Friday, April 23, 2010


Continued from last Friday.

Next we move inside your parish church. It too has a lot to say to you. What is its primary focus? When you walk in what is the first thing that strikes you? Is it the crucifix or the tabernacle? Is it the altar or a window or the congregation? Different churches try to emphasize different ecclesiologies. It will shape the liturgy.

How does the space feel? Are there soaring ceilings with pointed arches that emphasize our reach for heaven, or low ceilings and all things at eye level to relate more closely to the people gathered? Does it make you feel a small part of something greater or a great part of something great?

Where is the tabernacle? Is it easily viewed? Does it have a place of high honor or is it even present at all? If it is not in the main body of the church is it in a suitable space, well decorated, easily accessed, and fit for adoration?

Is there much artwork? Does the artwork teach and inspire or is it simply beautiful? Can you relate to the artwork? Is it so abstract or so stale as to be mere decoration to you? Where is the choir? Are they in a place that inspires great choral singing or great congregational singing? Is there an area for the choir to sing that fosters a choral sound or is there a “designated choir area” that provides a force of sound to boost the congregation singing?

Was the church built for sound or silence? When the choir sings is there need for microphones to overcome the absorption of sound in the building or is there a ring that musicians look for? Are microphones essential or merely a boost? In other words, was the building built with music in mind or was music an afterthought?

What does the nave look like? Are the pews (if there are indeed pews) all facing toward the altar, or do the face each other across the sanctuary? Is the building fan shaped or classical “bowling alley” shaped? Is it bright and easy to see everything or is it dark and contemplative?

Some sanctuaries are brilliant for Sunday Mass but completely fall apart for something special such as the Easter Vigil. Has the sanctuary been well thought out to be useful for even the most complicated of liturgies?

Is the pulpit simply a stand or is it a cockpit of sorts one obtains by going up some steps? Are the materials used to construct the sanctuary furniture fine or practical?

Where is the baptismal font? Is it in the narthex symbolizing that one needs to be baptized before participating in the Mass? Is it among the people? Is it in the sanctuary to be easily seen by anybody in the church? Is it massive or small? Is it possible to immerse an adult fully, partially, or only by pouring water?

What about the Stations of the Cross? Are they situated in order to make communal stations easy or are they all bunched in a corner? Are confessional easy to find and recognized? Are they well thought out? Are they well designed for face to face or the screen?

Does your church have a place to somewhat hide in? A pillar to hide behind or an alcove to duck in when one is not yet sure. Or does it foster full participation of everyone? Is it carpeted or is there a more substantial floor treatment.

All of these are saying something and attempting to form the liturgy and the very people who gather to celebrate. There was something in mind when the church was built (and, possibly when it was later renovated which may have augmented, changed, or now competes with the original design.) So what is your church saying to you? It may match you or not. It is both extremely important and not all that important at all. If you are strong in your faith you can carry on in your spirituality anywhere, some will be helpful or more enjoyable and others not. But it helps to be aware of your surroundings, what it is trying to tell you, and incorporating that which is helpful and doing your best to ignore what is not.


Anonymous said...

Fr. V -

I love the photograph of the mural at St. Sebastian's!

I agree - I feel lucky to have so many beautiful parishes nearby. It really puts me into the right frame of mind for Mass (although I should be able to do that no matter what, I must admit beautiful, quiet surroundings are more uplifting.)

Thanks for the excellent series on Akron St. Mary's. I will so miss it and their most excellent pastor.


Anonymous said...

Much to think upon.
Our parish although it is newer is OK except for the roundness of it. I have never liked that.
We do not have enough stained glass windows in my opinion.

Did you know some of the builders of the first churches and cathedrals would "hide" things in their work? Such as a carved bird or something as a reminder that God sees all, including how well their work was done, no matter where it was (hidden or visible).

Some have speculated that we won't have those type of buildings anymore because, not that we can't duplicate them (easy enough), we don't have the right builders-attitude and devotion and love.

Maybe that will change.
How many would build something and not care that they weren't mentioned and do it all for the glory of God?

Adoro said...

My parish is a modern style which I've always hated, even before I understood ANYTHING about our faith.

It's protestantized, lacking in decoration, but the one thing that appeased me was the huge crucifix behind the (very spare and ugly) altar.

Its overall design fosters the misunderstanding of the Vatican II language of "active participation" which has been grossly mistranslated, and a phrase I've often had to distastefully use while providing, officially, the proper meaning and depth of the original Latin, "participatio actuosa" - Actual Participation.

So...even when one doesn't want to sing and hold hands, in fact, perhaps ESPECIALLY then, one is more fully and "actively" participating in the Mass than those who think it's all about action with no interior depth.

Fr. V., I know that you know this and I'm sorry, this is just my biggest pet peeve and it's my life's mission to help people understand what the Mass really is by helping them erase that terrible mistranslation from their memories so that they can go DEEPER. And like you, I'm all for the "both/and", which requires a full understanding of the term, and the Mass itself. (to the degree possible of course).

I loathe these moderinized "churches" that decentralize God in favor of "us-worship."

We can have so much beauty, we can have so much reverence, if only the symbols that point to the reality of what is happening in that hour or so, the symbols that help us to see that heaven is torn open and Heaven touches earth.... *sigh*

When the church is lacking, people suffer, and the saddest thing is...they don't know they are suffering. They don't know they are deprived.

Slowly things are changing, and ugliness is going away. What our parishes say DOES speak, and it either points to God...or it doesn't.

(btw I'm not a rad trad; I love both forms of the Mass and find them mutually enriching. I just hate bad architecture and when it contrasts against what a building is really about, I find it morally, spiritually, and intellectually offensive.)

PS my verification word is funny: "untated"

Anonymous said...

dear father---when i first entered St. Sebastians many years ago i remember it felt cold to me---not so any more--it didn't take long for me to get lost in the mural---however. i still am working on the presence of Mary--she still seems distant to me-but is this a reflection on the choices of architecture--i think not, rather i think it is a direct reflection on how little i know about the art of architecture---i have come to realize that St. S. is a magnificient representation of some very impressive architecture---now if we could only say the the same things about the MUSIC that rings forth in this very live and wonderful space---and no this lament of mine is no joke to me--tragically this lack of SACRED music is a plague that has fallen on most Catholic churches, as well as protestant brothers and sisters--let me ask you--how many chant-like melodies have you heard utered from the mouths of our children lately----next question--how many chant based compositions have you heard from your adult parish choir?---how many chant based hymns have been sung by the congregation to enhance the beauty of the Holy Mass---i tell you i just shudder when i hear the ugly stuff uttered at Holy Mass--this "stuff", i'm sure helps US in the congregation FEEL better---but what it does to support the lead player--a.k.a. JESUS CHRIST--i can only wonder---you see dear christians--ugly stuff impersonating real MUSIC--is just the same as ugly churches replacing fine, architexturally beautiful churches--it's just that real music dissappeared more quickly----p.s. i am happy to offer my services to work with the children to start rectifying this problem---330-622-4431

Anonymous said...

Our parish is round and I thought I wouldn't like that, but I do like it.

We were at a parish a few weeks ago for a confirmation. I didn't like what the church was saying to me. Tabernacle?? There must've been one around somewhere. Statues, no. Stained glass, yes decorative. A crucifix yes, on the wall to the side of the altar, maybe the Tabernacle was behind that wall. Kneelers, none. Lower ceiling in our area (round and kind of like a parish is round, but high ceilings) with a rickety ceiling fan. Bells? no bells during the consecration.

Baptismal font, glass punch bowl up front with dirty looking water. Maybe the bowl was water stained from the minerals in water, but since it was just a few weeks after Easter I want to assume the water was indeed fresh and clean.

The parish had just celebrated an anniversary and had pictures in the vestibule. Older pictures with a huge Christmas wreath behind the altar--no crucifix at all anywhere in sight. I was glad that there is now a crucifix even if it's not behind the altar. And the altar, made of wood and not very big. But I was glad the chalice was a precious metal and no glass was used.

My parish was built in the round with the intent for no microphones to be used. However the architecture was off and in order to not use a microphone you need to stand practically in the first row of pews. It was meant to be that way at the altar, but the plan didn't work out.

We have no choir loft/balcony in my parish, I would prefer that so you don't see the choir and just hear their sound.

I went to another parish recently that was quite modern looking, but they had a choir loft and it was nice to hear the singing which seems to come from the heavens (from above).

A few years ago we were on vacation and went to a Catholic Church for Mass and it was saying to me "you are in a Protestant Church." I did not like that at all. Once Mass started it was better since it was Catholic even if the music was a bit different than here at home.

Mary B

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. V - I must make some remarks about Anonymous' information about the music of St. Seb. I attend here and must tell you the music is wonderful. It comes from all styles of music which the Vatican encourages us to use as well as the chant melodies. I'm sorry they weren't listening during Lent when the parish sang the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei together in chant as well as the children sang the Agnus Dei every week. Also, I must say that the adult choir sang several chant melodies during lent one which I remember is Attende Domine. Must not have heard that one either. How about holy week? Wow. Holy Thursday there were alot of old latin melodies sung that evening. Ecce Panis Angelorum, Pange Lingua, Tantum Ergo, Ubi Caritas. I was at all the holy week services and continued to hear chant based melodies, so I'm not quite sure where Anonymous is getting their information.

Anonymous said...

dear whoever---i hear what you are saying----i realized immediately i didn't make myself very clear---i would never limit the musical liturture used in the holyMass to just chant based---but i did mean it was to have pride of place--and according to Father Rutler all subequent musical offerings should support and enhance the beauty of the original melodies---unfortunately this is not happening in current Catholic musical litrature--rarher we now have a missmosh of sacred music and other "stuff"--now i fully support contempory masses where they play whatever--all i have ever wanted was one holy Mass a week that offers music of quality---if you are wondering what i mean i would be fairly certain you could visit the episcol
church of our Savior here in west akron--i havent't been there for years but i can't imagine they have lowered there musical standards to make people "feeel" better--sincerely, nancy