Monday, March 4, 2013




MY COMMENTS FIRST: When I read the article on how horrible modern, post Vatican II church architecture is (which follows these comments), I thought that I was in the Twilight Zone again, and that I was actually the author of this brilliant article in the Huffington Post of all places! The author speaks of his father who was an architect and built very beautiful Catholic Church's prior to Vatican II and built churches that looked like Catholic Churches. Then he tells of his journey to agnosticism and then after Vatican II and visiting a post-Vatican II modern church and almost laughing at the space ship construction of a church in the round that looked more like a meeting place than a sacred space, where the horizontal overwhelmed the vertical!

Brothers and sisters, even when I was a teenager, I had to blindly accept that what was happening to our Catholic Church not only in terms of how churches were being built but also how older churches were retrofitted to a modern ideology, was actually renewal and not disintegration.

It meant that I had to suspend common sense as a teenager and accept the deconstruction of our Church as renewal. It wasn't renewal and it wasn't faithful to what Vatican II envisioned.

We are at a turning point. Do we actually go back and reread the Second Vatican Council Documents but now through the lens of 20/20 hindsight and actually correct what was wrong with the implementation of Vatican II as it regards, firstly the Liturgy (and I'm not calling for doing away with the modern Missal, but simply adapting it to the ethos of the 1962 missal in terms of spirituality and piety and reverence as is experienced in the 1962 missal, which means, altar railings, kneeling for Holy Communion, more silence, but keeping most of the vernacular and verbal and actual participation.).

I am also suggesting that we recover a strong, sacral understanding of the identity of the Catholic bishop, priest and deacon, recover sub-deacons and expand the ministries of acolyte and lector to the laity, but with stricter formation for them and universal recognition of their ministries. And now the liberal in me comes out, these should be open to men and women (lector and acolyte).

I am also suggesting that we revisit religious life, make clear what obedience, chastity and poverty actually mean and within continuity with religious life prior to Vatican II and that religious, men and women wear habits that are in continuity with what they wore prior to Vatican II even if updated.

I am also suggesting that we reign in unbridled ecumenism and interfaith dialogue that creates a false egalitarianism as it regards other Christian communions and non-Christian religions.

I am also suggesting that dialogue with the world does not lead to the abdication of our role in the world to critique culture and bring Christ to bear on culture, that we bring culture to Christ, not the Church to secular godless culture.

Just a few thoughts. And now read this excellent article that I could have written!

From the Huffington Post (so it's got to be true!):

Will the New Pope Help to Improve Catholic Church Architecture?
Posted: 02/28/2013 4:07 pm

Thom Nickels
Philadelphia-based author/journalist

When my architect father designed our new parish church in suburban Philadelphia, it was understood that he would adhere to the three natural laws of church architecture -- verticality, permanence and iconography. These were the years before the Second Vatican Council, when Catholic churches had not yet discovered churches-in-the-round, hot-tub baptismals or suspended-from-the-ceiling UFO crucifixes, the only major "sacred object" accent in otherwise blank, Walter Gropius-inspired "starting from zero" church interior that could easily double as a high school gymnasium or work out room.

My father designed a church that anyone could easily identify as a Catholic church.

In the 1920s and '30s, the American Catholic church had its own design style. Early liturgical movements in the country at that time made the crucifix a prominent feature in Catholic churches. In the decades before Vatican II, the American Catholic altar was relatively unencumbered with other images. The combination of altar, tabernacle and crucifix, minus saints and angels, stood in stark contrast to the interior of most European cathedrals. This oversimplification was really a precursor to modernism.

That modernism came to a head after the Second Vatican Council was convened to renew and invigorate the Church. While words like renew and invigorate have a positive feeling, that's no quite what happened.

The Council unleashed a storm that not only affected how Catholics worship, but the buildings they worship in. That windstorm produced a fair amount of architectural self destruction.

As a young 20-something agnostic, I was visiting friends in Boulder, Colo., and hadn't stepped foot in a Catholic church for several years. I came across a newly built post Vatican II church. It was a church in the round, reminding me of a book report I'd given in high school on "Inside the Space Ships" by George Adamski. I entered the church and barely recognized it as Catholic. A circular altar table with a plus sign surrounded by burlap banners with what looked like drawings by elementary school children: a yellow sun with long rays, a smiley face, some fish and a garden of buttercups. It seemed I'd walked into a day care center. I looked in vain for an icon, an old rusted statue of the Virgin, a portion of a fresco, but found nothing.

According to Michael Rose, author of "Ugly as Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces--and How We Can Change Them Back Again," the catalyst for the change was a duplicitous 1978 draft statement by the U.S. Bishop's Committee on Liturgy, entitled "Environment and Art in Catholic Worship."

Rose asserts that this document was "cunningly published in the name of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops," implying approval from Rome. But the Vatican II document, Sacrosanctum Concilum, which was cited in the draft statement as the reason for the "wreck-o-ovation," did not call for the wholesale slaughter of traditional Catholic Church architecture.

What Vatican II actually said was: "The practice of placing sacred images in churches so that they can be venerated by the faithful is to be maintained."

OK, so what happened?

Many rebel U.S. Catholic bishops apparently wanted to reshape Catholic churches into more people-oriented worship spaces.

This idea had actually been around prior to the misreading of the texts of Vatican II.

In 1952, there was a booklet published by the Liturgy Program at the University Of Notre Dame called "Speaking of Liturgical Architecture." Its author, a Father H.A. Reinhold, was a respected liturgist of his day. The booklet was a compilation of Reinhold's lectures in 1947 delivered at the University Of Notre Dame.

Reinhold, an advocate of the form follows function, campaigned for a fan-shaped congregation or a church in the round. Reinhold didn't get very far at the time, but his ideas lay dormant until the so called "spirit of Vatican II," became a catch word in the Catholic world. This seemingly benign phrase was used to justify everything in the modern Church from a more charitable attitude toward non-Catholics to the use of Raisin Oatmeal cookies at Communion time. The phrase also encouraged bishops and liturgists to start at Gropius's ground zero, forgoing organic change for the rough and tumble world of "let's just bomb Dresden and start from scratch."

This meant plain wooden altar tables rather than marble high altars with images of saints and angels; carpeted rooms; plain glass stained windows, potted plants in place of traditional Catholic artwork; small and nondescript Stations of the Cross that disappear into the walls; churches in the round resembling MTV soundstages; the elimination of altar rails and sanctuary lamps. Crucifixes were also replaced by wooden crosses or geometric plus signs.

Suddenly choir lofts were a thing of the past, as choirs were placed in front of the church alongside the main altar.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of churches worldwide were destroyed by the iconoclasts. In Philadelphia, a number of churches have fallen victim to the new design.

No matter where I travel, whether it's to Louisville, Ky., Vienna, a remote island in the Caribbean, Paris, Montreal or Quebec City -- I see revamped Catholic sacred spaces, cathedrals stripped bare, such as Louisville's downtown cathedral or even Thomas Merton's old church at the Abbey of Gethsemane.

When I traveled to Eisenstadt, Austria, and visited the so called Haydn Church of the chapel of Mercy Mountain church, a church decorated and embellished by Prince Nicholas III, I was shown a new addition, not far from the Haydn crypt. My tour guide, visibly embarrassed, pointed out the Reconciliation Room, a substitution for the centuries old confessionals. The white plastic and smoky glass construction framed with a few potted plants could easily have doubled as a men's room. Only the absence of flushing sounds set it apart as a space for contemplation. It reminded me of the hot tub baptismals I'd seen in some new churches where the constant gushing water makes the ordinary pilgrim (as Rose suggested) think of his or her bladder.

In 1831, Victor Hugo lamented the destruction of Notre Dame in Paris in his book "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Hugo was not talking about the decapitated statues or injuries to the old queen of French cathedrals caused by the French Revolution, but to the grave damage that Notre Dame suffered at the hands of school-trained architects.

Hugo criticized the removal of colored glass stained windows, the interior which had been whitewashed, as well as the removal of the tower over the central part of the cathedral. Fashion, Hugo claimed, had done more mischief than revolutions: "It has cut to the quick -- it has attacked the very bone and framework of the art," he said.

Hugo called these school trained architects, slaves to bad taste and said they were guilty of willful destruction.


Rood Screen said...

"Hundreds, maybe thousands of churches worldwide were destroyed by the iconoclasts." I think we can safely put the number in the thousands.

He uses the term "modernism", perhaps unaware of its use in Church circles. At any rate, I think we can describe the past fifty years as a conflict between Modernism and the New Evangelization.

Pope Paul VI warned us about the former, and promoted the latter. Is it any surprise that the temple quickly became the locus of these competing forces of thought?

Ed Sprinkle said...

For many of us, we need look no further than our parish embarrassments--uh, I meant churches.

Anonymous in Archdiocese of Detroit said...

Some of the worst looking churches are in the Archdiocese of Detroit, built from the late 1970s thru to the present day. Notice the small wood kitchen table style altars,
like this: Guardian Angels, Clawson,
this: Our Lady of the Lakes, Waterford,
this: Resurrection, Canton,
this: St Dennis, Royal Oak,
this: St Ephrem, Sterling Hts,
this: St Patrick, Whitelake
and this: St Jane Frances, Sterling Hts

Keep in mind, these are suburban, middle class parishes that spend literally over $1000 a year on flowers for Christmas and Easter. Imagine wasting $1000 a year on perishable flowers when it could be better spent on a nice marble altar or some sacred artwork.

Such is the legacy of John Cardinal Dearden, one of the creators of the "spirit of Vatican II" left wing, subversive agenda. I fear the Archdiocese of Detroit may never recover.

Templar said...

Meaning no disresepct to Detroit, but Archdiocese is a title which should be removed from it. Like several other "archdiocese" it is shrinking at a rate that can barely be measured, while small rural "dioceses" are growing and rivaling some of the archdiocese in size. The weight is shifting, and so too should the influce that goes with it.

WSquared said...

That last one looks like the "Space Mountain" attraction at Disneyland.

Just sayin'.

But then again, ever notice that a casual attitude toward the sacred, whereby the sacred is dumbed down to the mudane instead of the mundane elevated by the sacred, essentially translates to way too many people treating a church and the Mass like they're at Chuck E. Cheese's?

I also notice a rather curious, strange, and frustrating duality going on with some folks: they'll often complain that this, that, or the other thing is "too lofty," and "too distant from the people," and if someone is foolish enough to placate them, they then turn around and complain that the thing they complained about before now lacks substance.

Perhaps what priests, catechists and directors of religious education probably need to start saying (albeit charitably), is that when one feels that God and the things of God are distant, perhaps it's because one has chosen that distance. God, after all is eternal. He does not change, and He does not keep shifting the goal posts.

rcg said...

I will be a little contrary on this subject. The article was written by a person who has reasoned himself into agnosticism and yet years for the traditional look. I have been waiting for the right time to voice this concern to the wonderful FrAJM because I want it in context of the beautiful we want to have in worship versus the beautiful that we might confuse for reverence. I think the Catholic Church has been tempting God with the foolish and self indulgent changes we have made to our Church buildings. However, there are many Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Lutheran Churches that are breath taking in their beauty. I had the pleasure to attend a wedding in a large Presbyterian Church recently that was one of the most beautiful weddings I have ever experienced. The building was incredible, the music was literally a professional group of musicians and about 70 member choir. The robes of the priestess, or whatever, were perfect as were the numerous ministers with her on the dais. But the bread was large loaf of whole wheat, the wine gurgled copiously into the pitcher. The parts of the Mass were mostly there: the contrition was a group effort, full of 'we' and 'ours'. Almost everything was there. I can't say what form God was in, though.

My point is that we can manifest a lack of reverence for God and an elevation of self in even the most beautiful and religious appearing surroundings. People will complain about the pre-Vatican II Mass and how they didn't feel they were participating. I can easily see this happening if they did not understand WHY things were done as they were. Concocting a religious ceremony or structure to appeal to some human sense of relevance or taste can fail in any number of ways. Preparing to be in the presence of God naturally lends itself to beauty when we put God fist, and up front.

Rood Screen said...

The picture with the clock in it could be part of a Planet of the Apes set.

Dan Z said...

What kind of graffiti is that on the wall behind the altar at St Dennis?

WSquared said...

"The picture with the clock in it could be part of a Planet of the Apes set."

Or it could fit right in with either "Mad Max" or "Blade Runner."

Pater Ignotus said...

rcg - The "elevation of self" - radical individualism - is our cultural bane and, I would suggest, the root of our current evils. It cuts across most lines in culture - race, gender, sexual orientation, relative wealth - and it blocks our capacity to understand our natural capacity for morality.

Unknown said...

I attend a Latin Tridentine Mass every Sunday at a Catholic Church in Tampa, Florida. The architecture of the church is so modern that it actually clashes with the beautiful Traditional Mass. The ceiling reminds me of a round space ship ready to take off, and there's an absence of statues except for a large cross with an emaciated looking resurrected Christ stuck to it. The Blessed Sacrament is housed in a separate chapel that visitors can't even notice when they walk in. The altar where the Novus Ordo Mass is celebrated must be converted every Sunday into one suitable for the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated. I wonder all the time how these architectural horrors became so prevalent in the Church after Vatican II.

Anonymous said...

The author of the article is hardly an agnostic. I happen to know
that he attends a Russian Orthodox Church now.