I doubt many (any) readers of this blog attend Mass at an ancient, Romanesque-style church, or Medieval Gothic cathedral. Some may attend in a “Catholic looking” styled church building, a sort of neo-gothic, American version of a previous age. We have one of those in our town. Nevertheless, when I look on the Internet at images of old church interiors from Europe, I see a level of beauty nowhere to be found around here except, perhaps to some degree, in the Eastern Rite and Eastern Orthodox churches. I’m not one to make a big deal about church buildings, but I do sometimes wonder at what terrible turn did modern man take such that we are left with our modern church buildings. They seem terribly bourgeois and evocative of the baby-boomer aesthetic (which I won’t go into here).
I also wonder why we have become a culture where people frequently dress as slobs, as though they don’t think they have any inherent worth. Is there a correlation? I wonder.
With this in mind, I imagine going to Mass where the exterior of the church building is beautiful proportioned, architecturally appropriate, and practically exudes “Catholic” in the fullest and best sense. And where the interior is lit by candles, with icons on the walls, an actual altarpiece up front, and the scent of incense and melting wax. One would probably feel that this is a holy place, and sense deeply that God is there; and with the Real Presence of Christ within, and with other Christians present, God is there.
Also imagine going to church and being welcomed by friendly, serious, faithful people. And imagine these are also your friends. And new people are also welcomed and naturally included in the community. Imagine large families and single people all feeling welcome. This would happen if the Christians within took the words of Christ to heart and lived without fear and without protecting their precious self-images. I recognize this is a bigger question than mere church and liturgical styles, but maybe they are related somehow.
And imagine if those attending Mass were not dressed like slobs. That is, they dressed like they were actually in the presence of their King and Savior, which they are. And that the way they dressed and behaved functioned as a kind of encouragement to their souls, and to others. That they recognized they have been created in the glorious image of God, that they once were blind but now they see, that God so loved them that He gave His Son to die for them, that Christ is risen indeed! And they dressed like all that is true.
If we really, truly take seriously, take into our very souls that our God is, in fact, the One in Whom we live and move and have our being, then perhaps, just perhaps we would do church differently. We might dress differently, speak and act differently, design and decorate our churches differently. I wonder.
Of course, we can twist and warp all of this into ugly, judgmental, and shallow actions. We can miss the point, live on the surface, be hypocrites. And we can act pious as we hurt others. But imagine if we gave it a try, for the sake of Truth, Goodness, and BEAUTY – that is, we tried to add beauty back into our worship, beauty that is true and good, beauty of love in action, beauty in design and good proportion, beauty in its totality and in it challenge and in its mystery.
I think that would be a good thing.
For now, however, I will find whatever beauty I can, try to dress and act better at church, and remind myself that what most important is to love God and love each other. And I will try to find ways to encourage more beauty, because I think that is a way to love God and others too.