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.
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.
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)
Functionality is fine with me. The message is much more important to me than ornamentation. I cannot think Christ would care since I believed many of his teachings were said to be anywhere he gathered people together.
Services outside with no building nearby are my favorite.
I have competing views on church buildings.
The first looks at the old testament’s description of Salomon’s Temple, everything there was to remind you that you are there to worship God.
The second view is the building is just a place to meet together. If a new church met in a old Chinese’s restaurant and became a great fellowship,for other congratulations to paint there buildings red and black would not help their worship.
Then there are beige people that are ugly, but not aggressively ugly. They might like these building.
I don’t see what the big deal is. As long as true, unfiltered Scripture is preached within the walls of the church what difference does it make what the building looks like?
Now, THAT'S funny...
I grew up in a late 50’s early 60’s built church. Yes it was stark except for a really cool and very large mosaic and a crucifix. This is no barrier to prayer and meditation and maybe even adds something. Basically you don’t get to please yourself by looking at great pieces of art work - rather you either a)are fully concetrated on the Mass, or, b) You tend to find yourself in prayer. Either way I find those stark and somewhat unimaginative churches do for me what great Cathedrals may do for others.
"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.
How very like my own neck of the ecclesiastical woods.
There's more than one way to avoid that.
Decades back, in another city we lived in, the small local Orthodox community spent what for the time was a lot of money on a building that was said to be quite beautiful. I think this is it.
Meanwhile, more to my dour Calvinist taste, our church (then and there) worshiped in a classically plain white wooden structure. Kind of like, come to think of it, what the local Orthodox church here and now uses.
Into the present day, our congregation just moved out of a rectangular brick barn that is soooo '60s (the youth group, lucky them, is getting that), into a brand shiney new "worship center" that is pure 2010 entertainment venue, all beige, padded seats and careful acoustics and lighting and biig biig stage.
Nothing ages prematurely quite like modernity.
Ugly As Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spacesand How We Can Change Them Back Again
by Michael S. Rose
Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 2001
(241 pages; $24.95, hardcover)
Reconquering Sacred Space 2000: The Church in the City of the Third Millennium
Cristiano Rosponi, Giampaolo Rossi, and Duncan G. Stroik, editors
Rome: Il Bosco e La Nave, 2000
(271 pages; $29.95, paper)
reviewed by Catesby Leigh
The idea of the city as a repository of meaning is much on the minds of a growing community of traditional urban planners, architects, and artists in the United States and Britain. And yet it is not always clear to the layman exactly what meaning means in this context.
Perhaps there is no tidy definition. But surely the ideas basic underpinnings lie in mans observation of hierarchy in nature. Historically, man has imitated nature, in an Aristotelian sense, by translating the natural principle of hierarchy into the design of cities and their buildings. At the same time, he has used architecture and its conventions to idealize the various dimensions of human endeavor.
Religious, civic, and domestic buildings have assumed distinct (even typological) identities, so that the city might be architecturally legible, so to speak. The principle of hierarchy, in turn, has found expression in the distinct degrees of physical prominence and artistic articulation imparted to temples, churches, palaces, legislative chambers, and less exalted structures.
The historic city of meaning that has resulted is profoundly human in its characteristics. Its districts and neighborhoods are built on the pedestrian scale, and we instinctively read its buildingstheir horizontal repose or vertical thrustin terms of our own embodied state. Their details are calibrated to human modes of perception. But above all, the city of meaning employs ancient conventions to symbolize the existence of a higher reality underlying the merely phenomenal reality we encounter in our daily lives. In that sense, the historic city provides the otherworldly background to our earthly sojourns. And no architectural type has served that purpose more assiduously or effectively than the church building.
Unfortunately, the machines transformation of the means of production also transformed ideas about architecture and the city. In his celebrated 1903 lecture, The Art and Craft of the Machine (note the deliberately oxymoronic title), Frank Lloyd Wright prophesied the triumph of an organic modernist architectureand of the romantic naturalism he espousedby way of an industrialized culture of building. Wrights rhetorical smoke-and-mirrors clouded the disenchanted city of stark office towers that, alas, figures all too prominently in the contemporary world.
Unlike Wright, the Italian futurist Antonio SantElia forthrightly concluded that nature was no longer prescriptive where architecture and urbanism were concerned. Just as the ancients drew inspiration for their art from the elements of nature, so we, being materially and spiritually artificial, must find this inspiration in our very new mechanical world, SantElia wrote in 1914. Hence came the idea of a building designed as a machine, a machine designed to be merely functional, with its members satisfying strictly structural or practical necessities.
So much for the city of meaning.
The spiritual poverty of architectural doctrine conceived in mechanistic rather than humanist terms, evident enough in principle, quickly became evident in fact. Having taken control of enlightened architectural discourse during the thirties, a modernist elite of academics, designers, and critics monopolized corporate and institutional commissions after World War II. This elite managed to decimate the arts and crafts without which the city of meaningand its magnificent cathedrals and churches above allcould never have been built. In so doing, they all but destroyed a traditional culture of building and decoration, leaving room for little more than postwar suburbias naïve, cartoonish, mass-produced renditions of historic residential styles. The functionalist city that modernism created is, in short, a visual catastrophe.
With postmodernism came more sophisticated allusions to historic architectureas well as to literary theories of dubious architectural utility. The familiar modernist rejection of cultural continuity in design persisted. Even so, journalists detect evocations of Spanish mission churches or even the splendor of ancient Rome in the new $195 million Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. To which a traditional architect has quite reasonably responded in an Internet posting that anybody could be subject to such epiphanieswith the assistance of psychotropic substances. In truth, the meanings contained in the bizarre forms concocted by José Rafael Moneo, the cathedrals architect, have nothing whatsoever to do with the city of meaning, but are rather grounded in obscure postmodern notions of reference that have addled his creative imagination.
It is simply astonishing that the Roman Catholic Churchof all institutionsshould have embraced the modernist project of putting an end to the creation of architecture that symbolizes Gods presence in our lives and replacing it with generic buildings conceived in merely functional terms. In so doing, it allowed its churches to be stripped not merely of beauty, but of meaning, as Michael S. Rose emphasizes in Ugly As Sin. Even with Moneos cathedral, where artistic pretense is admittedly at a premium, there is no underlying intuition of the infinite, transcendent God of Christianity or the magnificence of his creation. Moneos building might pass for an expressionistically overblown convention center were it not for the Latin cross displayed in a protruding glazed volume.
Roses book is a welcome antidote to this cathedrals depressing inauguration. Particularly impressive is the straightforward manner in which the author, editor of St. Joseph Messenger and St. Catherine Review, establishes the three cardinal principles, or natural laws, of traditional church designverticality, permanence (in terms of both mass and formal vocabulary), and iconographic richnesswithout getting mired in art-historical minutiae.
Roses prose is not elegant and seems rushed in places. But his explanation of the relationship between the traditional church and the worshipers experience of the sacramental essence of the Catholic faith is clear, jargon-free, extremely informative, and generously illustrated with photographs. He throws in just the right amount of historical detail regarding the advent of church fixtures such as pulpits, pews, and kneelers. And he emphasizes the ramifications of church design for Catholic orthodoxy. Church architecture affects the way man worships; the way he worships affects what he believes; and what he believes affects not only his personal relationship with God but how he conducts himself in his daily life, he writes.
Modernist church design, Rose argues, undermines Catholic orthodoxy. It caters to an insidious downplaying of Christs sacrifice in the celebration of the Eucharist, as suggested by the frequent replacement of the traditional altar stone with a wooden Eucharistic table. Moreover, the idea of the Mass as a multimedia celebration, to which modernist liturgical church designers subscribe, is incompatible with the acknowledgement of mans radical incompleteness, which the act of kneeling implies, and with the traditional Liturgys related emphasis on adoration and atonement.
So out go the kneelers and the pews, along with the high altar, reredos, baldacchino, and altar railand not just in the name of liturgical reform, but also in order that the worship space can more easily be rearranged to serve secular functions. Chairs replace the pews. Less portable, perhaps, are the hot-tub-style fonts that have facilitated full-immersion baptism in numerous Catholic churches since the eighties. The tabernacle, for its part, is exiled to a side chapel in order to encourage the faith community to focus on the liturgical action during Mass. And the richly figurative character of traditional sacred artthe source of yet another dimension of meaning that renders a traditional cathedral or church a gospel in stone, in Roses wordsgives way to sterile abstractions whose religious character is sometimes obscure. (For example, the crucifix has been replaced in some instances by a plus sign derived from the Greek cross.)
The upshot of these environmental innovations is that the admittedly paradoxical but nevertheless very real idea of the finite church building as the dwelling place of the infinite God is lost. Rose reports that the behavior of congregations during Mass is less reverent and more noisy as a result. Fortunately, more of the faithful are becoming aware of this unnecessary impoverishment of their religious and cultural heritage, protesting modernist renovations and restoring older churches that were badly redesigned in recent years to their original state or something like it.
Rose describes the typical modernist Catholic suburban church as not only unimposing but remote. This brings us to the problem of modernist urbanism, which is a separate issue. Many new churches are squirreled away in cul-de-sacs as a result of the postwar transformation of public urban space into privatized precincts defined by the rigorous separation of uses (zoning problems, anyone?) and the automotive scale. In the new, spatially disintegrated city that modernist urbanism has wrought, it would be very difficult for even a vertically imposing, traditionally designed church to be situated so as to have a commanding presence.
For an analysis of the dumbed-down modernist church in its degraded new-city context, there is no better place to start than Duncan G. Stroiks fine essay, Can We Afford Not to Build Beautiful Churches? in Recovering Sacred Space 2000. This volume covers quite a lot of ground, presenting philosophical essays about the historic relationship between church and city; a host of contemporary designs of a more or less traditional nature (and of widely varying quality) for churches in the United States, Latin America, and Europe; an interesting section devoted to twentieth-century Italian churches in old cities as well as in the new towns founded under the Mussolini regime; and even a section on the Armenian tradition in sacred architecture. The text is in Italian and English, but unfortunately some of the translations, notably of Giampaolo Rossis insightful essay, The City Without God, are uneven at best.
Nevertheless, Recovering Sacred Space 2000 bears impressive testimony to the process of cultural recovery that is getting underway in Western architecture and urbanism. Sacred architecture will play a fundamental role in this process, and Stroik, a practicing architect as well as a professor at Notre Dames classical architecture school, has the good sense to emphasize the crucial role of enlightened patronage at a time when design grounded in the historic ideal of the meaningful city remains a counter-cultural trend.
All Christians concerned with the artistic patrimony of the faith and with the restoration of design firmly grounded in human nature will find these two books of interest.
It’s sorta funny. There are three types of “embarrass-the-Catholics” threads: Those that are strongly refuted by Catholics, those that are dismissed as just plain dumb, and those like this one, where Catholics are just as upset as the Protestants that malarkey like this is going on. Because when the abuses are real, not just plain lies or furious spin, the Catholics WANT to clean them up.