I found Jim Caviezel’s story to be very compelling and encouraging.
Category Archives: Prayer
Are modernist buildings good places to pray?
I may be somewhat of an anomaly. On the one hand I am an advocate of Traditional Catholicism, including Traditional Catholic architecture designed to serve Traditional Catholic worship. (If you search through this blog you will know this.) On the other hand I love much of modern architecture. I love many buildings that many others do not like. I grew up in a modernist house, I studied modern art and architecture in college, and I have been a fan of early twentieth century and mid-century modern art and design. With this in mind, I found this lecture about one of the more famous (infamous?) modernist churches to be quite fascinating, not only for its informative content, but also because the lecturer gives a highly (almost ecstatically) positive perspective on exactly the kind of church design many would deride without hesitation.
This lecture below is by monk, educator, and artist David Paul Lange, OSB. Whether you agree with his assessments or not, this is an excellent overview of modernist principles in architecture, especially at the mid-twentieth century point, and why it made sense to people at that time to build a church according to those principles. It is also an excellent “unpacking” of the design, and the ideas behind the design, of a particular church, the Saint John’s Abbey Church:
I find Brother David Paul Lange’s speaking style to be a bit too breathless for my tastes, but he is a great evangelist for the modernist perspective in architecture, and for this church. But I have some questions:
- Is his understanding correct about both modernist architecture and his interpretation of this church? I think absolutely.
- Is this church a good representation of modernist architecture? Yes.
- Is this church worthy of praise? As an example of modernist thinking, yes. As an example of excellent construction, yes. As a place for worship, you tell me, but I think no, at least not within a proper understanding of ideal Catholic worship.
- Therefore, does this church represent a different ideal of worship than traditional Catholic worship, I think so. But you tell me.
Notice a few things:
- He speaks of praying more than worshiping. This makes sense given this church is for a monastic community which is focused a great deal on prayer, but it is also significant. The focus is more about the nature and needs of praying than offering a sacrifice to God. Praying in a church is a good and normal thing. However, prayer is a part of worship, but not the only part. Many spaces can be prayerful. Only specific kinds of spaces serve the needs of worship.
- He speaks a lot of his own feelings. In a sense this entire talk is an explanation of his personal experiences of this church, and his feelings during and about those experiences. There’s nothing wrong with that up to a point, but as a Catholic would it not be better to also foreground the Body of Christ as a corporate entity a bit more? In that sense he would then speak more of the nature of man in general and his relationship with God. And then tie it back to this church and how it functions.
- This is more about a “modernist space” than a church (hence the title of the lecture), even though it is a church where the Eucharist is celebrated. He points out the way the outside comes into the church interior, reminding those inside of the connection with nature, what time of day it is, what weather is outside, etc. In this sense I gather the space functions a bit like stepping into a forest and praying. I like this in a sense, but when I think of celebrating Mass I wonder about the idea of Heaven on earth and the traditional way churches close off the outside world and creating a space that is more heavenly than earthly.
- He speaks of the honest use of materials, and how older churches seem dishonest somehow, using paint to create false impressions and faux marble, etc. This is a particularly important part of the lecture. I too love the modernist focus on materials. I also don’t believe such focus is necessarily bad for church design, but a church interior should be (traditionally speaking) a kind of three-dimensional icon of Heaven. Rough, earthy materials that evoke nature have their place, but they should serve a heavenly image, no? Here’s something I might explore in another post, but consider this: Is not a statue of St. Michael (for example) fake because it is not actually St. Michael? Same for the Holy Mother, etc? Would not any church that aspires to create a sense of the heavenly liturgy within its walls be a dishonest use of materials? Maybe. But perhaps that’s a “dishonest” use of the word dishonest.
- The bell tower, he argues, with its horizontal lines, points to (or mirrors) the horizontal earth rather than to God. He claims it reminds him that God is everywhere and in all things, and perhaps that’s a good reminder, but this is a curious claim and raises the question, in my mind at least, what is the purpose of a church? To call us to the earth or to call us to Heaven? Do we not minister to each other (horizontally) because we have first sought out and worshiped God–a vertical action? If we do not begin with the vertical does not our horizontal orientation eventually become skewed?
- He also mentions that the population of monks used to be 350, but now are only 150. They don’t need such a big church anymore. Only by way of correlation, but still interesting (and troubling): They commit themselves to modernist ideas, they build a modernist church to symbolically represent that modernist spirit, and not long after they lose 60% of their members. Apparently modernism doesn’t need monks. Perhaps modernism doesn’t really need man either.
- At the end of the lecture, just before questions, he jokingly apologizes for going a bit long and keeping the Downton Abbey fans from their show — a show whose popularity arose from a longing for an earlier time, represented, in part, not by modernist architecture, but very traditional architecture, and clothing, and customs, etc. Will future generations swoon over the modernist mid-twentieth century in the same way? Perhaps Mad Men did some of that, but that is an awfully dark show.
- The first question at the end, by another monk (I believe), is exactly my question, and worth the time for watching this lecture. I have never been in this church, so I have no way of saying what my thoughts would be, but I also wonder if such a place is naturally conducive to prayer, or liturgy at all for that matter. And I truly get the experience from having studied art and swooning over art that others think is stupid or meaningless. And I also find the questioner’s reference to the new cathedral in Los Angeles being obvious a place of prayer puzzling, since it also has been roundly derided for its modernist and non-Catholic design. The answer to his question included: “Do people get modernism? I think the answer is no, by and large,” and “Until I explain this…” In other words, modernist art and architecture requires explanation in order to appreciate it. This is one of the attractions and weaknesses of modern art. I have experienced exactly that feeling of “getting it” after studying it. And yet, I think this may be why modernist architecture is not a good choice for Catholic churches. He also says we are not actually living in a “modernist” society. In terms of art and architecture this may be true specifically in light of design principles–modernism, from an art historical perspective occured at a time in history which is now past. However, the spirit of modernism as a philosophical and theological undergirding of society and the Church is still very pervasive. How modernism in ideas and modernism in design interrelate is a fascinating topic too big for this post.
In the end I find the Abbey Church a beautiful and amazing space. However, I do believe it is probably best suited as a performance space than as a church. I would not advocate a church being built along these lines. Rather, I think we should be informed more by the needs of the Traditional Latin Mass with its focus on God rather than man, uniformity with the Church through history, and creative use of new and old materials that look to the past for inspiration and the future for permanence and authentic timelessness — which can only be done by beginning with a true understand of both God and man.
Finally, I wonder if much of the problems with using modernist design principles and materials for Catholic churches could be solved if the liturgy was the Traditional Latin Mass. In other words, imagine if Vatican II never happened, and the Novus Ordo Mass never promulgated, could churches have been designed in somewhat contemporary and modernist fashion and still fulfill the needs of the TLM? Can architects build “honest” churches and still be Catholic? I think so. But also keep in mind that the St. John’s Abbey church construction began on May 19, 1958, and lasted until August 24, 1961 — well before the council even began, and long before the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated.
If you want to know a bit more about the architect Marcel Breuer:
If you want to know a bit more about the building of the church:
A lot of Christians in the U.S. publicly complain about persecution at the hands of the godless secular society. They are sued, or spit on, or yelled at, or denied service, or given the stink eye, or sent bad tweets — and they wail against the injustice. A lot of Christians fight back, protesting, holding signs, denouncing their enemies, and even using the court system to make others treat Christians better. And, sadly, many Christian attack each other too. They publicly call out their brothers and sisters before other Christians as well as the godless society at large. They do this on social media of course, but also in the courts.
A lot of Catholics also complain about the Church, about bad bishops and bad popes, about weak leadership and false doctrine. They complain about bad liturgy and poor catechesis. Why doesn’t the Church do this, or that? What’s wrong with all those other Catholics? Why are they destroying the Church?
In short, Christians look at other people and see the enemy. This is not unique to Christians but, if you are a Christian, consider these words from St. Paul:
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Do we take these words seriously? If we did what would we be doing differently?
I know Catholics who hate Pope Francis. They complain and denigrate the holy father. I’ve written before about my struggles with the pope. I understand the struggle, but who is the real enemy here?
If the German bishops have gone off the deep end and are very publicly courting heresy, are they the enemy? If Vatican II has wrought such damage, as some say, who is the real culprit? Many Catholics in Ireland just voted in favor of abortion, and then they loudly celebrate their win. Who’s victory is that really?
People have always dug wells where they believe they will find water. But why do they think water is where they think it is? Why do so many people make poor choices? Why do so many people reject God? Why is there so much evil in the world?
No human is innocent. We all have free will. We all must face judgement. But is the real battle between me, who is a sinner, and you, who is also a sinner? If we choose to love then has not the conflict ceased altogether? To battle is to seek the other’s defeat. To love is to seek their salvation. To be a Christian is to be Christ to others, and point them to Him.
We are living in a creation that is running wild with demons. Sin and Satan are the forces at work. They will have their way if we do not fight them. But it is God, in fact, who fights our battles for us. The winds of the modernist demons have swept powerfully around the globe for the past 200 years. They have caught up millions of souls, including priests and bishops and even popes, and certainly many, many Christians. The spirit of the age is the spirit of the evil one — some might argue it is also the spirit of Vatican II. I hope not, but I’ll let you judge.
Our battle, then, is not with each other. Our battle is against Satan and all his works and all his empty show. Put on the armor of God. Remember your baptism. Take up your cross. Rejoice in your sufferings. Love others as Christ has loved you. Let God and His mighty angels fight your battles.
And lean into the fight. Carry the banner. Do not be afraid. God is with you. Trust Him. Pray, and pray, and keep praying.
I write these words because I need to hear them more than I need to write them, but there they are.
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
I have been rereading Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. It is such a profound and enriching book. I find this true even more so on a second reading. I feel someday the Church will call him Saint Robert.
This beautiful video gives some sense of who Cardinal Sarah is, and his insights on silence in the life of Christian faith:
Did the message of Fatima predict the sexual abuse crisis we are facing today? Or the collapse of the Church post-Vatican II? Or the rise of rampant modernism and its evils, even among churchmen?
I find this series of lectures to be both fascinating and profound. In total it’s about fourteen or fifteen hours long. That’s a lot, but it’s worth taking the time. Let me repeat that, it’s worth taking the time. I believe I know the priest’s name, but I will not post it for it has been asked that people not post post his name. I can say I believe he is a “traditionalist” priest of the FSSP, and thus presents what to many listeners might be a very “conservative” — though I prefer orthodox — perspective. He strikes me as a man of deep faith.
I grew up in an end-times obsessed “Christian” semi-fundamentalist Protestant subculture. I read a number of the popular books on the topic in the 1970’s. Eventually I became disinterested and moved on. Now, as a Catholic, I have a different perspective, and I find myself interested again. And this time, largely by way of my growing interest in our Lady’s appearances at Fatima, and in her message, I am drawn to again to the great plan of God and the salvation of the Church as the centerpiece of creation history.
Other than having read many time the typical end-times biblical prophecies, almost all of the content of these lectures is new to me. I cannot say one way or the other that this priest is truly on target, but I find myself compelled to dig deeper. I will say one could find a lot of doom and gloom in these lectures, but I think there is ultimately a lot of hope, great hope in fact. Christ is Lord. God is sovereign. The end is known. Have faith.
[I have gathered together and posted these videos from Sensus Fidelium. I thought there may be value is presenting them as a unit. The priest’s voice is often quiet, headphones help.]
Again, let me repeat myself, it’s worth taking the time.