Skip to comments.Healing ugly modern churches
Posted on 08/04/2010 2:31:29 PM PDT by Alex Murphy
The sanctuary walls are, as a rule, made of flat wood, concrete and glass wrapped in metals with an industrial look -- often matching the furnishings on the stark altar.
The windows are frosted or tinted in muted tones of sky blue, lavender, amber or pink. If there are stained-glass images, they are ultramodern in style, to match any art objects that make sense in this kind of space. The floors are covered with carpet, which explains why there are speakers hanging in the rafters.
The final product resembles a sunny gymnasium that just happens to contain an abstract crucifix, the Stations of the Cross and one or two images of the Virgin Mary.
"The whole look was both modern and very bland," said Matthew Alderman, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame's classical-design program who works as a consultant on sacred art and architecture.
"It was a kind of beige Catholicism that was ugly, but not aggressively ugly ... and these churches looked like they were in a chain that had franchises everywhere. It was that whole Our Lady of Pizza Hut look that started in the1950s and then took over in the '60s and '70s."
The problem is that many Catholics believe that this look that represented an urgent response to contemporary culture -- especially after Vatican II -- has now gone painfully out of date.
Few things age less gracefully than modernity. However, few parishes can afford to "take a wrecking ball" to their sanctuaries. This is also highly emotional territory, since any attempt to change how people worship, whether they are modernists or traditionalists, will collide with their most cherished beliefs.
Thus, after years of studying intense debates on these issues, Alderman recently drafted a manifesto offering easy, affordable ways for make these sanctuaries "less ugly and more Catholic." He posted it at "The Shrine of the Holy Whapping," an online forum created by several Notre Dame graduates to host lighthearted discussions of serious Catholic subjects.
While some of his proposals are specific -- such as removing carpeting to improve church acoustics -- the designer said the key is for parish leaders to find a way to "bring a sense of tradition and beauty to their chancels and naves without having to break the bank."
His basic principles included these:
-- Do everything possible to return the visual focus to the main altar and the tabernacle that contains the reserved sacraments, the bread and wine that has been consecrated during the Mass. This can be accomplished with a few contrasting coats of paint, stencil designs in strategic places, the rearranging of altar furniture, a touch of new stonework or even the hanging of colored drapes. In many cases, a platform can be added under the altar to make it more visible or a designer can darken the lights and colors around the pews, while increasing the light focused on the altar and tabernacle.
-- Reject any strategy that tries to hide decades of modernity behind a blitz of statues and flowers in an attempt to create "a traditional Catholic theme park," he said. Too often, the result is "strip-mall classicism" that assumes that anything that looks old is automatically good.
"You don't want something that looks like it's fake and plastic," said Alderman. "The worst-case scenario is that you have bad taste stacked on top of bad taste, with some of the worst excesses of the old layered on top of all those mistakes that were driven by modernity. ... This kind of schizophrenia is not a good thing in a church."
-- It's important to "work with what you have, and don't work against it" while focusing on a few logical changes that actually promote worship and prayer, he said. A chapel dedicated to Mary can appeal to those who are devoted to saying the rosary. Candles and flower arrangements can focus attention on a statue of the parish's patron saint.
In the end, argued Alderman, "You may not be able to turn your 1950s A-frame church into Chartres, but if you try to find art that harmonizes with its perhaps now rather quaint attempts at futurism, while at the same time seeking to reconnect it with tradition, the result may have a pleasing consistency. ...
"While it may lack the grandeur of Rome or Florence, it can still become a beautiful, unified expression of the faith."
Alderman recently drafted a manifesto offering easy, affordable ways for make these sanctuaries "less ugly and more Catholic":
-- Do everything possible to return the visual focus to the main altar and the tabernacle that contains the reserved sacraments, the bread and wine that has been consecrated during the Mass.
-- Reject any strategy that tries to hide decades of modernity behind a blitz of statues and flowers
-- "work with what you have, and don't work against it"
Some are so charmlessly modern you think youre in a Toyota dealership.
No more felt church banners!!!!!
I find it funny that Catholics seem to place so much importance on how esthetically pleasing things should look in their churches, while some of these same Catholics, when asked why their songbooks lack the beautiful sorts of songs Protestants have (i.e.-Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, etc.) claim, “Well, we don’t believe people should enjoy their music, but instead enjoy God.”
I’ve actually had a couple Catholics say that to me. That the Catholic church specifically keeps songs that sound unpleasing to the ear on purpose.
Generalizing on what 2 people say. Interesting.
FWIW, in my Catholic parish, those songs you listed are in our song books along with many other beautiful songs.
I would suggest a new reality show called “Pimp My Parish”, but that would be wrong.
At least the Catholics are moving toward less franchise-driven gospel presentation. The protestants, meanwhile, are embracing the pastor-conference ponzi-scheme model, where leadership seminars are all the rage, and Hollywood provides sermon suggestions with the video clips it sells churches for use in their sanctua— I mean worship centers.
The Catholic church should disassemble some of those old, empty churces in Europe that have no parishioners anymore, crate them up, ship them over and re-assemble them here. That plus the Latin Mass and an upgrade in liturgical music should bring back the flock.
The Church is the people, not the building.
Much of the first century church met in homes.
Some denominations still do.
Many years ago, I wanted to be in the school choir. This was at a Catholic elementary school (1-8 grade) and the school choir also sang at Mass and special Masses. It was about as cool as you could be, given the circumstances.
Sister told me no girls could be in the choir because the female voice was not pleasing to God. Yup. Might as well have been a freakin’ Muzlim.
Wow! All of them?
I personally don’t care what the church looks like I only care what comes from the pulpit and the people. IMHO, the more minimalist the better. I am there to worship G-d not the building.
Well, as many as Catholics reverting to the non-beige model
When Luke wrote in Acts 2 that “the Lord added to the church daily those that would be saved,” he wasn’t talking about a building.
Those early Christians worshipping in the catacombs and quietly in homes were the church.
Our obsession with brick and mortar is pure materialism. The bride of Christ isn’t made by human hands, and, as Paul told the Athenians, the “God that made the world and all things therein. . . dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” (Acts. 17:24)
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but those ARE in the missals in my parish, from one of the major publishers of missals in the country. There is, however, a reason that we don’t generally sing them. They do not espouse Catholic theology. Speaking only for myself, I’m not too fond of the music I usually hear at Novus Ordo Masses. I’m much more fond of the music I hear at Tridentine Latin Masses. That’s just me. I will add, and this is not any sort of a sleight, that, in Mass, we aren’t singing for ourselves. We sing to give glory to the Lord, where it is due. I can, and, in the right circumstances, do, enjoy some of the protestant hymns. They simply aren’t appropriate for a Catholic Mass. No offense meant, whatsoever. Now, as to esthetics, I will always favor non-modern architectures. I am a traditionalist, to the bone. I have participated in Mass at churches of almost any architectural style you can think of. Whether or not the architecture suits me, I am there for Mass, not to criticize the choice in columns.
On a separate note, major kudos to your priest, mware. Beautiful altar displays, well captured.
Amazing Grace, Eternal Father Strong To Save, and Be Not Afraid.
Catholics Pastors and musicians who actually care about music have other options.
A visitor who use to belong to our parish came to our Easter service.
Her comment regarding how we decorated the Church was,
"He changed an airplane hanger into a cathedral."