Those of us growing up in the 1950’s and early 1960’s in the U.S. (I know, there are fewer of us each day) remember going to Mass in churches that looked like….well, churches. Most had statutes of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and various saints. There were usually stained glass windows depicting various scenes from the Bible. Marble altars, altar rails and other features told you that you had entered somewhere special….and even sacred! And the sanctuary lamp, always burning over the tabernacle, which was in plain sight, reinforced this feeling.
Then, in the wake of Vatican II (and we are not knocking all of Vatican II…just some of the excesses), we found many members of the building committees wanting to throw out everything that made Catholic churches unique, despite the fact that Vatican II had nothing to say on the subject of church construction.
It was an effort to “keep up with the times“…..and yet, the Church is timeless. It dies when it tries to keep up with the times….as many protestant denominations are beginning to find out.
So, beauty was cast aside and we ended up with some churches resembling bomb shelters or gymnasiums. Those purposely bland structures certainly did not inspire anyone. You couldn’t show the beautiful stained glass windows to your children to enhance their biblical knowledge…because in many cases the windows were gone!
We know of priests, when designing a new church, had to fight with their Diocese and, often, compromises were made just to get these churches built. For example, the best the priest might hope for is that the Tabernacle would be placed in an Adoration Chapel…somewhat visible from the main sanctuary, but not necessarily near the altar. But that is the best outcome..in some churches the tabernacle was practically in the broom closet. And then people wonder why belief in the Eucharist has fallen amongst Catholics!
We know, the Mass remains sacred regardless where it is said, but there is something about a church designed with beauty in mind that adds a sense of reverence, wonder, and dignity.
There is a hunger for beauty in our world, and that certainly extends to our churches as well. We are beginning to see a rejection of the modernist trend that led to these buildings and many churches (those being built, and those being re-modeled) are beginning to look like those beautiful churches of the past.
One example of that trend is shown below: the “before” and “after” of the re-design of Saint Dominic Church in Brick, New Jersey. And “before” was mild compared to some of the other churches we have seen.
And, one the newest shrines in the U.S., the Shrine of Blessed Stanley Rother in Oklahoma, has chosen the classical look in their chapel.
The same is true of in Green Bay Wisconsin….their sanctuary