Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A COMMON PROBLEM WITH MODERN CATHOLIC CHURCH ARCHITECTURE

What's wrong with the architecture of Saint Joseph Church in Jacksonville? It is all too common for most new churches built today. Can you guess what it is?


1. The stain glass windows behind the altar are very attractive. But the problem is that these windows are the same eye level as the altar, thus the altar can get lost when looking at it. The windows become a distraction and by competing with the altar obscures it. In traditional architecture, the windows are much higher and one has to actually look up at them, they are not in the same sight line as the altar and thus the altar becomes the focus not the windows during Mass.

2. Notice where the deacons being ordained are. They are on the floor of the nave. The altar, ambo and presiding chair are all on the same level and there is not enough room in front of the altar to have the deacons to be ordained located.

Unfortunately most architects and dioceses who approve these plans build churches today only for the celebration of the Mass. They fail to realize that the church building is used for other liturgies too, such as ordination Masses, Wedding Masses/liturgies, RCIA liturgies, etc.

There should be two steps up, then a nice wide landing that can accommodate brides, RCIA liturgies (such as the Easter Vigil) and other liturgies. Thus the altar, ambo and preside chair are not obscured by people being on this first landing with the altar area up two or more steps from that.

With brides, RCIA people, deacons on the nave level of the Church, the majority of the congregation cannot see them, except for the people in the first two rows.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

"With brides, RCIA people, deacons on the nave level of the Church, the majority of the congregation cannot see them, except for the people in the first two rows."

But I thought the mass wasn't about seeing "people," but about seeing Jesus.

Pater Ignotus's Older Brother said...

What makes a window more of a distraction than, say, a richly painted fresco (Michaelangelo's "Last Judgment" completely overpowers the altar in the Sistine Chapel), a beautufully carved bas relief, or an intricately woven tapestry hung on the wall behind an altar?

Again, Good Father, I think you are elevating mere personal preferences to the level of liturgical principle.

(By the way, I think that church in the photographs is a design disaster for many reasons.)

pinanv525 said...

Some things help us "see Jesus" better than others.

Phenomenologically (that's a big word I learned in school), our minds are structured to give order and design to our perceptions. Certain perceptions are structured by our minds to create feelings of awe and reverence and to incline us to quietness and introspection. So, you have Michaelangelo in the Sistine Chapel...or you have a polymorphous plastic window in a school auditorium- looking "church." Now, you tell me, which do you think might incline the most people toward worship and awe?

Frajm said...

to the good brother, I think these other art things can indeed be distractions, but not like windows which change as the light changes, can be very bright and busy. My comment was on the placement of windows not ancillary art behind the altar. Certainly a reredos that is a part of the unity of the altar is very effective at drawing attention to the altar, not distracting from it.

With other liturgies apart from Mass, when the focus is on the bride and groom or the RCIA candidates at the time one is exchanging vows, etc, a nice, visible place for this is to be preferred.

Robert Kumpel said...

I would also add that, from what I can see in the photo, the tabernacle, although front and center, gets lost in all the light coming through those stained glass windows.

This is the result of a trick that traditionally-minded liturgical consultants have used to get around bishops (and the Professional Catholics who advise them) who believe that the "static Presence of the Eucharist" somehow "competes" or "distracts" from the liturgical action at Mass. They stick the de rigeur "adoration chapel" directly behind the altar and give it glass walls or a wide iron-gated cage so that people in the congregation can still see the tabernacle.

If all a Catholic church building is good for is offering Sunday Mass then maybe U.S. Catholic and the St. Anthony Messenger are right when they praise the new direction of priestless parishes, run by a lay administrator that brings in a "rent-a-priest" every Sunday to offer Mass. If a Church is much more than this, then we need to take a look at what architects (and dioceses, by their complicity) have been doing for the last 30 years and admit that something has gone seriously wrong.

Pater Ignotus' Mom said...

The windows are not any more polymorphous than "The Last Judgment." And they are glass, not plastic. (I've been to this church.) And if the seven scenes from the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary (that's what the windows depict)do not "create feelings of awe and reverence and incline us to quietness and introspection" then neither do the grotesques in the fresco of the Sistine Chapel that are "the same eye level as the altar..."

But then again, maybe for some it takes seeing scenes of people beaten with oars, strangled by serpents, pummeled by demons, flayed, to encourage thoughts of God.

pinanv525 said...

Ignotus, that is an ugly church. It looks like a miniature of the Crystal Cathedral. And, no, I do not see how it could possibly inspire awe.

I believe people should see scenes that remind them that Mass is not a chummy celebration of our humanity, nor is the Christian life a feel good social justice rally. Perhaps we need to be reminded that Christ issued some very strong warnings regarding "right belief" and that Scripture promises consequences to those who do not take these warnings seriously.

Ave Verum said...

Good grief, good Fathers! And you, Pin (splinter indeed!), sound positively "shrill", to quote a recent post...
In this picture, I am WAY too distracted by what is going on in front of the altar to be distracted by what is going on behind it!! "How beautiful the feet of those who bear the Good News", to quote another Source...
I know my take was not the purpose of the posting, but, hey, you asked for it!

pinanv525 said...

Ave, you are making our point. The damned church is so distracting that I hardly noticed what was taking place...

Ave Verum said...

Bless him, Father, for he cursed and you printed it-- and cursed a church building, no less! Mary, Mother of our Church, pray for us.
Pin, you gotta THINK (dare I say PRAY?) before you speak/write...

Bill Meyer said...

Moreover, and I am taking a chance here, I see what appear to be the feet of a risen Christ above the altar. But I do not see a crucifix. This is an error only recently corrected in my own parish, and it is no mere question of aesthetics.

pinanv525 said...

Ave, were you ever a Baptist? LOL! Hey, I deliberately did not capitalize "church."

Anonymous4EF said...

Talk about distracting...have you ever been to the cathedral in Arlington, VA? It's a wreckovated 1950's church with the choir, organ, cantor, and organist moved to above and behind the main altar. (I assume the organ pipes were once up there.) I guess the wreckovation was a fruit (or gift) of Vatican II.

Templar said...

I'm simply speechless that anyone can take one of the artistic masterpieces of the Renaissance, if not of all time; a structure touched by the hands of not one Master but many Masters, and refer to it as a distraction. Yeah, that Sistine Chapel, what a distraction. Give me a Mass in one of those stripped down, theater in the round, modern day worships spaces any day. If you can get stadium seating in there so much the better, that way I can truly "actively participate" in the Mass, which every one knows you can't do unless you can see.

P. I. O. B. said...

Temp - You missed my point.

I asserted that "things" behind the altar, be they stained glass windows, bas relief sculptures, tapestries, or "The Last Judgment" are NOT necessarily distractions.

Unless you choose to let them distract you, that is.

Personally, I pay attention to the mass, whether it is celebrated in a 12th century Roman basilica or a tent on a Boy Scout Jamboree or a multi-use building.

pinanv525 said...

Ignotus, I believe your entire theology, perhaps your very priesthood, is conducted with your tongue firmly planted in your cheek. That may be a misperception, but a Priest should not leave that impression. Perhaps that is why you attack Fr. MacDonald so consistently and have, apparently, chosen him as your antagonist. He does not instill doubt, rather confidence and trust. His conversation and dialogue are not filled with sly comments or ironical statements (although I am sure he is capable of both), and he is mature enough that he has no need to define himself through clever caveats and contrarian remarks. Consequently, when in his presence, he conveys a sense of power and compassion which is not his own...and that is comforting. Could this be because he understands what Paul said about being the vessel and not the treasure?

Now, you may not reveal any of your personality when you say Mass (although I doubt it), but people are not stupid and they read between the lines. I hope, for your parishioners' sake, that you do, indeed, hide yourself well. I'll bet it is difficult for you, though.

Adlai said...

Pater Ignotus, I'm still waiting for your answer regarding whether or not you allow the TLM at your parish. His Holiness, Pope Benedict, has spoken(written) again on May 13, 2011 that if the faithful desire it, you must provide/allow the TLM to be said in your parish.

P. I. O. B. said...

Pin - you mistake disagreement for attack. I am beginning to think this is a choice . . .

pinanv525 said...

Ignotus, There are ways to disagree that do not appear as attacks. You have not mastered them...and, like I said, it is difficult to hide your true feelings.

Templar said...

I have to agree Pin. Who ever Ignotus is I would hate to be a member of his Parish if his every answer to everything was put forth in the snarky, negative, and pissy way that he posts here. Never a nice thing to say, never anything to contribute unless it's to post negatively after someone else has posted something positive.

PIOB said...

Pin - Any disagreement I have with Fr AJM you will perceieve as an attack. That's just you. I'm comfortable with that, so, let the games continue!

pinanv525 said...

Ignotus, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...