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A scholarly critique of modern church architecture March 18, 2011

Posted by Tantumblogo in Art and Architecture, Basics, Dallas Diocese, foolishness, General Catholic, North Deanery, sadness.
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You know me, I very strongly favor Church architecture that emphasizes the transcendent and plainly communicates the act of Sacrifice that is the Mass.  An architecturaly scholar explains in a (relatively) new book the very grave problems with modern Church architecture.  Excerpts from an interview originally at Ignatius Insight below:

When did “The Great Building Disaster”, as you describe it, begin, and what were its philosophical, theological,

Doorly: The disaster began when the spirit of Relativism, as embodied in Modernist architecture, met the ‘spirit of Vatican II’. Both share the desire to discard tradition and break radically from the past, to dismantle the boundaries and dissolve the forms.

What are some features of the “architecture of relativist space” and why should ordinary Catholics be familiar with them?

Doorly: Ordinary Catholics must already be aware of the changes that have taken place in church architecture over recent decades. The architecture of Relativist space, like the universal model it embodies, is homogenous, directionless and value-free. A Relativist church building downplays or even denies the concept of sacred space, rejects linear forms, and is designed so that every part of it appears to be of equal importance. Outside it will resemble the local library or sports stadium, thereby proclaiming ‘nothing special here’. Inside the people ‘gather round’ the plain and unadorned altar, having hardly noticed as they passed the Tabernacle, and the message is the same.

Once gathered, there is apparently nowhere ‘beyond’ to aim for because the circular or semi-circular liturgical space cannot suggest this possibility. The subjectivism of the Modern Age favours circular forms because in a Relativist universe there is no truth ‘out there’. The denial of the transcendent vision is inherent in the form of the contemporary church building and the space it creates. This same blocking of the route to the transcendent is also the result of sanctuary re-orderings in traditional churches.

Who is E.A. Sovik and why is he (a non-Catholic) so important to understanding why there are so many ugly Catholic churches today?

Doorly: In 1973 the Lutheran architect E.A. Sovik published Architecture for Worship in which he laid out his reasons for dismantling the traditional form of the church building and replacing it with the ‘centrum’ or worship space for ‘the people’. Sadly his ideas where widely adopted by many Bishops’ Conferences as the model for new Catholic churches at the time and since. [It is beyond my comprehension why Catholics would look to a Lutheran for guidance on church design.  Lutheranism is imploding and fragmenting.  It is a condemned heresy.  Why would priests and bishops and those dreaded “liturgists” look to Lutheranism, a failing sect, for Truth, for guidance in the design of our most sacred spaces?  The mind boggles. – ED]

The recently built Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles has been very controversial here in the United States. In what ways does it give shape, so to speak, to what you call the “Relativist Church Building”?

Doorly: The new cathedral is designed to be more ‘inclusive and universally appealing than specifically

One question must be asked. Why build a Catholic cathedral that has as one of its central aims not to be specifically Catholic? To aim for universal appeal is a Relativist impulse borne of the belief that all religious traditions are equally valid, that there’s ‘nothing special’ about Catholicism and nothing special about God. In Los Angeles Cathedral it seems that only Man is special. [Disagree if you like, but the Church has known (see Pascendi Domini Greggis) for a very long time that modernism seeks to elevate man to the status of God.  It seeks to replace the cult of God, and service to God, with the cult of man.  Everything in modernism flows from this premise, which is why it had been, at one time, such complete anathema in the Church.  Even if so many of our churches are not specifically designed with modernism in mind, they are influenced by its tenets to a remarkably sad degree – ED].

 and cultural roots?

Move the plants! Built by poor farmers.

 Catholic’ said one official of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. According to the brochure, the cathedral is ‘for people’ and is ‘a place for everything that ennobles the human spirit; fine art, music, folk craft worship and more’.

Click for true beauty. Fredericksburg, TX

Some modern church architecture has been based on the premise that it reflects a more accurate understanding of the worship of the early Christians. How did this notion come about and how accurate is it?

Doorly: This notion is entirely mistaken. Again it is a Modernist impulse to discard two millennia of tradition in an attempt to return to the imagined simplicity and sense of community enjoyed by an ancient age. In the early Church people gathered in houses because church building was illegal. The early Church did not allow Catechumens into the main body of the church and the entirely 20th century novelty of Mass facing the people would have seemed an alien practice. [This is a significant error on the part of many who define Vatican II as year zero for the ‘new’ Church.  Even if the earliest Christians did gather in a circle, which this author disputes, so what?  These same folks argue that the Church should be a living body incorporating changes revealed by the Spirit.  Some of those changes led to a common Church design embraced for well over a millenium.  The Church is based on two pillars, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition – destroying timeless church architectural practices by seeking to emulate the earliest Christians radically ignores many centuries of Tradition, even if that emulation was valid, which this author says, it is not].

Not a few modern Catholic churches have been designed and then defended as having been built for the benefit of “the people”. Any truth to that claim?

Doorly:Never trust anyone who claims that some entirely new and radical way of doing things

The final chapter of No Place for God is a plea for a return to ad orientum—the priest and people together facing East in liturgical worship. How vital is facing liturgical east to a re-appropriation of good church architecture?

Doorly: The return to ad orientum–the priest and people together facing East in liturgical worship is vital if the transcendent vision is to be reclaimed. Turn Again Father.

Any signs of hope when it comes to church architecture?

Doorly:There is definite hope. A new generation of younger scholars and priests is beginning to ask these questions and draw on the magnificent tradition of the Church both in writing and practice. Churches are beginning to be re-re-ordered by reversing the stripping of the altars that has taken place. Secular architects began abandoning the principles of Relativist space thirty years ago. Church architects can do the same given the lead by those who commission the designs.

Gorgeous. Not too $$

 is for the benefit of ‘the people’. They always mean that the benefit is for themselves.

 I pray this change occurs very soon.

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