Here is Cardinal Sarah on the “reform of the reform”:

But here is my hope: God willing, when he wills and as he wells, the reform of the reform will take place in the liturgy. Despite the gnashing of teeth, it will happen, for the future of the Church is at stake. To ruin the liturgy is to ruin our relationship to God and the concrete expression of our Christian faith. (Sarah 134)

Here Cardinal Sarah sees a direct connection between the liturgy (from the Greek λειτουργία, meaning “the work of the people), to our faith. I would guess he would see the way we do liturgy today is not unlike whether the ancient Israelites followed the temple rules in their day, or instead made up new rules and tried to innovate. What would God have thought? How well would those Israelites have created a liturgy better than what God gave them? Is it likely they would have created a liturgy more suited to their souls, more in harmony with their human nature? According the the cardinal, ruining the liturgy ruins our relationship to God.

I was trained to believe none of this is true, or not very important. I was trained to view liturgy as basically inconsequential. I have come to believe otherwise. Much of my understanding derives from a better anthropology than what I once had. I also believe what we have in the Old Testament, though we are not bound to worship exactly as the Israelites did, is a picture of what a human being needs in terms of ritual, liturgy, and cult. When God gave Moses the law and instructions for the tabernacle, and then later to David and Solomon instructions for the temple, and gave them specific instructions for worship, He did so in complete accord with how He created them. God knows what a human being is and needs. We should keep that in mind when we consider how best to do liturgy today, and from what & where we draw our models and our inspiration.

An aside: There are those who would stop the “reform of the reform” because they think it’s not necessary and is grounded in a love of traditions than in more important things. Others say it does not go far enough because the Mass of Paul VI is too fundamentally broken that it should just be scrapped altogether rather than reformed. I don’t know where I stand, I’m not theologian or liturgist, but from what I know of Cardinal Sarah, I stand with him.

And from what I’ve read, I would guess the cardinal seeks reform that is more traditional than even many reforms might seek.


Sarah, Robert, Nicolas Diat, and Michael J. Miller. The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2017. Print.

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The Church of the Holy Cross in Kouka, Cyprus. (12th century) Both simple and cruciform in design.

Is the shape of a church important for the Church?

The Church is the body of Christ. He is the head, we are the body. We are to imitate Him. We are to take up our cross and follow Him.

The way we worship expresses our love, devotion, and commitment to Christ — at least it should. We know this from experience, observation, and Scripture. The way we worship forms us and instills within us the truth of Christ. In this sense worship is also an act of education and training, like an athlete trains her body. The places we worship, and their design and construction, play a role in how our faith is formed.

We are His body. His body that hung on the cross and then rose to glory — we now take that on in a profound mystical sense. The cruciform church is in the shape both of a cross and of a body: head, arms, body, legs and feet. A church in the round, or fan shaped, or “deconstructed” in some modernist fashion, does not express in its form the body of Christ, or of the pilgrim Church carrying its cross.

Both church designs can celebrate the community of believers, but one does so more by declaring that the community is so because of Christ the head, the other declares community more as though it does not need Christ as head, but merely alongside. One says the Real Presence is truly present because Christ is the Real Presence and He is truly present in the Eucharist, the other says the Real Presence is there because Christians are present. One is more about appropriately connecting truth and emotion, the other more about feeding sentimentality. One is more suited for worship, the other more for entertainment. One says Christ is king, the other Jesus is my buddy.

The buildings in which we live, work, and worship silently form us in ways that we often do not notice until it’s too late. It takes conscious work to mentally overcome bad or ill-suited architecture (in all walks of life). It can be done, but it’s better not to have to.

I love the cruciform church. A church does not have to be cruciform to be excellent, but if one has the opportunity to build a church, why not timeless, why not cruciform? I don’t know why architects and bishops have given us so many non-cruciform, trendy-style churches in recent decades. Ironically, many are now stylistically passé. Perhaps they did it due to losing one’s way — bishops can do that just as can you or I. Perhaps its merely a symptom of losing an understanding of the incarnation. (But is that not losing one’s way?)

We have an incarnational faith. God became man. We are Christ’s body. Take up your cross.

A couple diagrams of larger, more complex, medieval cruciform churches:

Every part of the design has meaning. Nothing in the design is not connected in one way or another to the doctrines of the Church and the Catholic understanding of God, man, and the Gospel.

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The following is an excerpt from The Power of Silence, the latest book from Robert Cardinal Sarah.

Nicholas Diat: What would be your fondest wish concerning the place of silence in the liturgy?

Cardinal Sarah: I call Catholics to genuine conversion! Let us strive with all our heart to become in each of our Eucharistic celebrations “a pure Victim, and holy Victim, and spotless Victim”! Let us not be afraid of liturgical silence. How I would love it if pastors and the faithful would enter joyfully into this silence that is full of sacred reverence and love for the ineffable God. How I would love it if churches were houses in which the great silence prevails that announces and reveals the adored presence of God. How I would love it if Christians, in the liturgy, could experience the power of silence! (Sarah 138)


Sarah, Robert, Nicolas Diat, and Michael J. Miller. The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2017. Print.

I find this video fascinating, strangely so. Clearly it’s an edit of several key scenes from a film, so I don’t know the film ends or what it’s actually trying to say. Nonetheless, these scenes seem to articulate well some of the arguments for the traditional Latin Mass, and the mindset behind some of the changes sought in the “spirit of Vatican II.”

The film is called “Catholics” and aired in 1973, based on the book of the same name by Brian Moore.

Director: Jack Gold
Writers: Brian Moore (screenplay), Brian Moore (novel)
Stars: Trevor Howard, Raf Vallone, Martin Sheen

Context: This is a paper I wrote to explore the re-establishment of the tabernacle and high altar in its rightful place in the sanctuary for a particular Catholic church in Eugene, Oregon. I wrote it for myself, but then gave it to a friend who has passed it along to our parish priest. I know he has read it. In one way it is an argument, but it’s really a means for me to teach myself about this subject and related church architecture concerns.

I welcome feedback as to its contents. I could be very off-base, or factually wrong at points. It’s very long for a blog post, but it is originally a paper after all. All inaccuracies are my own.

I also welcome your prayers, because there are several of us in the parish, including our priest, who are interested in get the altar and tabernacle moved back to where it should be. But there are some hurdles including cost, the fragility of the altar, and potential backlash by some parishioners. I am now working on spearheading this project in a fairly low-key manner for now. Again, prayers are welcome.

Note: One of my main goals is to help bring back the Traditional Latin Mass to this parish. Moving the church’s original altar and tabernacle back to the center of the sanctuary seems like one of the first steps to take.

 

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[Note: Most of the images in this document are taken from the Internet without attribution. My apologies to their creators.]

Introduction

This paper is a personal exploration of how the location of the high altar and tabernacle at St. Mary Catholic Church in Eugene, Oregon fits into the mission and core values of the parish, and how moving the high altar and tabernacle back to the center of the sanctuary might contribute to the fulfillment of the Church’s mission and better align with its core values.

We must also recognize the topic itself is not without controversy. Any discussion of proper liturgy and church design is loaded with recent historical baggage and fraught with competing perspectives. This is neither an unemotional nor a non “political” topic. Nor is it without legitimate debate (far beyond the boundaries of this paper). This paper seeks to avoid the debate and merely argue one perspective.

We might also consider these words from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) in his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy:”

Ultimately, it is the very life of man, man himself as living righteously, that is the true worship of God, but life only becomes real life when it receives its form from looking toward god. Cult exists in order to communicate this vision and to give life in such a way that glory is given to God.

Thus our first focus is on Christ and living righteously, and secondarily on Church architecture and specifics of liturgy. Our unity as the Church must first be based in love: our mutual love for Christ and our love for each other. Nonetheless, God has built within us both the calling for and the necessity of “cult,” and He has created us with a nature that we all universally share. Questions of proper worship are both a natural outpouring of our nature and ourselves before God, and have been with us since the beginning of creation. Let us seek right worship, and may that seeking not become a source of disunity.

St. Mary’s (full name: St. Mary, Our Lady of the Presentation, Catholic Church) is an important Church in the Eugene/Springfield metro area. This is true not only because it represents the oldest and most centrally located Catholic parish in the city of Eugene, but also because the church building itself is the most visibly recognizable Catholic structure in the area. Thus it plays a unique role in calling Catholics to worship and proclaiming the Gospel to the community. The building stands as a Catholic witness to the community. This witness is perhaps even more important to the members of the parish who are buffeted on all sides by challenges to their faith.

Some historical background

Catholic missionaries first arrived in what is now the Eugene/Springfield area as early as the 1850’s. They came at the request of Catholics working in the region with the Hudson Bay Company. The first Catholic Mass ever held in the Willamette Valley was celebrated in 1839 by Fr. François Norbert Blanchet (later the first Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oregon City, now known as the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon) at the church in St. Paul. The Eugene parish was officially established in 1887. It is interesting to consider how pioneering these individuals were.

During this period the region was still very much the wild frontier. Eugene was first named Eugene City in 1850, after Eugene Skinner, who arrived in the area in 1846. Population growth continued quickly apace, and the Catholic community also grew side-by-side with the larger Protestant community.

St. Mary's

The first notable Catholic Church building in Eugene was at the corner of 11th and Willamette streets. The building was originally a Methodist church, then purchased and converted to a Catholic church under the direction of Fr. Francis S. Beck (pastor from 1887-1894).

As the Catholic community began to increase in size, there was the need for a larger church building, and greater facilities for a parish school and other parish activities. Property was purchased two blocks away from the original location at what is now the current location at 11th and Charnelton streets.

The current church building was completed and dedicated in October of 1927 (90 years ago as of this writing). The construction was overseen by Fr. Edwin V. O’Hara (pastor from 1920-1929, later appointed Bishop of Great Falls, MT, then Kansas City, KS).

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The current building was designed according to a modified Gothic style prevalent of American Catholic churches built during that era. The Church was designed by Joseph Jacobberger (1869–1930), a Portland Architect who designed numerous buildings for the Archdiocese of Portland.

One natural benefit of such a stylistic choice is that the language of the Gothic style speaks clearly that this is a church and not something else. Gothic is certainly not the only architectural language proper to church design, but has consistently proven to be an excellent choice. [Note: every work of architecture conveys a message, sometime multiple, competing messages if the architecture is confused.]

Another benefit is that, if church architecture is a language of theological and liturgical form, then the design of a place of worship cannot help but have a significant effect on the formation of those who worship within her walls, including St. Mary’s. Poor church architecture will inherently lead to poorly formed worshipers or, at least, create an unnecessary hurdle in their formation. A church “in the round” conveys a different theology and a different conception of “the Church” than does a basilica form.

According to Michael S. Rose (author of “Ugly as Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces ─ and How We can Change Them Back Again”), a Catholic church must follow three natural laws of architecture in order to be considered truly Catholic in terms of its architectural message:

  1. A Catholic Church Must Have Permanence
  2. A Catholic Church Must Have Verticality
  3. A Catholic Church Must Have Iconography

Fortunately, St. Mary Catholic Church has all three. Though not endowed with an abundance in any of these categories, it is a church that certainly embodies the principles of traditional church architecture, which is to say it speaks the language of Catholic worship through architectural form.

It is, in fact, the only church in this region that is somewhat close in structure to a traditional basilica in form. That alone makes it a unique and special place of worship and a witness to the community.

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The aerial views shows the traditional Latin Cross plan, with a long nave crossed by a transept. This is the only church in the Eugene Springfield metro area that follows such a traditional and historically important Catholic plan, thus linking it more closely to the to the Church throughout the centuries than any other local church in terms of its architecture in the area.

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Again, no other church in this region follows this identifiably Catholic, historical, traditional, and sacred plan. This is one reason St. Mary’s can be seen as a kind of “jewel” of Catholic worship (and even evangelization) set within the surrounding area ─ a building most decidedly not secular, and therefore a “sanctuary” from the secular. Just how much our society, both Christian and non-Christian, longs for such sanctuaries from the ravages of our modern world cannot be understated.

We know that many traditional Catholic churches went through design alterations beginning in the 1960’s, including removing the high altar, shifting the tabernacle to a side location, removal of altar rails and statues, painting over murals, carpeting wood and marble floors, and more. Although St. Mary’s experienced some of these changes, the overall architecture and traditional design elements of the building itself prevented many changes that might have otherwise altered the structure from its fundamental purpose as a place properly suited to the worship of Christ, who is our king and lord.

We also know that the often repeated perception is that these kinds of recent changes reflect the so-called “spirit of Vatican II.” However, careful attention reveals that such changes have either taken the stated dictates of the council too far, or have directly contradicted them. Regardless, it is arguable that the issue today is not about rehashing well worn debates, but about growth in holiness through authentic worship, and asking what kind of church design best supports that goal?

Traditional Catholic Church Design

As already mentioned, St. Mary’s follows fairly closely the traditional cruciform church design. This is a design developed over centuries, with deep roots in Jewish temple tradition, and designed to conform to Catholic theology, including a biblically rooted anthropology.

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Notice several obvious elements (so obvious they don’t really need to be pointed out):

  1. The floor plan is in the shape of a cross
  2. The sanctuary is clearly separate from the nave
  3. The altar is in line with the natural orientation of focus down the nave to the sanctuary
  4. The lectern and pulpit do not compete with the altar

Each of these elements arise from and contribute to the Church’s understanding of Christ, the Gospel, the nature of the Church, and the key characteristics of proper worship, and much more. The arguments in favor of traditional church design from a biblical and historical, not to mention phenomenological, perspective are numerous and easy to find. This is not the place to restate what has already been stated much better by many others.

What is important to say here, however, is that the call for a more traditional approach to church architecture is not a call for a slavish return to the past, nor is it merely a question of style or one personal preference over another, rather it is a call arising naturally from a proper understanding of worship rooted in Holy Scripture and Tradition. Though the past provides untold riches from which we can learn, the call is fundamentally to holiness. However, it is fascinating that again and again the pursuit of holiness (personally and corporately) leads us to rediscover what has been understood for centuries ─ that what we call traditional is also timeless.

Thus, we hear a call that looks to the past, yet is present with us today, and also looks toward the future. Though the Church allows for innumerable small variations in church architecture, significant deviations continue to fall by the wayside with each passing year as examples of poor theology, a faulty anthropology, and passing fashions ─ written, as it were, in stone, masonry, and wood.

Here is a newspaper clipping showing 1927 interior of St. Mary’s:

1927 Photo (1)

The main altar was built by hand in Italy using Botticino marble, with a reredos of red Verona marble, and then carefully shipped to Eugene. Originally, a large crucifix was mounted above the altar and backed by a dark blue and gold brocade drape. The overall design had a simple elegance.

Notice the design was naturally suited to the traditional Tridentine Latin Mass (now Extraordinary Form) universally celebrated in that era (in fact for the preceding four centuries prior to the Mass of Paul VI promulgated in 1969) with the altar and reredos in the center and against the back wall of the sanctuary/apse, with the tabernacle also centered under the crucifix, and the altar rail for receiving communion and creating a clear separation between nave and sanctuary. The eye is naturally drawn to the altar, tabernacle, and crucifix at the same time.

Let us now consider one significant change to the interior design of St. Mary’s that was executed since Vatican II ─ the moving of the high altar and tabernacle to the side of the sanctuary. [Note: This author does not have any information as to the decision process and reasoning behind this particular move. It is assumed the decision merely followed the trends of those years following the council.]

St. Mary’s church interior today:

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At some point in the history of St Mary Catholic Church (late 1960’s?) the high altar and tabernacle were moved to the alcove in the right transept (or is it still part of the sanctuary? It is confusing). Also, the current altar was brought forward towards the nave in order to facilitate the versus populum orientation of the priest of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The large crucifix was lowered, and the wall behind the altar was painted gold. The original altar rail and baptismal gates, which had been crafted by hand, were removed altogether. The center aisle was also carpeted.

What appears to be marble flooring of the sanctuary in the 1927 photo, has now been replaced (perhaps only covered over?) with carpet and inexpensive tiles ─ neither of which are beautiful. This move most likely coincided with the liturgical beliefs of the post-council period that saw a need to emphasize there are no barriers between God and man, thus moving towards a sort of de-sacralizing of the sanctuary. Naturally this begins with moving the tabernacle out of the sanctuary.

Remember, all these moves have their origin in theological, ecclesiological, and liturgical debates that have occurred (even raged) from decades before Vatican II and continue today. It is not the focus of this paper to deal with those debates, but it is important to recognize that what might seem obvious to one Catholic can be a very different matter in the eyes of another.

Something to consider: It was not uncommon for Catholic churches to go through design changes over time. A church would be built with available funds and resources according to certain traditions and accepted norms. Later, perhaps decades or centuries later, more funds would be raised to finish work, or improve the design with mosaics and murals, statues, stained glass, pipe organs, a domed roof, and other expensive projects. Many of the world’s most beautiful churches and cathedrals look the way they do today because of centuries of incremental improvements as both resources and the desires of the faithful changed and grew. In this light, it is particularly ironic to think that just about the time when St. Mary’s might have gone through upgrades to enhance its traditional beauty, for example with beautiful murals on the sanctuary walls to enhance the call to worship the believer’s mind before Christ, or additional iconography throughout the building to reflect the deep theological riches of the Church, it is arguable that the church was instead “abused” according to the typical post-conciliar fashions of the time. Fortunately, for St. Mary’s the changes are relatively minor and easy to fix ─ and may even present opportunities for surpassing the original design with upgrades.

The high altar and tabernacle as it stands today in the right transept:

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As one can see, the high altar and tabernacle is not overly fancy and ornate (as compared to many others in older churches and cathedrals), but it is sufficiently beautiful to declare the glory and presence of Christ. In many ways it speaks well of the probably unsophisticated yet obviously deep faith of Catholics in Eugene circa 1927. It is also a link to our local forebearers who worked to build a proper Catholic place of worship and a presence within this community. These were, for the most part, humble people with limited funds. Most churches of the past, those we love for their timeless beauty, were built by poor immigrants for their communities because they knew the value of what they were doing.

It interesting to consider this particular altar being the focal point of Catholic worship for Eugene during the years of the Great Depression, the troubling years of World War II, Korean War, economic boom, and the vast changes wrought by those and other events. And then (arguably) only to be set to the side when the spirit of the 1960’s seem to demand a focus more on the people in the Church than on Christ ─ perhaps more “spirit of the world” than of the council? Is this argument fair? Many would say yes.

What might it look like to move the high altar and tabernacle back to its original location?

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This is an architect’s rendering of how the sanctuary would look like. Notice a few things:

  1. The change is both significant, yet simple.
  2. The high altar and tabernacle seem to fit well in the space. This is because they are now where there were originally designed to be. (Of course they fit.)
  3. The crucifix has to be raised to accommodate the altar’s height, but the change is minor, and may be a better placement as well.
  4. The focal point for those entering the Church is now where the eye naturally goes, and draws one into the worship space more naturally. (Of course that is where our Lord is.)
  5. There is a kind of “completeness” now in the church design, with the tabernacle being at the head of the cross (in this cruciform church plan) rather than in one of the arms (transept).
  6. When the church doors are open, one can now see the tabernacle from the street ─ a powerful visual drawing the gaze into a holy space.
  7. The sanctuary now looks more like a sanctuary ─ the holy of holies on earth in Catholic theology. (Though there is still more to do in this regard, re-centering the tabernacle is the most significant requirement.)
  8. It restores a more proper sense of glory for what should be a glorious place ─ a Catholic place of worship.
  9. The priest now has the option to celebrate Mass ad orientem if he so chooses.
  10. The priest now has the option to celebrate in the Extraordinary Form if he so chooses.
  11. …yet the priest can continue to celebrate in the Novus Ordo form without problem ─ assuming the current altar remains where it is, out front of the high altar. (I do not know what is proper with having two altars in the sanctuary.)
  12. There is now less confusion for non-Catholics in wondering why Catholics believe in the Real Presence yet put Him to one side. This is an evangelistic move. The same is true for Catholics. This is a New Evangelization move (perhaps its most significant contribution in today’s climate).

St. Mary Catholic Church in our community

One could argue there are several reasons that the St. Mary Catholic Church building plays an important role in the life of local and regional Catholics, as well as the community as a whole:

  1. It is located in Eugene, the second most populated city in Oregon, and near the University of Oregon, the largest university in Oregon.
  2. It is the oldest Catholic Church building in the area, and thus exudes a sense of substantiality and permanence.
  3. It is directly linked to the earliest Catholics in the region, and thus has a profound provenance and important place in local history.
  4. It was built in a modified Gothic style with connections to the Romanesque style, thus it proclaims its connections to Church history of centuries past.
  5. It is the one Catholic Church building in the region that looks most like a Catholic Church, thus functioning unambiguously, merely by its architecture, as a witness to the faith.
  6. It is the only Catholic Church in the area that has a traditional pipe organ (and perhaps a choir loft?). The organ dates to the 1927 erecting of the church ─ this alone is a special fact.

Let’s pause a moment and remember three key points:

  1. The true Church is not the building. Rather, we are the Church, the Body of our Lord. If we do not “embody” the Church in our lives and community, then no mere building will do that for us.
  2. The building itself is to first serve in the worship of believers. To put it crudely, the church building is a “tool” for worship, used by the faithful in their pursuit of holiness. We must remember that we are not considering architecture or church design except as it is related to our consideration of the Real Presence of Christ and our proper orientation towards Him.
  3. The church building only secondarily serves as a call to non-believers ─ regardless of how powerful that may be. The best evangelical witness is to be fully and unabashedly Catholic.

If we remember these points then we should be able to keep in balance our desires and decisions. And, of course, our motivations must first be for the Kingdom of God (and all these things will be added).

Looking a little closer at St. Mary’s and its parish life and commitments, we find the following:

Mission (from the website)

“St. Mary Catholic Church is a Sacramental community united in Christ, proclaiming God’s love through liturgy, prayer, education, and service to others.”

Comments: This mission will be seen and understood in how the Church body loves each other and those outside the Church. However, it will also be powerfully expressed and seen by how the Church body worships. These two things, worship of Christ and love of each other cannot be separated. Proper worship should lead to a better understanding of love, and our love should add to the depth of our worship. Even if many Catholics struggle with believing in the truth and power of the Sacraments (perhaps viewing them as mere symbols of their Catholic identity), the Church must believe and act in accordance with the truth. This is particularly crucial in regards to the Blessed Sacrament.

Core Values (the first two listed on website)

Tradition – We are a Eucharistic community committed to the sacred traditional liturgy, music, and sacraments of the Roman Catholic faith.

Education – We are a community dedicated to making available high quality religious education for all parishioners, returning Catholics, and those interested in the faith.

Comments: These values can be lived out best by actions that are expressions, and flow from, of a belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Any Church that claims such belief but acts contrary creates a tension in the hearts of both its members and those outside looking in. Though unfortunately minor in many eyes, placing the tabernacle in the center-back wall of the sanctuary (apse if it is a curved back wall) is a significant move towards expressing belief in the Real Presence. Placing it to the side is arguably an expression of diminished belief (at least outwardly) in this truly unfathomably powerful reality. Whether actual belief is diminished or not for a given individual member or priest of St. Mary’s, it is arguable the physical expression itself has no place in a Catholic Church. Start with the Real Presence and all else follows. (Consider this the passionate perspective of a Protestant, and formerly deeply anti-Catholic, now a convert to the Catholic Church who cannot live without the Real Presence.)

More thoughts on the mission

St. Mary’s is a Sacramental community, thus it places a strong emphasis on the fact that the sacraments are “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.” (CCC 1113)

We know it is all too easy for any of us to take the sacraments for granted, and to treat them lightly and with less respect than is their due. We are sinners, after all. But doing so we deny ourselves the fruit of those sacraments because of receiving them with poor dispositions. We must be reminded, and remind each other, of what sacraments are, of how we should think of them, and of what our dispositions should be.

Lest we forget, or have not paid attention, and lest we fall into chronological snobbery, we should consider the centuries of liturgical practice and formulation that have come before us. Could it be that older forms do a better job of preparing us to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist? Although this is not the place for an historical unpacking, it can easily be noted that Church architecture and design, including such things as the historically traditional location of the altar and tabernacle, did not come about because of passing fashions, but because of thoughtful understanding in light of Christ’s commands, the traditions of the early Christians, deep examination of Holy Scripture, and a clearer (pre-modern) understanding of Human Nature. In the eyes of this author, it is obvious that more traditional forms of liturgical celebration represent a more substantial understanding of human nature and human needs than do more contemporary forms.

This is not to argue that only in the past will we find the proper way to worship. Nor is it to say older forms are necessarily more holy. However, just as blessed John Henry Newman said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant,” one might then argue that to be deep in Catholic traditions is to better see the poverty of much of contemporary worship and liturgical practice (to cease to be slavishly contemporary). The implication is that to lack an understanding of what has come before will more likely lead to conclusions that what should be obviously poor expressions of worship are, in fact, good. The past fifty years seems to prove this point.

Simply, a proper understanding of (and actual belief in) the Real Presence and true, properly formed worship would likely have prevented the moving of the high altar and tabernacle from its original location at St. Mary’s. This is a rather sharp claim, but it is, at least, a valid question.

However, perhaps the right question is not about tradition, or tabernacles, or high altars, or even Latin and altar rails, but to ask: What is the best way we know to show our reverence and devotion before the Real Presence of our Savior and King, to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, making truly present the proper graces pertaining to that Sacrament? Notice, the question asked is what is the “best way,” not what is the minimum that must be done, or what is merely licit, or what best suits the current tastes of the broadest number of folks (many of whom may be poorly formed, ignorant, or merely pursuing fashions). Of course one may find an image of a priest celebrating mass in wartime, using the hood of a jeep as an altar, both heartwarming and heroic. But no one would argue that jeep hoods should become the standard for altars in Churches. It is the ideal that should be normative if at all possible. And only because of that ideal can jeep hoods become powerful, temporary substitutes.

Consider how the role that St. Mary’s, and in this case specifically the church building itself, functions as an icon of the Church in time and space within our community. In our post-Christian age, where so many have no knowledge of even the basics of their Christian heritage, including many (most?) Catholics, St. Mary’s can function as something wholly other from the prevailing message of the world. Even in her form and structure it can teach and encourage. It does so now, and it may be able to do so even better in the future.

Finally, consider how strange it is that moving the high altar and tabernacle back to its original location could be considered controversial by some (I don’t, in fact, know if that it is the case at St. Mary’s, but it has been elsewhere). Perhaps with another church, built according to a non-traditional form, this might not be an issue, for then it might feel forced as it might be counter to the architectural design. However, with a combination of clear theological, pastoral, and architectural reasoning, there is no actual controversy with such a move at St. Mary Catholic Church.

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corpus-christi-procession
Detail of a miniature of a bishop carrying a monstrance in a Corpus Christi procession under a canopy carried by four clerics. England (probably Glastonbury)

Below are two vintage newsreels of Corpus Christi processions from many years ago. The first is in Cork, a town in southern Ireland, during WWII. The second is in the bombed out city of Cologne, Germany only two years after the war (notice the significant destruction, yet the magnificent cathedral still stands). Also, in the second video at the very end you will hear reference to Cardinal Archbishop Frings, who was a significant figure in Catholic resistance to Nazism, and later would play a significant role at Vatican II, with a young Fr. Joseph Ratzinger writing his speeches for him.

Many places in the world still have Corpus Christi processions (there are quite a few videos), but not where I live, and I would guess not nearly as often mostly everywhere as once upon a time. Catholicism has waned not least because, in terms of social/cultural/public life, so many Catholics have just given up. What was once considered worth putting in the effort for, is now thought too much work. What was once thought an appropriate public display of the body of Christ in unity, is now considered vulgar or just too frightening. But why complain for lack of a vibrant Catholic culture is one is unwilling to create it?

I say create it. But I don’t know how. Perhaps it begins with taking seriously the Mass and the Real Presence. And that’s a big, life-long project for all of us. Perhaps it begins with more Latin Masses. I don’t know, but I think that is probably true at some level. Love and good works are more important than processions, I know, but then again a solemn Corpus Christi procession just might be an act of love and good works for a local community longing for more than what the secular world can offer. Perhaps we must fight our tendency to feel embarrassed by such public displays. Anyway, I want to help.

What amazing displays of Catholic tradition, faith, and witness.

So I sent an email to my local parish church office asking if there was going to be a Corpus Christi procession this year. I got a one word reply: “No” — without greeting, explanation, a thanks for asking, it has not come up sorry, or even punctuation — literally just the word “No.” Of course the answer sufficed, was clear, and I realize folks are busy and need to get on to other things, so it’s not a big deal.

But somehow, in that short and cryptic answer, I sense a lot of the “bigger picture” of current Catholic witness in our community.

I am not familiar with St. Pius X. Below are some videos explaining his life, work, and death.

Here’s an overview of St. Pius X’s life and work (plus great pictures). Lecture by Fr Pius X Harding, O.S.B. at the 2016 Day of Reflection for The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (Northwestern Lieutenancy, USA.) Held at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon, USA.

Pathé silent newsreel of his death:

And here’s a sermon on modernism being warned about by Pope St Pius X:

I’m not sure I am fully in line with all the critiques of modernism and of certain individuals in this last video, but it’s a perspective worth contemplating. And the video speaks to something of the saint’s life and passions.

…by Fr Jeremy Driscoll, OSB of Mount Angel Abbey

A popular book these days is Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. The monks at Mount Angel Abbey are benedictine. If you find Dreher’s perspective meaningful, then these monks offer a picture of that option — not to say you should enter a monastery (though maybe you should), but you might consider doing the Divine Office every day. Some would argue this is not really what Dreher means, but I say it at least is part of the soil out of which any consideration of any kind of Benedict Option must grow, otherwise it’s something else, perhaps just marketing spin.

About Fr Jeremy Driscoll, OSB

About Mount Angel Abbey

It is possible that the pastoral care in some parishes, and even the celebration of the Mass, actually prevent parishioners from getting close to God? Is it possible that a significant swath of Catholic culture is designed to keep Catholics from having authentic and life-changing encounters with God within that culture — needing to seek it elsewhere? Could this be one of the reasons so many have left the Church for evangelical Protestantism? For some, absolutely. Is this not why there is a kind of nervous movement among so many Catholics seeking a finer light, something burning brighter than in their local church? {Of course, one has to be careful accepting the excuses given by people who have left the Church.]

Anyway, it seems to me that noisy Masses might harm the faithful’s desires for getting close to God, and encountering the divine transcendence.

Robert Cardinal Sarah seems to offer a pointed critique related to these concerns in his latest book, The Power of Silence. If find his critique fascinating, especially because he approaches this from the topic of silence. Here are four quotes particularly relevant:

The notion of sacredness is abused, particularly in the West. In the countries that claim to be secular, emancipated from religion and from God, there is no longer any connection with the sacred. A certain secularized mentality attempts to be liberated from it. Some theologian assert that Christ, by his Incarnation, put an end to the distinction between sacred and profane. For others, God becomes so close to us that the category of the sacred is consequently outmoded. Thus, some in the Church still have not managed to detach themselves from and entirely horizontal pastoral approach centered on social work and politics. In these assertions or these behaviors, there is a lot of naïveté and perhaps genuine pride. (Sarah 119)

If we do not tremble before the divine transcendence, it is because we are damaged, all the way down to our human nature. (120)

Without radical humility that is expressed in gestures of adoration and in sacred rituals, no friendship with God is possible. (120)

Since the reform of Paul VI, and despite the intention of that great pope, sometimes in the liturgy there is an air of misplaced, noisy familiarity. Under the pretext of seeking to make access to God easy and approachable, some have wanted everything in the liturgy to be immediately intelligible. This egalitarian intention may seem commendable. But in thus reducing the sacred mystery to good ideas, we prevent the faithful from approaching thus true God. (123)


Sarah, Robert, Nicolas Diat, and Michael J. Miller. The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2017. Print.

I am wondering how divided the Church is, or at least how divided Protestantism is today. I am reposting this from June 28, 2012. At that time I was on my way to becoming Catholic, and Church disunity was one of the primary reasons for my abandoning Protestantism. But do people even care much anymore about denominations? Are not the majority of Christians today mostly just choosing a kind of buffet-style evangelicalism? Even a lot of Catholics seem to essentially be merely post-modern pop-evangelicals in their faith and merely post-conciliar Catholics in there actions. And yet, perhaps this means we are even more divided than ever with each individual representing their own, personal denomination.

This was originally posted in June 2012.

“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:22-23, NASB)

I continue to be astounded by the number of Protestant church divisions in this country alone (not including divisions elsewhere). For most of my life I’ve only had vague notions of these divisions, and never considered them as serious. I have also lived mostly with the view that they can be ignored (because I believed they are someone else’s problem) and all I need is faith and the Bible. Now I am inclined to see these divisions as having informed my thinking more than I realized, as deeply troubling, as a testament to the questionable “fruit” of the Reformation, and I want to seek resolution for my own faith and life.

The following set of images gives a high-level overview of some of the more obvious divisions we find within Protestant/Reformed churches in this country. I understand there are many more divisions than listed here, but I think this is enough to choke on for now.

American Christian branches
to European founded churches

Click on the first image to begin the slide show:

These images came from a slid deck I found on a Catholic apologetics web site.

The copyright for the slides are held by:
Peterson, Susan Lynn (1999).
Timeline Charts of the Western Church.
Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI

corot cathedrale chartres
Cathédrale de Chartres, painting by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1830)

Medieval thought in stone and masonry. This is a wonderful documentary, not only because of its subject, but because it is also a kind of time capsule itself. The Second Vatican Council was in progress, but not completed, the Novus Ordo Mass had not yet been promulgated, and the ravages of modernity had not completed their destruction of society.

HERE it is on archive.org, if you want to see it larger.

“An in-depth study of this famous cathedral. ‘What is the special character of Chartres Cathedral that we should call it the greatest of the medieval churches?’ Narrated by New York Times art critic John Canaday, Chartres becomes a visible fusion of faith, engineering and architecture. The camera pictures the cathedral in its awesome entirety, with detailed closeups, and as an enduring triumph of man’s skills.”

A recent discussion prompted me to think again of some posts I did on baptism. My friend was emphatically saying something like we all know baptism isn’t necessary, etc, etc. I know very well how deep that thinking goes for many Protestants, and the context of the discussion wasn’t good for challenging assumptions, so I just let it be, but I know now that baptism is necessary. I also believe that God works with people where they are, and that one’s conscience is fundamental, so I’m not particularly worried. Still, it’s good to refresh one’s memory from Holy Scripture and be ready for possible future discussions.

This post was originally publish April 26, 2011.

Sermon of St. John the Baptist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1566

The following citations come from the English Standard Version (ESV) translation. The purpose of this list, for me at least, is to gather in one place as many of the scriptural references on baptism as I can so that I might begin to understand the place and meaning of baptism in the life of faith. If I have missed any biblical references, whether directly mentioning baptism or whether pointing to baptism metaphorically or symbolically, please let me know.

John baptizes:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2)

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:4-5)

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:3)

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:5-6)

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7)

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. (Luke 3:7-8a)

John points to Jesus:
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

“I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Luke 3:15-16)

They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:25-27)

Jesus gets baptized:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

“I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:33-34)

Jesus baptizes:
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). (John 3:22-24)

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3:25-26)

The nature of John’s baptism?
“The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?'” (Matthew 21:25)

“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” (Mark 11:30)

He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” (Luke 20:3-4)

Jesus’ teaching on (or related to) baptism:
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized . . .” (Mark 10:38-39)

“I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) (Luke 7:28-30)

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:49-51)

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)

Baptism in the first generation church:
“. . . beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:22)

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37-40)

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)

But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. (Acts 8:12-13)

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 8:14-16)

And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:36-39)

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. (Acts 9:17-19)

“. . . you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed” (Acts 10:37)

“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:47-48a)

“And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” (Acts 11:16)

“Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” (Acts 13:24)

The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” (Acts 16:14b-15a)

Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)

He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. (Acts 18:25)

And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:3-6)

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. (Acts 22:16)

Paul on baptism:
By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:2-4)

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:13-17)

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4a)

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? (1 Corinthians 15:29)

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)

Peter on baptism:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22)

Robert Cardinal Sarah has been getting some attention lately because of statements he has made regarding the proper celebration of the Mass (I think the controversy is silly and Cardinal Sarah is clearly more wise than his detractors). The cardinal has also just written a book called The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, which I am reading as part of a book group. His first book, God or Nothing, our group read earlier, and both book s are excellent, though very different.

There are so many great quotes from The Power of Silence, but for now I just want to highlight this one:

How can we come to master our own interior silence? The only answer lies in asceticism, self-renunciation, and humility. If man does not mortify himself, if he stays as he is, he remains outside of God. (51)

I am also reading Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, which I am enjoying (I don’t really get most of the criticisms of this book). But I find the strategies and tactics suggested by Dreher to, basically, sit on top on Cardinal Sarah’s deeper insights, as indicated in the short quote above (but evidenced throughout his book). The cardinal’s quote points to a fundamental and, I believe, profound problem with our world today, and especially with Christianity — both Catholic and Protestant — we are addicted to noise, which is damaging us, and we no longer understand the importance of asceticism, self-renunciation, and humility in fighting that noise. The cardinal’s insights also point to the fact that we think we know what noise is, but we don’t — not at the spiritual level.

In fact, I believe if Christians followed the cardinal’s words seriously, then the kind of place, role, and actions of the Church in the world could take any number of forms, not only Dreher’s form(s), because it’s not really about carving out an alternative society so much as it’s changing one’s heart, will, passions, etc. — the rest will follow, and do so in countless ways.


Sarah, Robert, Nicolas Diat, and Michael J. Miller. The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2017. Print.

Sarah, Robert, Nicolas Diat, and Michael J. Miller. God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2015. Print.

Dreher, Rod. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. New York: Sentinel, 2017. Print.

This is a fantastic discussion with Dennis McNamara about what truly sacred architecture is, what it does, and what it is for. Naturally there is a lot in this about what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to worship as a Christian, because it’s all tied up together.

Here’s his bio: Prof. Dennis McNamara

Thoughts: I have been interested in architecture since I was a kid. At one time I thought I was going to college to study architecture. I actually don’t know why I didn’t, however, I did study art history which included the history of architecture. Interestingly, though I studied the history of Christian architecture, including the great cathedrals of Europe, my profoundly thin  religious education in matters of Church history, liturgy, etc, etc, did not prepare me to understand anything I was looking at. I fear most Protestants, at least evangelicals and fundamentalists, are also equally ignorant. I wish I had know these things when I was in college. Anyway, a discussion like this one above is so packed with wonderful information that I find it exhilarating. I also think it might go over the head of many Christians, if only because the basic concepts (including the Real Presence, the meaning of liturgy, etc.)  are just a bit too foreign to modern American Christian ears. Please, tell me I’m wrong.

This talk was given at the 2015 Sacred Liturgy Conference in Portland Oregon. The conference was sponsored by Schola Cantus Angelorum.

I find the talk fairly rudimentary, but it does cover the basic ideas of proper sacred architecture and how it is linked to the spirit of the Liturgy. However, I think this could go a lot deeper into the reasons and arguments for traditional sacred architecture and art. But I don’t know the audience, and maybe this was a proper introduction for them.

Also, as I find these kinds of lectures on the internet, and as I read books on the subject, I find a lot of the same handful of churches and key people mentioned. It’s as if you’ve read a couple of the books on the subject, or seen a couple of the lectures, you don’t need to look further. But I sense we are only scratching the surface.

This is a good overview lecture of Franciscan architecture, but also basic principles of good Church architecture in general as well. Duncan Stroik, a noted Catholic architect and professor at Notre Dame University.

Some of the images do not match what he is saying. Mostly it seems they just don’t show all the images, but it’s still a good lecture.

Cathédrale-Notre-Dame-de-Paris-Vue-panoramique---630x405---©-Fotolia-rdnzl
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris (credit: Paris Tourist Office)

The following points are taken from Michael S. Rose’s book: Ugly As Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces — and How We Can Change Them Back Again

From Chapter One: “The three natural laws of church architecture: or, the minimum you need to know to evaluate the church down the street”

  1. Permanence — a sense that the building will remain and stand against the vagaries of time a taste
  2. Verticality — a sense of the building rising or pointing to Heaven and things transcendent, and leading the thoughts of worshipers in that direction
  3. Iconography — art, statues, icons, stained glass, and other items that express and speak of Christian things, especially the holy sacrifice of the Mass

From Chapter Two: “Our pilgrim goes into the house of the Lord: or, the essential elements of every proper church”

  1. The church beckons to souls from afar
  2. The atrium leads us from the profane to the sacred
  3. The façade tells us of the riches awaiting us inside
  4. The narthex draws us toward the sanctuary
  5. The baptistry reminds us of our entrance into the Church Universal
  6. The nave declares that the Church is the ark of salvation
  7. The pews promote adoration, directing our eyes to the altar
  8. The confessional prepares us to receive the Eucharist
  9. The church’s columns enhance its verticality and permanence
  10. The pulpit is subordinate to the altar
  11. The choir serves the Mass without calling attention to itself
  12. The sacred art teaches and evangelizes us
  13. The stained glass creates a heavenly atmosphere with light
  14. The sanctuary set apart the holiest part of the church
  15. The altar is the focal point of unity, reverence, prayer, and worship
  16. The crucifix tells us of Christ’s redemptive Sacrifice
  17. The tabernacle reminds us that Christ is truly present here

The laws and elements are not presented by the author without an agenda in mind. They are to be used as a list for architects and church renovators, but also as a source of critique of modernist church designs. With this list in mind it is interesting (troubling??) to see how many Catholic churches fail to meet many of these laws and elements. Most of these church buildings were built in the past 50 years or so, and from a more modernist approach — a kind of “spirit of the age” urging towards “relevance” and man-centeredness.

The rest of the book examines examples of  church architecture that deviate from these laws and elements, and the reasons why churches where either altered away from tradition, or built according to modernist standards. Then finally the book speaks to what can be done to rectify the problem.

Personally, I love much of modern architecture. I’m not a modernist, but I appreciate much of what modern architects were trying to do, even in their failures (which were many). Still, what constitutes proper sacred architecture, that is architecture designed around the Eucharistic liturgy of the Catholic Church, seems to me fundamentally in need of something other than the modernist approach.

However, I’m also not a traditionalist in the sense that the “solution” is that we go back in time. We can and should learn a lot from the past, including examples of church architecture, but we must remember we shouldn’t just copy from the past, but create based on principles. It’s tradition for the sake of truth, not tradition for the sake of tradition.