etc? Would not any church that aspires to create a sense of the heavenly liturgy within its walls be a dishonest use of materials? Maybe. But perhaps that’s a “dishonest” use of the word dishonest.
The bell tower, he argues, with its horizontal lines, points to (or mirrors) the horizontal earth rather than to God. He claims it reminds him that God is everywhere and in all things, and perhaps that’s a good reminder, but this is a curious claim and raises the question, in my mind at least, what is the purpose of a church? To call us to the earth or to call us to Heaven? Do we not minister to each other (horizontally) because we have first sought out and worshiped God–a vertical action? If we do not begin with the vertical does not our horizontal orientation eventually become skewed?
He also mentions that the population of monks used to be 350, but now are only 150. They don’t need such a big church anymore. Only by way of correlation, but still interesting (and troubling): They commit themselves to modernist ideas, they build a modernist church to symbolically represent that modernist spirit, and not long after they lose 60% of their members. Apparently modernism doesn’t need monks. Perhaps modernism doesn’t really need man either.
At the end of the lecture, just before questions, he jokingly apologizes for going a bit long and keeping the Downton Abbey fans from their show — a show whose popularity arose from a longing for an earlier time, represented, in part, not by modernist architecture, but very traditional architecture, and clothing, and customs, etc. Will future generations swoon over the modernist mid-twentieth century in the same way? Perhaps Mad Men did some of that, but that is an awfully dark show.
The first question at the end, by another monk (I believe), is exactly my question, and worth the time for watching this lecture. I have never been in this church, so I have no way of saying what my thoughts would be, but I also wonder if such a place is naturally conducive to prayer, or liturgy at all for that matter. And I truly get the experience from having studied art and swooning over art that others think is stupid or meaningless. And I also find the questioner’s reference to the new cathedral in Los Angeles being obvious a place of prayer puzzling, since it also has been roundly derided for its modernist and non-Catholic design. The answer to his question included: “Do people get modernism? I think the answer is no, by and large,” and “Until I explain this…” In other words, modernist art and architecture requires explanation in order to appreciate it. This is one of the attractions and weaknesses of modern art. I have experienced exactly that feeling of “getting it” after studying it. And yet, I think this may be why modernist architecture is not a good choice for Catholic churches. He also says we are not actually living in a “modernist” society. In terms of art and architecture this may be true specifically in light of design principles–modernism, from an art historical perspective occured at a time in history which is now past. However, the spirit of modernism as a philosophical and theological undergirding of society and the Church is still very pervasive. How modernism in ideas and modernism in design interrelate is a fascinating topic too big for this post.
In the end I find the Abbey Church a beautiful and amazing space. However, I do believe it is probably best suited as a performance space than as a church. I would not advocate a church being built along these lines. Rather, I think we should be informed more by the needs of the Traditional Latin Mass with its focus on God rather than man, uniformity with the Church through history, and creative use of new and old materials that look to the past for inspiration and the future for permanence and authentic timelessness — which can only be done by beginning with a true understand of both God and man.
Finally, I wonder if much of the problems with using modernist design principles and materials for Catholic churches could be solved if the liturgy was the Traditional Latin Mass. In other words, imagine if Vatican II never happened, and the Novus Ordo Mass never promulgated, could churches have been designed in somewhat contemporary and modernist fashion and still fulfill the needs of the TLM? Can architects build “honest” churches and still be Catholic? I think so. But also keep in mind that the St. John’s Abbey church construction began on May 19, 1958, and lasted until August 24, 1961 — well before the council even began, and long before the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated.
If you want to know a bit more about the architect Marcel Breuer:
If you want to know a bit more about the building of the church:
I think it is fair to say that I read my way into traditional orthodox Catholicism but then, to my surprise and chagrin, I ended up somewhat disappointed in modernist Catholicism. How can this be you ask? I am a convert to the Catholic Church. I came from a very non-Catholic “version” of Christianity (anti-Catholic really), and I felt nervous going to Mass on my own (and I knew no Catholics at all to hold my hand and guide me). So I didn’t go the Mass. Rather, over a period of several years I read my way closer and closer to entering the Church. I read books, blogs, and articles. I also listened to podcasts and interviews. Again and again the theological answers given to my questions made sense. I also heard many attractive things about the Church.
I heard of the magnificent history or the Church, and of the glories of Catholic art and architecture. I knew something about that already because I had been an art history major in college, and in those courses I studied some of the great paintings and cathedrals of Europe. I heard of the glories of Catholic music. I heard of the Church’s amazing intellectual history. I read more amazing histories of the Church, its battles, its saints, its universities and how it created what we today call science and modern medicine, and I was amazed at all that it has done in the world.
I also studied its theology, comparing it to the Protestant theology in which I was raised. I grew to love the doctrine of the Real Presence. I learned about the sacraments, the role of priests, the value of Tradition, and more. Again and again I was overwhelmed at the riches that had been kept from me by my ignorant Protestant culture, and at just how ignorant I myself had been. I came to see the Catholic Church had better answers to my questions, and a better grasp of Scripture. I also came to see that the Catholic view of man corresponded to both scripture and my experience than what had previously been articulated to me. I began to shift towards a sacramental view of reality. I began to long deeply for the Eucharist. A song was singing to my soul, calling me to the Church. I knew the Church was the home I longed for.
In my mind had growing visions of cathedrals and richly decorated churches. In my mind I heard chant and I smelled incense. I saw old manuscripts and ornate vestments. I sensed history, depth, and a profound connectedness to a cloud of witnesses. This was not a longing for merely a different style or for some medieval live action role playing experience. I longed for an antidote to the ravages of modernity and the false, modernist view of man. And the Church seemed to offer just that. Noted apologists for the Church would tell me to look at the riches of the Church, and I did.
But I also heard stories of clown Masses, and terrible music, including playing bongos in Church. I heard about the indifference and even anger of some Catholics towards their rich heritage. I heard about the focus of the new Mass being on the priest rather than on Christ. I did not really know what “new Mass” meant, but I thought it couldn’t possibly be so bad. I read that some Catholics didn’t like to hold hands during the Our Father, or didn’t like to receive the Eucharist in their hands while standing, or even refused to sing some of hymns because those hymns were terrible musically and, gasp, theologically bankrupt or even heretical. How could this be I thought? I didn’t know a thing.
All of this I heard about and I knew nothing of the debates about Vatican II. I knew nothing of the traditionalists and the radtrads. I knew nothing of Marian apparitions and her prophecies. I just didn’t know much at all. I really had just fallen off the turnip truck in front of the Catholic Church and thought this is the place.
Then I started going to Mass. And there, at my first Mass, was literally a bongo player amongst the guitarists and bassist. And everyone held hands during the Our Father. Parishioners walked all the way across the nave to hug people during the Peace of Christ (sometimes it seemed this was the moment that brought them to Mass). And the music was terrible, terrible, terrible. And the neighborhood Novus Ordo church building was anything but beautiful and glorious. Everything was so ho-hum, so bourgeois and American, so suburban, so blah. And I knew it wasn’t just a question of money. Like when we see a person who decides to buy ugly clothing for the same price as beautiful clothing because they have bad taste, what I saw seemed a reflection of something wrong at the heart of the Church and culture.
And then I looked around some more. I came to realize that all those Catholic glories of art, architecture, music, and all that culture building of Christendom, and all the influence in the sciences and education, were essentially historical realities of past ages and no longer contemporary activities of the Church. The Church had become a poor shadow of its past.
And yet I still loved it. Once I came into the Church I fell even more in love with Catholicism. I love the Eucharist. I love the Real Presence. Sunday Mass is the highlight of my week. But it was still hard. Hard for me and hard to drag my family along to the sappy Mass in the ugly church with of lousy music. I sometimes felt embarrassed and self-conscious about having them with me and knowing I had been promoting the Catholic Church for several years and now abject mediocrity is what they were getting. (Eventually they all entered the Church as well, thanks be to God.)
So I fell back on two things. First, I still got the Eucharist. That, I have to say, has been my sustenance. Second, I thought a lot about a recommendation from J. R. R. Tolkien. I took solace in the reality that most of us live humdrum lives anyway, that Mass is about Christ and the Eucharist, that we shouldn’t get caught up too much in seeking some kind of perfectly celebrated Mass with dynamic homilies and gorgeous music, and that I just needed to do my best to trust in the Church. We also began attending a more conservative Catholic parish (with more traditionally minded priests) that, while still Novus Ordo, nonetheless sought greater reverence in worship — and has a much more traditionally beautiful building, one that is inescapably a church.
I have also met a number of Catholics who have had similar experiences as I have, and are now working towards changing the Church by incrementally steering it back to the traditions of centuries past. This encourages me.
But, the truth remains: Modern (modernist) Catholic culture is radically devoid of almost all of its great riches and depth that, perhaps, were taken for granted in those past centuries. What greatness is still there is like a dwindling bank account of an inheritance assumed to be inexhaustible. But this modernist church’s art, its modernist church buildings, its modernist worship, even its prayers, are poor copies, and at times outright repudiations, of past riches. Modernist Catholicism does not create a true Catholic culture. In fact, it tends to create a somewhat bland culture that does not propagate itself very well. It is only by reaching into the past and bringing forward those riches that we have any at all with us today. This is why, I believe, Traditional Latin Mass parishes (SSPX, FSSP, especially those with noNovus Ordo option available) tend to create richer, more integrated and more complete local social cultures than the modern Novus Ordo parishes. Or so I’ve heard, I have yet to witness that first hand. But I wrote something about it here, based on what I saw in the video of a Traditional Latin Mass in Paris. And I’ve heard others say it is true. This is what I hope. Show me that I am wrong.
When I say integrated and complete I mean more than social programs and a “happening” Sunday evening “youth” Mass. I mean an alternative way of life that sees the family as the domestic church and the fundamental unit of society, the parish as an actual community made of and for believers, the Mass as the central activity of that community, and an unabashedly Catholic aesthetic permeating every aspect of the parishioners’ lives that is born out of a shared way of worshiping rooted in deeply orthodox Catholicism expressed in timeless praxis. I also mean a recognition that Catholicism and the world are inherently incompatible, and thus the culture of the parish must act in light of that truth, forming good Catholics, supporting the struggle of parishioners to be in the world but not of it, and creating meaningful alternatives to the allures and seductions of the secular society that pervades nearly every aspect of our lives.
But all too often we instead get namby pamby bishops talking psychobabble, “listening” rather than preaching the Truth with which they have been entrusted, swooning over an emotions-based modernist faith and the possibilities of a youth-led Church, and making the social-crisis-du-jour their primary concern. Far too often the hierarchy seems to live in a self-congratulatory bubble while showing almost no regard, let alone recognition, of the profound destruction the Church has experienced in the past 50 years.
Perhaps I’m dreaming. But here’s a basic fact: Adults who come into the Church, whether from Protestantism or something else, are often looking for a way of living that is distinctly (historically, traditionally) Catholic, and instead they all too often find something rather thin and bland; aesthetically more like a half-hearted 1970’s experiment to which the person in charge hasn’t had the courage (or balls) to say “times up;” and which is often more an expression of a culturally bourgeoise Americanism (or western Europeanism) than authentic Catholicism. And what’s perhaps most disheartening is that so many Catholics don’t see this. But I think more are beginning to. I hope so. I pray every day we all see it more clearly.
The simple truth is we are going to have to create the culture we want, by God’s grace. It is going to take effort, and some hard choices, and tenacity. It’s going to be a battle just like it was for the early Church. We are going to have to root out modernist ideas and presuppositions. This will be harder than we think. In many way modernism is essentially invisible to us. And if we want a Catholic culture with depth and longevity and substance beyond our own whims, we are going to have to get at it with a vengeance. But also with joy. We must always keep before us that one does not start building a culture by trying to build a culture. Rather, we begin with what (or who) we love, and with how we worship. Culture is the product of cultus, and cultus is not merely a Sunday thing, not merely a TLM thing, although that’s huge for many reasons. It’s a totality that encompasses our whole life in one way or another. Let us then turn our hearts and minds towards God and worship Him as we ought. Let us pray in the manner of the historical and orthodox Church. Let’s live as Catholics are called to live.
So, let’s get to work. Consider this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this. And remember, the Traditional Latin Mass is not great so much because it is traditional, but because it is timeless. Maybe we should call it the Timeless Latin Mass. Also, I hear often of bishops not supporting the TLM, and even trying to shut it down in many parishes. But many bishops are vain and may succumb to increasing pressure if enough Catholics make enough noise. In my parish some parishioners organized a 40-hour adoration event and got good support in our community and from our priests. We also have a great bishop who gets it. There are many things to do other than strictly the TLM. Bit by bit, inch by inch we can take back the precious ground that had been tilled and planted in centuries past.
Of course it is God who creates the culture ultimately. We just do the best be can in fear and trembling, and He does the real work. We, the Church, are His handiwork, and He honors those who honor Him.
Saint Francis, pray for us that we might rebuild the Church.
In a similar way that the Counter-Reformation, as its name describes, countered the Reformation, the Church must again counter a new “reformation.” But this new reformation has really been more of an internal revolution of modernism that has cause enormous damage within the Church as well as outside. Many have felt strongly that some kind of rediscovery and return to the rich architectural traditions of the Church, much like the return to the Traditional Latin Mass, should play a major role in this new counter-reformation. I agree.
Duncan Stroik is a practicing architect and devout Catholic who specializes in church design. He has been on a crusade of sorts to bring back to the foreground the traditions of church design that were once taken for granted and then largely lost (but, of course, not really lost, for we still have many examples). He is a leading voice in the return to beautiful and properly designed churches “movement,” if that’s the right word for it. He is also an author and Professor of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame.
Here is a recent lecture he gave, along with numerous examples, on twelve points of this new counter-reformation. This was part of the Catholic Artists Society’s 2018 Art of the Beautiful lecture series at New York University’s Catholic Center:
Should we be building (or restoring) beautiful churches when there is so much poverty in the world? Shouldn’t the Church sell all that it owns and give the money to the poor?
I am a simple man and I do not have a complete answer to that question. But I ask you to consider the story of the feast of Simon the leper, or more appropriately the story of the woman with the alabaster box of ointment. Does this story have a lesson for us that applies to the questions above? I think so.
In the Gospel of Matthew, verses 26:6-13, we read:
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, “To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.” When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, “Why trouble ye the woman? For she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.”
In the Gospel of Matthew this woman pours ointment on Christ’s head, in Luke it says she pours it on His feet and wipes them with her hair. I think it is fair to say she did both, and to do so fits with Christ saying she did it for His burial. But here’s the question I think we should ask for ourselves in light of this story: Do we not, very specifically and uniquely, have Christ with us at Mass, truly present? Are not our churches, in fact, both temples and palaces: places for worship and sacrifice on the one hand, and places for monarchal reverence and pomp on the other? Yes, we must help the poor, but our love for our neighbor goes forth from our worship of our creator and our savior. We proceed from Mass into the world, conforming our lives to Christ in our actions. And churches are for all who come, rich and poor alike.
The poor, above all else, need salvation of their souls as does everyone else. Certainly we must not forsake the poor with cheap excuses that our monies are tied up elsewhere. Christ chastised the Pharisees for that as well. But we must not turn away from proper worship in order to, instead, focus on the poor. When we do, we put our souls at risk, and theirs.
[I realize I risk saying all this because I am not poor. My apologies for any thickheadedness and offense.]
I believe the state of the “new Church” today, with its numbers plummeting, its thin gruel of RCIA programs, its horrible music, its new Mass with namby pamby vestments and shallow prayers, and all its staggering and ravaging scandals, is all of a piece with its degraded and ugly churches. To forsake right worship, which includes, if at all possible, beautiful places of worship of sufficient design and beauty to glorify the King, is to lose the forest for the trees. It is, in a sense, to lose Christ.
This is one reason why churches that focus only on helping the poor all too often become churches where soup and blankets becomes their gospel and not the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins, saving us from Hell, and leading us to eternal life. Raising Lazarus was an image of the gospel, but Lazarus was raised to die again. His true salvation came because Christ died on the cross, and then rose from the dead, then ascended to the right hand of the Father, and then Lazarus believing in that truth.
Therefore, I believe that a gospel which says we should do away with fancy churches and instead give that money to the poor is, in fact, a substitute gospel. It has some appeal because it has some important truth (we truly do need to help the needy and lay down our lives for others), but it elevates one truth inappropriately above another. The poor (and the downtrodden, and those in prison, and widows & orphans, and the hungry, and the naked, etc), whom you must love, will always be with you. But if you are to see Christ in the poor you must first see Him in the Eucharist, and bend the knee, and bow your head, and worship Him. Should you sell all you have and give it to the poor? Maybe. Should the princes of the Church live simple lives of poverty? I think they probably should (certainly many today should be brought low). Ought the Church as the body of Christ celebrate Mass in plain sheet-rocked or concrete-tilt-up boxes instead of beautiful, ornate, and more expensive churches? I think not (if at all possible). Give glory as and to whom glory is due.
Does this mean that if we focus once again on building more beautiful churches all our problems with go away? No. But we must not be afraid to build beautiful churches. To do so will feed and inform our souls in surprising ways, and help us become more holy, more fully human, more like Christ. This goes hand in hand with helping the poor. The stunning churches of old, those that are still with us, are memorials to those who built them in a similar way that the story of the woman with the alabaster box is her memorial.
You will meet her if you get to Heaven. And, perhaps, you will bow to her and thank her for showing the way.
Finally: Arvo Pärt, the brilliant minimalist composer from Estonia, set the words from Matthew above to music. Listen to this and read the words as you do. This is, I believe, a stunning example of what setting the words of scripture to music can be.
Here’s a fascinating time-capsule from a key time in the feminist movement. Certainly it is dated, and some of it may seem a bit corny to us today, but the core message is still powerful and shocking — and not surprising too.
From a traditional Catholic perspective one can easily see why feminism, at least as it is presented here, was seen as incompatible with Catholicism — it has at its core the destruction of the traditional family. On the other hand, consider how much feminist thinking has entered into our culture and, in many ways, become the de facto position. Something about feminism captivated the collective consciousness of vast swaths of western culture and beyond, and has stayed with us and continued to influence and shape our culture.
In many ways this video is so sad — so much heartbreak beneath the surface of power posturing and strident demands. Consider where our society had to gotten to in order for these women, and so many others, to feel as they did. On the other hand, it’s fascinating to consider how such a radical change in attitudes may have also had a demonic element. I think it’s likely a lot of different elements and motivations were at play, some good and some bad.
We make “verbal moves” all the time in order to navigate the complex and sometimes dangerous subcultures in which we live.
You have heard this before… While in some deep discussion about something about Christianity, especially when the discussion gets a little intense, one of the persons says “All I know is that Jesus loves me.” Or, “All I know is that God is love.” Or, “All I know is that it’s about Jesus.” Or, “I just like to keep it simple.”
Who can argue with that? But often it’s a kind of defense mechanism. Of course Jesus loves me, and God is love, and it is all about Jesus. (I realize many times we need to be reminded about this.) But the point of such statements is usually to shut down the discussion. One reason is because the discussion has got a little difficult and the person starts to feel a little defensive doesn’t want to get emotional, or get caught in a verbal tangle. In many ways it’s a prudential move, and sometimes very necessary.
Another reason for the defensive maneuver is to avoid dealing with ideas that one has not considered, especially when it’s clear the other person has. Unfortunately, many Christians have not thought much about their faith beyond platitudes and common phrases and basic political positions. This does not mean they don’t have authentic faith, or even deep faith, but at the level of intellectual understanding many Christians remain rather ignorant. It’s a good thing that none of us have to pass a theology exam to enter into Heaven!
In a similar way, there is another kind of verbal move often made by Christians. I call it the “Well, I think…” move. This is a very common move in our modern, pluralistic society. Declaring truth is felt to be improper, even bad manners. But opinion is fine. “Well, I think faith should just be simple.” “Well, I think it doesn’t really matter what church you go to, as long as you love Jesus.” “Well, I think Jesus didn’t come to judge. He just forgives.” “Well, I think Jesus didn’t come to start a religion.” “Well, I think as long as one has faith that is all one needs.” “Well, I think Jesus loves me for who I am.” “Well, I think the Church shouldn’t keep anyone from communion.” “Well, I think On Eagles Wings is a wonderful song.” “Well, I think Lord of the Dance is better.” “Well, I think we should reinstall altar rails.” “What?!”
We have become a culture of opinionators. Perhaps social media has fueled this. Certainly it’s partially a result of secular pluralism. Regardless, a lot of Catholics have strong opinions about the Church and its practices, but not all, perhaps not a lot, of those opinions are actually thought through. This is because most opinions tend to arise from intuitions, and intuitions can very easily be poorly formed.
Opinions are fine, but I think we owe it to each other, both as fellow Christians and at the basic human level, to ask the follow up question: “How do you know?” And if the response is: “Well, I just know.” Then that deserves the question: “Do you actually mean you really know, or that you just feel it’s true?”
We owe it to each other to hone our understanding. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and to make others uncomfortable. And I don’t just think that’s true. It is true:
Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. (Proverbs 27:17)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16a)
Christians should not be people who are merely carried along by the currents of culture (like dead fish flow with the river’s current) regardless of whether that culture is secular or Catholic. If we say “Well, I think…” that expression should be based on actual thinking that reflects careful consideration. It doesn’t get us off the hook. And merely removing the “Well, I think…” portion doesn’t make one’s opinions more true. Too many Catholics have become mouthpieces for popular culture(s) while thinking they are holding truly Catholic ideas. Catholics should, instead, create actual Catholic cultures, and that’s no easy task.
Let our thinking be excellent. Then, when we say “Well, I think…” it truly means something excellent and not mere opinion reflecting and supporting a largely unconsidered culture.
It is interesting to hear these people, parents and teachers, talk about Catholic liberal education:
For years, beginning long before we became Catholic, we began to homeschool our children (which also meant homeschooling ourselves). After several years we got connected and involved with an educational program called Classical Conversations founded by Leigh Bortins. It is an excellent program, and I would encourage anyone interested in homeschooling to take a close look at what it has to offer. It is not Catholic, but it is basically Christian, and in many ways basically orthodox for Catholics. I also had the privilege of writing the first draft of the science chapter in Leigh Bortin’s book The Question. And I spent a year with Andrew Kern of Circe Institute studying Homer, Plato, Shakespeare and more. Kern is another significant voice in the classical education movement. As a family we are committed to the idea of a Christian classical education for our children and ourselves. In short, we know something about what a classical approach to education offers, and how it is a kind of corrective, even a profound and radical challenge, to the prevalence of the typical anti-human modern education of our society.
The kind of education discussed in the video above follows the classical education model — at least it has a similar mindset. In fact, I believe one can say that a truly Catholic, a truly classical, and a truly liberal education are all the same if understood from a biblically and anthropologically truthful understanding.
I wish there was Catholic Classical Education in our area — whether for homeschooling like the Classical Conversations program, or a more formal brick & mortar school. The local Catholic schools in our area, though having the reputation of being a little bit better quality than the local government schools, are definitely not classical — and therefore not nearly as Catholic as they believe themselves to be. Actually, at their core they are modernist with some Catholic veneer. Our eldest went for two years at the local Catholic high school and it was a bust. I feel sorry, in a sense, for the faculty and administration at that school. They are products of our modern Catholic culture, meaning they are modernist and American before they are Catholic.
They also are inheritors of the post Vatican II reality. Take away all the nuns and religious who used to be the teachers (because the draining of religious from the Church) and you now have to hire “professionals,” which leads the double whammy of much higher salaries, and therefore higher tuitions, and modernist thinking. In that sense, these Catholic schools too often represent the anti-human educational philosophy more than they realize. Into those schools come students from any family who can afford to pay, which means they are no longer serving the local Catholic community, most of whom cannot afford the tuition. This produces a student body of only about half Catholic. And of the Catholics, only about a third actually believe the tenets of the Church. (Hopefully the numbers are better in your area.) This situation has produced a “Catholic education” system that is not truly Catholic, certainly not classical, basically a poorer education than its reputation warrants.
God bless the folks in the video above who recognize the need for truly Catholic education, and the blessings that follow.
Dr. Denis McNamara gave two lectures on Church architecture, sweeping quickly through many aspects of Church design, classical architecture, the meaning of many details that easily get overlooked, and why it matters. The amount of interesting information in these talks is amazing and, I believe, a lot more important than most Christians realize or probably would care to know but should. Denis is also one of the three voices on one of the best Catholic podcasts anywhere, The Liturgy Guys.
William F. Buckley Jr. was a faithful Catholic who preferred the Traditional Latin Mass and did not like the changes brought about by Vatican II or, perhaps more appropriately, the abuses in the name of Vatican II. In 1980 he devoted an episode of his television program Firing Line to discussing these changes, as well as the censure of theologian Hans Kung which had just happened.
On the show his guests were Msgr. Joseph Champlin, Michael Davies, and Malachi Martin. Fr. Champlin was a prolific author and vocal advocate of the new Mass, and a more liberal approach to Catholicism. Michael Davies was also a prolific writer and defender of the old Mass, warrior against the new Mass, and apologist of traditional Catholicism and those who continued to practice it, including Archbishop Lefebvre. Malachi Martin was also a prolific author, former Jesuit, advocate of the old Mass, frequent critic of the Church, television personality of sorts and, some would say, showman to a fault.
Here is the program:
I do not think this is one of Firing Line’s best episodes. Though the topic is of great interest to me, the guests are interesting, and the fact it stands as a kind of time capsule, nonetheless it lacks focus. On the one hand, the topic is just too big for an hour of television. On the other this is more like “inside baseball,” which, in fact, it needs to be but also suffers from. I wondered at times if the audience was bored stiff, thoroughly confused, or both.
Quick takes on each participant:
WFB: Always erudite, but his arguments remain more on the surface, expressing his personal proclivities and, I’m sure unintentionally, providing an excuse for viewers to assume he represents the old guard of stuffy Catholicism afraid of the new and exciting world of modernity and a more youth-oriented Church. And when he pushed on certain topics his interlocutors merely went their own way.
Fr. Champlin: My immediate response was negative. He seemed to represent exactly the kind of wimpy sentimentalist evasive liberal priests that turned the Church away from a cross-carrying, suffering servant, heroic virtue loving, proud-to-be Catholics, and hopeful to be martyrs Catholicism. Of course these are all stereotypes and we should be careful. Nonetheless, my inclinations are probably basically true. In light of a particular section of this program it is worth noting this observation about Fr. Champlin:
He is remembered in his own diocese of Syracuse (where he has served as Vicar of parish life and worship) for his fervent promotion and encouragement of Communion in the hand (when the practice was unlawful in the U.S.), thereby adding to the spirit of disobedience in which that practice was cultivated. He was also prominent in defending an aberrant policy of “Eucharistic hospitality” in the Diocese of Syracuse (which, in effect, permitted Protestants to receive Holy Communion in clear defiance of the restrictions contained in Vatican directives.) [From here.]
He also was wishy-washy on contraception in his popular book on marriage, “Together for Life.”
I must say, however, that clearly Fr. Champlin was “ganged up on” a bit. He was obviously (perhaps by design?) the only advocate of the new Mass, surround by three passionate and articulate advocates of the old. I think he did an excellent job of maintaining his composure and articulating his position.
Mr. Davies: He comes across a bit like a crusader, and his emotions nearly get the better of him several times. However, of all the participants he is the one I find most compelling. Like him I was a Baptist who converted to the Church. Like him I also have some Welsh blood in me, but not the Welsh culture or accent (actually his accent is from Somerset) . At times he seems ready to explode with information, which makes sense given his life’s undertaking of studying these things (and perhaps his passionate spirit). In short, compared with the others, only his arguments were actually compelling as arguments, though he did not have time to articulate them given the nature of television and the format of the show. He also kept his composure, and I hope he was able to pique the curiosity of many viewers to consider his views and his books.
Mr. (or is it Fr.?) Martin: Always entertaining, Mr. Martin loved the sound of his own voice. He seemed to be making an attempt to turn to show towards himself. I did not feel he contributed substantially to the discussion and, in fact, was a distraction. However, I do believe with a different format, for example a two hour discussion that was allowed the guests to ramble a bit more, and where he sat down with the others as a members of the group, he might have fit within the program better. Still, I never know how far to trust him.
“Irreverence at Mass is not the problem. It’s the symptom of the problem.” – Fr. Dwight Longenecker
Reverence = Deep respect for someone or something.
Every Sunday at Mass I see a mix of parishioners worshiping. I say “mix” because we come from all walks of life. Some are rich and some poor, some are more educated and some less so, some are there alone and some are with their families, and a variety of ethnicities are represented too. I also see a mix of clothing choices. A few are dressed up in their Sunday best, most are dressed in rather drab everyday clothing, and some come in clothing more suited to playing video games with one’s friends or watching a sporting event on television with a bowl of chips on one’s lap. I often see team jerseys, untucked shirts, yoga pants, bedhead hair, grown men in denim shorts, etc. And some regulars even look like tourists off the bus. (This is certainly far more common in the Novus Ordo Mass than the TLM, in my experience.)
We now live in a slob culture. The way most Americans dress, whether it’s for school, work, or church is fundamentally slobbish. [Full disclosure: I too am a slob. Even my dress up clothes are not all that nice.] Take a look at old pictures and you will see men everywhere dressed in nice shirts, ties, shiny shoes, sport coats and slacks, or suits. Consider the radical 1960’s. That was the time of throwing off convention. Right? Even then you see students so much better dressed than they are today.
Even in the mid-1960’s, not all that long ago, and even at a secular university doing secular things, students still believed they had to uphold their dignity as human beings in how they dressed.
Or consider this image below from the Apollo Mission Control Center in 1972. Even as recent as this picture was taken I don’t see a single man without a collared shirt and tie. That was routine then.
I know I don’t need to show any pictures of how people dress today. Untucked t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops are now considered acceptable for many office jobs, especially in the tech industry. Hawaiian shirts and baggy jeans are even considered appropriate for Evangelical pastors on Sunday morning. Tight and ripped pants, untied tennis shoes, and offensive t-shirt graphics are typical in many schools. I know you’ve seen it all many times.
We take all this in stride. Most people would even think it strange to make anything of it. In fact many would defend their slobbishness as not slobbishness at all. “What do you mean?! This is fine.” The truth is, we have trouble making wise judgements. We just can’t see it. The dignity of human beings has been like the frog slowly dying in the pot of water that has very slowly come to a boil. Our dignity is cooked.
Enlightenment Modernism is our worldview. It is the religion of the West. I posit that the gradually increasing and pervasive slobishness of our culture has resulted from the modernist changes to our anthropology. What we believe about what a human being is has everything to do with how and what we do with ourselves and others, and with the kinds of cultures we create. As modern society has devalued man, a devaluation that emerged out of the “loss” of human transcendence brought about by the Enlightenment (and probably earlier), and thus the loss of his God-imageness, man has become nothing more than an intelligent animal or a non-mysterious collection of atoms. Therefore, we have nothing to celebrate or uphold when we dress ourselves. Is this not the evidence we see around us?
And yet, do we not expect royalty to dress like royalty? We are children of the King. But we dress ourselves as slobs. That this is all too often expressed at Mass is all the more troubling.
We are not only made in God’s image, again we are also sons and daughters of the King. At Mass the King, our Lord and Savior, is truly before us, truly present with us. We come to worship our God and King. We are subjects in the Kingdom of Heaven. We are Christ’s body. How should we behave? How should we dress?
The real problem is, of course, not how we dress. To riff on the quote from Fr. Longenecker at the beginning of this post, our slobbishness is merely a symptom of the problem. If we Catholics dress like slobs at Mass, and if that is a symptom of a deeper problem, then what is that problem?
Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we really believe “this stuff.” Are we really fully Catholic if we say in our actions that we don’t believe some of the Church’s most fundamental, most basic beliefs–like the basic anthropology that we are made in God’s image? Do we actually, truly believe we are made in God’s image? Do we believe we are God’s children? Do we believe we are now royalty through the saving work of Christ? Do we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?
Final word: I believe the Traditional Latin Mass inherently, by its very form and structure, makes more evident the need for proper reverence, and therefore places appropriate demands on the individual to dress more in line with his nature. Thus, does it not make sense that one significant antidote to the culture disease of slobbishness is the re-establishment of the TLM throughout the land?
This short talk by Roger Scruton is worth listening to in its entirety. His thoughts on silence are especially profound. I wonder, too, about how his thoughts apply to our constant debates about music at Mass. Think about what he says and then consider the different uses of music one finds between a Novus Ordo Mass and a Traditional Latin Mass. Think about the different uses of silence too. What have we lost bringing popular, and often poor imitations of popular, music into Mass?
I have come to realize that rock-n-roll’s purpose, among other things, is to un-civilize the individual. We love rock-n-roll precisely because we want to be un-civilized. I do believe there is some value in occasionally “letting down one’s hair.” I really can’t say it’s all bad. But I also believe it has to be appropriately counterbalanced with beautiful music that leads us to perfection of the soul. I also worry that our desire for chaos is not of divine origin. Honestly, I don’t entirely know what to do with this knowledge.
This idea of perfection of the soul is laughed at by moderns. No one believes in perfection anymore, in part because they don’t think it’s possible, but more profoundly because they don’t believe there is an objective standard by which to measure perfection. But they also do not believe in the soul. Why seek to perfect something that does not exist? And why go to the effort if there is no life beyond this one? I would posit, however, that the existence of music, and the phenomena of human experiences of music, are an excellent argument for the existence of the soul, its eternal nature, and its desire for perfection.
Then, when I think of the Mass, I consider its music and what that does to us. I wonder about appropriateness, and form, and the teleological purpose of liturgy. I also think about Scruton’s comment about the soul being prepared to receive good music. Can poor music at Mass harm us in some way? Can the repeated use of poor music at Mass cause the souls present to be temporarily incapable of receiving proper music when presented? What about the music in Heaven? How might we fix this?
Why in the world did God make music, and what is the relation between music and the human soul? I believe Scruton gets at this question in a way. I also believe he could go further. Perhaps that is what we should do.
Suscipiat Dominus sacrificium de manibus tuis, ad laudem et gloriam nominis sui, ad utilitatem quoque nostram, totiusque Ecclesiae suae sanctae.
[May the Lord accept the Sacrifice from thy hands,
to the praise and glory of His Name,
for our benefit and for that of all His holy Church.]
It is a fact that what’s driving the return of (and to) the Traditional Latin Mass is, in part, Catholic youth. Search online for that topic and one finds innumerable articles about the growing love of, and demand for, the old Mass on the part of young Catholics. (I encourage you to go search. I don’t have space to list them all here.)
In short, it comes down to three things:
Genuine faith seeking a proper form.
Finding a lack of proper form in much of the modern Church, and especially in the Novus Ordo Mass and its ancillaries.
Finding the proper form in the pre-conciliar traditions of the Church, and in particular the Traditional Latin Mass and its ancillaries.
These three reasons are supported by the realization that the Novus Ordo Mass is linked, directly and indirectly, to so many problems in the Church today, such as loss of vocations, closing of parishes and Catholic schools due to lack of interest, loss of a corporate Catholic identity, and increasingly lax morals, especially in the area of sexuality (the very area the world sees traditional Catholics as being laughably foolish). The causal versus the correlative links between the new Mass and modern perils will be debated for ages, but the reality of the links seem real enough to warrant action.
I have seen some older Catholics show complete confusion about this. Why in the world, they wonder, would anyone want that old, rigid, dusty religion? But they do. It has been reported that even Pope Francis himself said about those who show a love for the Traditional Latin Mass: “And I ask myself: Why so much rigidity? Dig, dig, this rigidity always hides something, insecurity or even something else. Rigidity is defensive. True love is not rigid.” I sense that the Holy Father, whom I love, has a fear that the old Mass will come back. My sense is that, while he has much wisdom, he is also of a generation that was formed by the spirit of the 1960’s. Alas. It has also been argued that what youth want is more of a desire for true reverence than the Latin rite, but there is certainly a connection. And there is more than enough evidence to say it’s also the usus antiquior, the ancient usage, that calls to them.
Ironically, the 1960’s was all about youth too, and listening to the youth, and letting the youth show us the way, etc, etc. And then, at the behest of the spirit of the 1960’s, it was all about casting off anything and everything that was traditional, including morals, conventions, and just about anything that smacked of liturgy. Now Pope Francis is saying something very similar about looking to the youth for answers. I say it’s ironic because those who were the youth of yesteryear, and who led the way from the 1960’s into the 1970’s Novus Ordo Church with it’s guitars and bongo drums, its liturgical dancers and the attempted eradication of Latin, are now saying that again the youth must show the way, and the youth are saying it’s time to move beyond the modernist hippy church — and many of the older Catholics are getting mad. Funny how that happens. For some reason many are still drinking the kool aid about how only in utter freedom (it’s a “freedom from” way of thinking, a kind of bra burning Catholicism) can one have a true relationship with Jesus, or have authentic faith, etc. Cast everything off. Even cast off the Church it seems sometimes.
But some older Catholics get it. And they can bring their wisdom to help guide the passion of the youth.
And some younger Catholics who have fallen in love with the old Mass are taking it to the streets. The caption for the following video reads as follows:
So over brunch after the Traditional Latin Mass one Sunday, we, a group of young Miami Catholics, thought it would be fun to visit the Florida Renaissance Festival… and even more fun to form a little procession, chant the Litany of the Saints, and hand out flyers inviting everyone to come worship like it’s 1399!
So we did exactly that.
I find this wonderful. It’s kinda hilarious and precious just how real it is. You want to know how to do real street evangelism? Well, there you go. (Take it from someone who has done some old-fashioned Protestant street evangelism. This is way way better.) I think the same is true with a good old-style Corpus Christi procession. We need more of those.
But it’s not easy. One has to put oneself “out there” as a witness and be willing to accept what may come.
There is also a “meme” of sorts going around where someone posts two pictures with the following text:
Left: What young Catholics want
Right: What old Catholics want young Catholics to want.
The pictures go like this: One the left will be a picture of something very traditional, like nuns in full habits, beautiful churches with stunning altars and tabernacles, priests in cassocks, etc. On the right will be pictures of “nuns on the bus,” bare and ugly modernist churches, liturgical dancers and priests playing folk guitars, etc.
I doubt this needs any explanation, but on the left is traditional, beautiful, historical, deep, Christ-centered Catholicism, and on the right is an aging, 1960’s, baby-boomer, me-generation, shallower version of an essentially smallish “c” catholicism (if it’s really Catholicism at all). Whether these images are entirely fair I can’t say, but the phenomenon of the meme’s popularity speaks to growing feelings and desires of younger Catholics for the substance of an older, historical Catholicism.
In other words, they want a liturgy given by God and not created by man. They want a faith of the ages not of the latest fashions (of course, and sometimes humorously so, for the Church “fashionable” means 20 years out of date, but oh well.) They want beauty not sentimentality.
Sentimentality is one of the worst features modern Catholicism.
Another example: Imagine well over 15,000 people marching for three days from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to the Cathedral in Chartres. They come as individuals and as groups. They carry banners and come from all over the world. They sing and chant along the way. Then consider that 80% of these pilgrims are under the age of 30 and you now have a picture of one of the Church’s most remarkable annual events. Here is a “video album” of the 2015 pilgrimage:
I love video documents like that. Simple, unadorned, merely presenting what happened. It’s long, but worth the time to watch.
Some older Catholics often seem to always seek ways to make it “easier” for young Catholics to be Catholic, and non-Catholics to be interested in the Church. This is true for Protestants too, who have been much better at applying modern marketing techniques to “evangelism” than Catholics. Make it effortless and you will win against the competition. But, in fact, young Catholics seem to thrive on what is hard to do. It is the challenge of holiness, not the low-commitment of a happy-clappy church, that intrigues them. Interestingly, in this sense many youth have the more Catholic view of the faith than far too many of their elders. And many young Catholics appear to have a clearer understanding and a greater love of what it takes to become a saint than even some Bishops. Talk about “active participation” in liturgy and in life, there you have it. Thank God for those older Catholics who get it, live it, and are examples to the youth.
In another story of how some Catholics just do not “get” the Catholic youth of today, there’s the example of some Catholic administrator or other sort of staff (I’m assuming a sweet, old-fashioned, 1960’s, well-meaning modernist — or someone directed by such a person) altering an image for a poster created to appeal to youth as part of a campaign to raise donations (and apparently to appeal to Catholic youth) in three dioceses France. A video was made and an image was taken from the video to make a poster.
Here’s the video:
Not great. They don’t look like they know each other, and the whole setup looks awkward and weird. Oh well.
But alas, and here’s the issue, Catholic youth would never think a priest in a cassock would be cool enough, right?? Obviously someone thought so, …so some graphic designer was asked to modify the image and make it look as if the priest was wearing blue jeans, because priests in blue jeans are what youth want right? Or is it what old Catholics want young Catholics to want? You decide.
And now here’s the blue jean wearing priest:
A total different priest — hip, with it, connected, relatable, relevant. Rather, he was all those things before, and now post edit, much less. Perhaps what Catholic youth want is not a priest who is really just one of the gang, just another youth like them, just another soccer playing priest or unicycle riding nun. Maybe they want to be called to something more than the quotidian. And maybe they don’t like to be manipulated and lied to. More profoundly, perhaps they don’t want to stay who they are and end up in Hell, but strive for holiness and Heaven. I bet they know holiness is hard and not easy.
The fuller story is here, and the comments are devastating. ouf! If a picture is worth a thousand words, this rather insignificant image probably says as many words as those published by the Second Vatican Council. Oh well. Catholics are human too, and often foolish. The Church goes on. No one was hurt. Right? Right???
Regardless, maybe we ought to listen to the Catholic youth of today. Or at least some of them. And then join them. Generally I am not for letting the youth lead, in fact I’m mostly against it, but this time that’s probably not a bad idea.
My previous post featured Jonathan A. Anderson lecturing on the lack of theological considerations in contemporary art criticism. This lecture comes several years later and takes a look at how religion is reappearing in the writings about contemporary art over the past two decades.
Many art critics have religious leanings. Many artists have religious leanings. Many works of art deal with religious themes. However, there would seem to be an unspoken pact among art critics (and art teachers) that religion and theological concerns will not be seriously considered as a topic or approach to thinking and writing about art. This is not a great situation for either artists or anyone who would appreciate art.
An EWTN show called Extraordinary Faith did a couple of episodes on new church designs and old church restorations that reflect the traditional patrimony of the Catholic Church.
The information here is great, and shows something of the rebirth and growth in recognizing the timeless and appropriate architectural and artistic designs of those buildings we instantly recognize as churches. Consequently many parishes and religious groups are wanting such buildings again.
I love the level of exposure to these beautiful churches and those who build & restore them this shows brings. There is a great deal of skill and work involved in any traditional Catholic church building. I also love the passion exhibited here for the traditions of the Church.
[An aside: Of course, and as expected, in the “spirit of EWTN” the production quality is serious, thoughtful, and sometimes (unintentionally) humorously amateurish. I would love to see EWTN level up two or three notches with its productions. Perhaps something like Bishop Barron’s Catholicism series, which would be at least a place to start. I’m not just complaining. I used to be a professional television producer and director, so I know a few things about what it takes to make good television, and it’s mostly not a question of money. EWTN too often is caught somewhere between 1980’s professional television and community access television.]
Here is a great video how one Catholic parish in America has renovated its church building, invigorated its parish life, helped its community, and is contributing to the restoration of the Church at large. The video is from 2010, but its message resonates still. Basic things: repair the building, offer vespers, bring back pomp and reverence, Latin, chant, Corpus Christi procession, altar boys, communion on the tongue while kneeling, incense, mystery, etc., etc. They also employed an architectural and liturgical expert, Denis McNamara, to help lead the restoration.
The church interior was completed in 2014. Here are some stunning images, including before and after photos of the project. What beauty. My parish should do this! I’m sure the first response will be about money, but I really think it comes down to the will to do it — as do most goals of highest value.
If there is any one formula or silver bullet for creating vibrant parishes it seems to be: get back to the roots, restore the old ways, focus on truth, goodness, and beauty in the Mass, and do those things that support these things, like renovating your church building inside and out.
The cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris is slowly crumbling. It’s expensive to repair. Since the French Revolution churches in France are owned by the state. So the state has the responsibility to keep the churches standing, or decide some other fate, which could mean demolition. The cathedral of Notre-Dame needs $70 million dollars. Here’s a story about that:
Perhaps the French state should give the catherdral back to the Church. No?
For some time now I’ve been fascinated by Church architecture and how it works. In my parish there is a small movement to re-establish the original high altar and tabernacle at the center of the sanctuary. It was moved to the right of the sanctuary sometime in the 1970’s I would guess. I wrote about it here.
My argument for moving the altar back to the center is based a lot on what a church is, and the overall design of churches, essentially starting with the structure and moving in towards the altar. What I like about the following lecture by architect Duncan Stroik is that he starts with the altar and “builds” out from there.
Of course, to understand the altar we should understand what takes place there. Do we truly have the body and blood of Christ? If yes, then that is huge. If no, then none of this really matters. Right? Sometimes I think that most Catholics today see the Eucharist as a symbol, not believing in the Real Presence, not believing in transubstantiation. I think churches in the round reflect that.
How we design and build our churches expresses what we believe to be true — and how we rank truths. A church in the round reflects some truth — that we are all fellowshiping around a shared table. But does it reflect the proper hierarchy of truths? Have more important truths been reduced in rank (as expressed by the design) and lesser, though important, truths been elevated? Has Jesus my friend been elevated over Christ our King?