Below is an excellent lecture on the history, characteristics, qualities, and purpose of Gregorian Chant. I too have a love for Gregorian Chant and I sing it as part of a men’s Latin Schola in my parish for the 7:30 AM Sunday Mass, which is Novus Ordo, but is more solemn and traditional. I view it as a step to help our parish move towards traditional Catholicism — or just Catholicism. However, although my love for chant continues to grow, I am rather ignorant of its true riches.
I find this discussion posted below wonderful. Neither Jordan Peterson or Slavoj Žižek are Christians, but they are both influenced deeply by classically Christian concepts. In this discussion , which was billed as a debate but turns out much better, begins with each speaking formally for 30 minutes, then each getting 10 minutes to respond to the other’s intro speeches, then it goes into a back and forth series of questions and responses. Both of these men have lively minds and that kind of humility that undergirds the search for truth. In effect what we have here is a modern version of a Platonic dialogue.
I have been somewhat of a fan of Žižek for years and more recently of Peterson — not an unqualified fan of course. In the end, at least in terms of this “debate,” they constitute, or at least lean towards, a kind of Christian balance but, I believe, without the full realization they are doing so. Peterson lays out his path, a kind of stoicism as it were, of pursuing the good life, and Žižek responds with a deep pessimism. My immediate thought was of St. Paul writing to the Romans about how he does the things he ought not to do and does not do what he ought, thus finding within himself the principle of sin acting against him. We might agree with Peterson’s path but find ourselves repeatedly incapable of staying on that path. In this sense the biggest lacuna in this particular discussion, and I believe in both men’s general work about the human condition, is a complete understanding of sin and its effects, though they both seem to have a better understanding than most. Nonetheless, this dialogue between these two original (especially Žižek) and deeply cogent (especially Peterson) thinkers is an incredible opportunity to have one’s mind creatively engaged.
I’ve been on somewhat of a phenomenology kick lately. In that time I’ve come across the brilliant French philosopher Jean-Luc Marion. I have posted several of his videos already. Here are two more. The first one below I find is quite brilliant, in which he works through the logic of giving, gift giving, receiving a gift, and the nature(s) of the gift.
If I understand his explanation of “the gift,” I can’t help but think of the following passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew 5:38-48
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40 and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; 41 and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We live an age that desperately wants to deny the existence of Hell, that wants to believe that all will go the Heaven, that God will not really judge us (at least not judge *me* but probably should judge others) but is, rather, pure love which, translated according to our desires, means God is really more a feeling than our creator. But the Truth is different. All of us will face the four last things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell.
Sometimes what we need most is a straightforward, no punches pulled presentation of the Truth we all must and will face. Matthew Plese does that in the video below.
Perhaps it’s always been this way, but certainly today, and unfortunately within the Church, people tend to roll their eyes at descriptions of Hell. But we know that the last four things are real. We know that Hell is real. To know the Truth is not a bad thing. It is, in fact, a very good thing, a necessary thing. One reaction we too often hear is that at the very first mention of Hell people complain that we don’t need to constantly and always be hearing about Hell; why all this talk about Hell; why all this doom and gloom? Why can’t we talk about grace and joy? But grace and joy contain their meaning because they stand in contrast to sin and Hell. We ought to seek being saved from Hell. Christ spoke bluntly about Hell. He said many people are going there. We ought to think about it. Fear of Hell should ultimately be subservient to a love of God and the light of Christ, but Hell must not be forgotten. The fear of Hell is, in fact, a good thing, and gives deep meaning to the salvation being offered us.
At the 2020 Grammy Awards the progressive rock band Tool won the award for Best Metal Performance with their song 7EMPEST from their album Fear Inoculum. When two of the band’s members came to the stage to accept the award, the first to speak was the tall, blond drummer Danny Carey.
Although I did not see their acceptance moment when it happened, I read that Carey had said a short tribute to the recently deceased drummer, Neil Peart of the mega prog band Rush. Peart was one of the greatest rock drummers in history, a true phenomenon in the music world, and one of my favorite musicians. I first heard Peart play in the early 1980’s when I bought the album “Exit… Stage Left” and and nearly wore the grooves flat joyfully playing it ad nauseum.
Hearing of Carey’s mention of Peart, I checked out Tool, and especially their latest album. I had heard of them years ago, but never really listened to their music, so much of what I write here will already be well known to some of you. I discovered they are very, very good (they did just win a Grammy, and have won others), and I liked the first several tracks a lot. In particular I focused on Carey’s drumming, and he is amazing; a true master of his craft. Part way into the album I decided to learn more about Tool and about Carey.
What I discovered disturbed me.
Danny Carey is a gifted, world class musician. From his Grammys acceptance speech he also seems like a great guy, a loving husband and father, and I would assume he is a kind and gentle man. I have nothing against him and, in fact, wish him all the best. Of course, as a Catholic, I also wish him the grace and mercy of God, things we are all in desperate need of.
But here’s my concern: Carey is into the occult, and it appears he does not merely dabble, but takes it quite seriously — is a practitioner of some expertise. In fact, his father was a master Freemason. Since Carey was a child he has been deeply fascinated with the occult. His drumming is an extension, in a way, of his occult practices; even a way to channel demons. Read his bio below to learn some of the salient details of his occult studies and their role in his music.
Danny grew up in Paola, KS. Relatively normal, an element of mystery was added to Danny’s childhood when one day he spied his father with a large sword conducting a Masonic ritual. Danny would later notice himself performing similar movements when he began playing drums at the age of thirteen. As Danny progressed through high school and then college at the University of Missouri in Kansas City he began supplementing his studies in percussion with speculation into the principles of geometry, science, and metaphysics. A commitment to life as an artist brought Danny to LA where he was able to perform as a studio drummer with projects like Carole King and play around town with Pygmy Love Circus. He would later find an outlet for addressing a fuller scope of his potentials in Tool and another project operating under the title of Zaum. Despite not becoming a Mason or aligning himself with any other school of religion, Danny has maintained his heritages interest in occult studies. Endeavors into this realm have manifested periodically, such as the time he achieved insight into a hidden aspect of the unicursal hexagram utilizing an astral journey initiated through meditation and DMT. Danny then set up his drums into proportions utilizing the circle and square of the New Jerusalem and uttered a short prayer relating to the principles of the ace of swords from the book of Thoth. He then performed a ritual utilizing his new found knowledge of the unicursal hexagram to generate a pattern of movement in space relating to Fuller’s vector equilibrium model. The resulting rhythm and gateway summoned a daemon he has contained within “the Lodge” that has been delivering short parables similar to passages within the Book of Lies. Danny recommends as a device of protection and containment a thorough study and utilization of the underlying geometry of the Temple of Solomon for anyone purchasing their next record.
[Note: This is from 2011 from the band’s website. I could not find or access a more current bio. However, this recent article seems to validate the older bio.]
When I read Carey’s bio I immediately stopped listening to Tool’s album, quickly pulling the earplugs out of my ears. I suddenly felt the need to distance myself from the music and the band. I was mad that I liked the music, knowing that it has certain qualities I find attractive. I had to turn away. But I also couldn’t stop wondering about Carey, who seems like a really nice guy who’s into really dark things. And I realize that I may be the last person to know about Tool and its fascination with the occult.
People are into all kinds of things that are dangerous, foolish, and sinful. This has always been typical of us humans, but I think having and interest into dark things, specifically the occult, is growing by leaps and bounds today. I know that the world is crazy and has little interest in Christ the King. Certainly, many people don’t believe Christ has already conquered the devil. And I know perhaps sometimes we just might have to roll our eyes or shrug our shoulders at some of the things we see. We can’t get worked up over every evil in the world. None of us have that kind of stamina or bandwidth. But the Devil is real. Demons are real. And this is not a little thing.
Specifically, I was struck by two things in the bio above. First, the way he sets up his drums and has played them summoned a demon that is somehow currently active in his playing. Carey say it’s “contained,” but I doubt it. We don’t contain or control demons. Rather, they fool us, and play us, and use us, and eventually abuse us. Second, he recommends that anyone buying their album should have a “device of protection.” This is truly frightening. I doubt Carey consciously intends any harm (I could be wrong), but I believe he is not only playing with fire, rather he has become, and has unleashed, an actual threat to the well-being of potentially thousands or even millions of listeners. His Faustian bargain has won him a Grammy, but the Devil plays for keeps. The Devil wants more than a Grammy. I fear that listening to their album could bring (channel?) demons into one’s own life. In fact, I’m sure of it — and I’m a feet on the ground, level-headed guy.
Demons are real. Demons are truly evil and powerful. Demons ought not to be played with.
Saint 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 host, 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’ve been curious about women wearing veils at Mass. My family is relatively new to the Catholic Church. Very few women at the Mass (Novus Ordo) we attend wear veils. It’s natural to not want to stand out. Veiling is an entirely foreign concept for us, coming as we are from Protestant-land. But I have to admit, perhaps it’s even a bit strange, that women who wear veils at Mass or in the adoration chapel, somehow appear to me as more beautiful in the moment than those who don’t veil. I wonder why? I find it both odd and compelling.
I want to know more about veiling. My sense is that it’s actually a profound theological fact built into the very fabric of creation, of human nature and natural law, and of the reality of the Church. I believe it may be a natural language giving to us by God, teaching us and forming us. Perhaps when women wear veils before the Real Presence they are more fully complete in some mysterious way. If this is true, then parishes where veiling is largely absent and not promoted are at the very least failing to allow themselves to be taught and formed by this truth given to us by our Creator. At worse, we may actually be sinning by giving in to modernist and false ideas of women, men, the Church, and of Christ Himself. I wonder if the Church should place a higher priority on the practice. I’m leaning to a strong yes.
Why do priest never preach on veiling? Why do they never seek to teach their parishioners on what veiling means, why anyone would or should consider it? I’ve never once heard a homily about it one way or the other. Are they ignorant about veiling? Frightening to speak up? Are they against veiling? Perhaps they believe they are merely being obedient. But I can’t really blame them for not touching the subject if they feel they don’t have to. So, why don’t bishops touch the subject. I don’t know.
I find it interesting that the official Church declaration, Inter Insigniores (1976), states:
But it must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value.
And yet in the passage it references, 1 Cor 11:2-16, it is clear that St. Paul’s reasoning is not from culture but from the very design of creation and natural law. Although he uses the words of handing on traditions, he also argues: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” And again: “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.” And again: “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” And again: “That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.” In each case he argues from non-cultural positions, but rather teaches from the structure of creation, of the very origins of man and woman, and of the angels. I think St. Paul would disagree with Inter Insigniores. What do we do with this? Were the writers of Inter Insigniores “infected” with modernism? Were they worried of the biblical language in light of the rise of feminism? The use of the word “imposed” is interesting. In any case, I can’t say. I’m ignorant on this.
Therefore I’m trying to learn. Below are a couple of videos that I find interesting. The first is more theological, and it starts by looking at veiling broadly (why during passiontide do we veil crucifixes and statues? why ever veil anything?), then it looks at women wearing (or not) veils at Mass. I have watched this video several times now. The second video is more about personal testimonies from those who have chosen to veil.
If you so choose, I would love to know your thoughts on veiling. Feel free to add your comments.
Recently I stumbled across the brilliant philosopher Jean-Luc Marion. I have been reading some philosophy lately, and my focus has been mostly on phenomenology. I studied a bit of phenomenology in college, along with structuralism, post-structuralism, and deconstructionism. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, I now find myself diving back into these areas of thought.
Jean-Luc Marion is particularly interesting to me, in part because he is an unapologetic Catholic. I recently posted a video in which he answers the question of why he remains Catholic. I love his answers. (I guess one could say he is, in fact, apologetic because he provides an apologia for his faith.)
Below are two of his lectures. Though he is a philosopher and, therefore, brings his deeper thinking to the topics at hand, I find these talks very accessible. His very French accent is quite thick, but one gets used to it. I have now listened to each a couple of times. They are excellent.
Christ is King. He is the King. There is no other.
By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.’ (Isaiah 45:23)
[F]or it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” (Romans 14:11)
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
Christ is king in both Heaven and on the earth. For some time I have been mulling over this remarkable fact. Remarkable because it seems glaringly true that the king of the world today is not Jesus, but Satan. Remarkable because so many Christians today seem wary of claiming Christ as their king. Rather they seek some kind of détente, some kind of peace with the world made of compromises that seem to hide Christ, to downplay or even deny His kingship. This seems to be the way of Pope Francis, who appears to love syncretism and dislikes evangelism.
But I have a growing tension within me. I find more and more that I don’t want to serve two masters. I don’t want to fall into the same old arguments. Instead I want to claim Christ as my king, bow to Him, and give my life to Him as never before. And I want the Church, Christ’s body on earth, His ruling authority over all the world, to stand up and claim its rightful place. This will require martyrdom will it not? Alas, so many of us, so many of the Church’s leaders, are “men without chests.” Perhaps I have been as well.
I do not have an answer, but I am seeking to understand. I do not know what it will look like, or what I will be called to do. At this point I know I am called to serve and support my family. I need to provide for them, so I do not seek to put all that in jeopardy.
The following are five talks given by a traditional Catholic priest. He offers a traditionalist’s critique of the world today, and provides examples of saints and martyrs who have given their lives for their king. I am not yet knowledgeable enough nor mature enough to know if this priest is 100% on target, and as with many videos I present these contain some cultural and social critiques that I’m still sorting through, but I find generally what he says about Christ’s kingship speaks to my heart and mind. I post these here as part of my process to understand and reflect on this important subject, and to better understand what a traditional Catholic perspective might be.
I really appreciate Stefanie’s story. She is thoughtful, intelligent, not afraid of her emotions, and serious. She also displays genuine humility and a desire to know the Truth. Her story is different than mine in many ways, I tend to shy away from politics and open critiques of other religions, but I find a lot to similarities too. Catholicism was the last place I looked in my own search.
The following are two videos from 2017 with The Most Rev. Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Astana (Kazakhstan). The first is his lecture on the Social Kingship of Christ. The second is a post-lecture Q&A session.
The lecture and Q&A came after his excellency celebrated a Pontifical Solemn Mass. If you are interested, here is that Mass:
Here is a video tour (in French) of the cathedral before the fire. At minute 9:05 they enter the roof area. You can see the wood structure and a couple of fire extinguishers. This is where the fire raced through the building. After watching the fire destroy the roof so ferociously, those fire extinguishers look more like ornaments than useful implements. I have to say, though, this is an amazing video. One gets a great inside, behind the walls as it were, tour of this great cathedral. Even if one doesn’t understand French.
Some video showing what the firefighters were up against:
Some images that caught my eye:
[*Note: I don’t remember where I found these images, so my apologies for not giving proper credit.]
Before and after:
Many are pointing out the fact that the aesthetically strange and seemingly out-of-place modernist altar designed to suit the Novus Ordo/Spirit of Vatican II modernist church has been destroyed under a pile of rubble while the traditional altar designed to suit the Traditional Latin Mass (the Mass for which this church was built) still stands. Some see this as highly symbolic, perhaps even prophetic. I tend to agree, or at least I want it to be true, but I don’t want to read too much into it.
Most every day I pray to St. Pio for a special request. His faith staggers me. I wish I could be such as he was, and I fear it too. What would that look like for me?
This documentary on the life of Padre Pio is remarkable. I so wish for films of such depth and quality for other saints as this one. So many seem thin and sentimental. This one seems honest and artful.
And here is another excellent documentary:
One thing that strikes me while watching these films is noting the contrast of a Catholic culture compared to the non-Catholic culture I experience every day. How amazing it would be to live in such a world. I pray everyday for the return of Christendom. On the other hand, I am grateful that I live in such a time that it is nearly impossible to take for granted moments of true Catholic culture. Christ be praised at all times and in all situations.
“The moment has come in which God asks the Holy Father to make, and to order that in union with him and at the same time, all the bishops of the world make the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart.” Words spoken by Our Lady to Sister Lucy on June 13, 1929. (Frère Michel, The Whole Truth About Fatima, vol. II, p. 555)
Has Russia been consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary? The Church’s official answer is yes. But many say no, and there is evidence that seems to support this opposing view. I am, of course, in no position to know. But the history of the Church in the latter 20th and early 21st centuries most definitely supports a healthy skepticism of almost every official statement or pronouncement that comes out of the Vatican.
A) The consecration of Russia, though “tried” numerous times, has not happened. B) Properly consecrating Russia will be an act of obedience, and obedience is fundamental to the Church’s proper relationship to God. C) The consecration of Russia will bring about the end of Islam and a revival of the Church throughout Europe and the world. Those are essentially the three claims or arguments of the three videos below.
My question is whether those claims are true.
The Fatima Center has been on a mission to tell the world the message of Fatima in its entirety, to make known the full Message of Our Lady of Fatima, and to promote devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They take a decidedly different stance on such things as the Third Secret of Fatima and the Consecration of Russia than the official line. I know very little about this organization, and I know they come from a position often considered far afield from the “official” (or better, “accepted”) line of understanding, but I find their arguments highly compelling, and I tend to shy away from conspiracy theories. Simply, I try my best to look at the world we live in, the Church and its history, Tradition and Holy Scripture, the signs of the times, the nature of Man, the message and context of Fatima, other revelations related to Fatima (e.g. Akita), the various arguments made, and the character of those making the arguments.
Frankly, and perhaps not surprising, those making the case for traditional Catholicism, for a return to the Traditional Latin Mass (and the culture surrounding it), AND for a non-official interpretation of Fatima, can sometimes come across as being culturally and socially at odds with the prevailing mannerisms of of the mainstream society (both within and without the Church). In other words, to some they can seem to be nerds, oddballs, and squares. They can also come across as tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy groupies. The truth is, in a sense they are, and that’s why we should listen to them — not because of their personality traits, but because in today’s world the slick, sophisticated, and hip are too often mouthpieces of the Devil, even when they wear a Roman collar. Those who follow Christ are far more likely to look like cultural outsiders — something which the “Spirit of Vatican II” has wanted desperately to deny.
In short I find these videos compelling, in part because I find the speakers worth listening to (especially David Rodrígez who’s videos I have posted before). I think they are probably right.
Finally, the messages here assume a negative perspective on Islam. I am not against Muslims, I have no reason to be, and neither are the speakers as far as I can tell. However, as a Christian I have to recognize the fact that Islam, as both a religious and social phenomenon, has been, of its own choosing from its very beginning, an enemy of the Catholic Church and traditional Christian culture — and often a violent enemy at that. Consequently and unfortunately the Church has, at times, chosen violence against Islam. There is a war going on that that I would like to see come to a peaceful and harmonious end. I wish peace on earth, between all people, including Christians and Muslims. I do not yet have confidence that is the way it will play out. Regardless, I will try to be at peace with all people and continue to pray for the consecration of Russia. Thus, I do not post these videos as an endorsement but, rather, as part of my process of learning what others think and believe.
In the end, however, we know that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
What do you think? I would like to know more, and to get other’s thoughts. I realize few people comment on personal blogs anymore, but unburthen thyself and let me know what you think, as well as some good resources for further study.
Not all of us can regularly go to Mass in a cathedral of great beauty. Most Catholics have available to them rather humdrum works of architecture for their local parish. But it’s still possible to find beautiful small churches where careful attention to detail and the meaning of form went into their design. And yet, that still relatively rare.
The following video is an excellent look at one of the crown jewels of Catholic cathedrals, Chartres Cathedral in France. This comes from the “Smarthistory. art, history, conversation” YouTube channel. As you watch it, consider how much thought went into this building, and then consider the church where you regularly go to Mass. My point here is not to highlight the great beauty of Chartres compared to the humble local parish, but how carefully the design and the details were thought through and realized in Chartres. Can we achieve such excellence again? And can we achieve something of this in our local parishes? I believe we can and should.
Of course, very few parishes have the resources to build large and lavish churches, but often a church that achieves the right virtue of proper “churchness” is not a matter of resources, or size, or expensive materials, as it is of basic understanding and will. What I mean is that having the right understanding of what a church is and ought to be, and applying one’s minds carefully to its design, even a small church in a small parish can be a work of architecture worthy of worshiping Christ and elevating the faithful to Heaven.
I am surprised at how apparently ignorant so many Catholics are, including many in the hierarchy, about basic church architecture–or seem to be so. Churches are where we celebrate Mass. This is no small matter. Although, perhaps most Catholics are not as ignorance and not caring about such things, believing they are unimportant. However, the church building itself, though not absolutely necessary for celebrating Mass is, nonetheless, the normative place of worship. In it we meet the Real Presence of our Lord and savior, the King of Kings. If we take worship seriously then we should take church design seriously, including for the humble local parish Church. Catholics used to. But we haven’t for some time now. We must again.
I have frequently posted on this and related topics, for example here.
I also love how the speakers in the above video, Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, don’t shy away from orthodox Catholic dogma. This is not a video where the information presented has a condescending tone toward faith and believers. I have no idea if they are Catholics or not, but they just say things as though they are relating how Catholics ought to think of these things. I think this is the best way to present something like Chartres Cathedral. The viewer can make up their own mind, but at least one should know what the builders of Chartres believed and what led to make the kinds of decisions they did.
I have also been reading an excellent book, Visions of Mary : art, devotion, and beauty at Chartres Cathedral by Rev. Jill Kimberly Hartwell Geoffrion. She is a scholar, photographer, and Episcopalian priest who has come to love Chartres and Catholic history. (I pray she takes the leap and become Catholic–perhaps not easy for a woman who is an Episcopalian priest. She would have to give up some things precious to her.) This book takes a look at aspects that speak directly to the Holy Mother, her role in the life of the Church, and how Catholics (especially in times past) think of Mary. It does so by focusing and meditating on specific details of the cathedral. This book makes me want to go to Chartres and spend some significant time with the Cathedral, taking pictures and making sketches and just attending to it.
As I see it, architects should look at Chartres, and similarly excellent Catholic churches, as inspiration to how they should think about church design in general, and then apply that understanding to every Catholic church building, even the most humble and simple of churches. I also believe the faithful should know these things too, being encouraged in the faith, but also demanding churches actually be Catholic in their designs.
Of course, church design tends to flow from intended use, thus a church designed to serve the needs of the Traditional Latin Mass will necessarily look different than one designed to serve the needs of a Novus Ordo Mass. This is why, when the Novus Ordo was promulgated, so many older churches had their altar rails removed, altars brought closer to the nave, and other changes because the Novus Ordo felt wrong in a traditional space. And this is also why the Novus Ordo still feels out of place in a traditional church even after those kinds of changes have been made, because arches, stained glass, cruciform floor plans, and other harder-to-change elements don’t fit the New Mass. The contemporary modernist church needs a more Protestant style, entertainment hall. Thus, it’s more than merely the architecture that often needs to change.
“They believe the future is theirs. If they just hang on long enough the liberal pope they dream of will come.”
“They cannot endure the orthodoxy of the young.”
In 1993 Dr. William H. Marshner gave a two-part lecture on modernism. It is amazing how relevant these lectures are for us today. The modernists now have their liberal pope, and they are utterly perplexed by the young Catholics clamoring for orthodoxy and tradition.
Is this a good church? Does it properly serve the purpose of a church? Many would say no. In fact this church is frequently presented by traditionalists as a prime example of terrible church design. Why?
Michael Rose had some thoughts on this topic. The basics are presented here. In short, the idea is that there is no journey towards God, from the profane to the sacred, in a round church design. It is, rather, made for a celebration of community and not the Eucharist. Though perhaps providing excellent acoustics for singing prayers, it is arguably not designed for proper worship in terms of offering sacrifice by a priest to God on behalf of the Church. Of course, in our Novus Ordo world which is focused more on the “people of God” in communion with each other more so than on the Bride of Christ worshiping God, many would argue with this argument. A round church, one supposes, serves better the idea that the faithful are gathered around a table for a meal.
Also, the church was completed in 1962, before the council had done anything, and long before the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated. These architectural ideas had been around for some time before the council.
Perhaps what I found most telling in the video linked above is the moment when Fr. Timothy says, “neither the architect nor we knew what we were doing.” I find this particularly emblematic of that era. It was a time when so many felt the strong need to throw off the past and create the future, but then discovered they didn’t know what to do. It made me think of this famous passage from G. K. Chesterton:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
There’s nothing wrong with asking if the way we have always built churches is the best. There is nothing wrong with exploring other possibilities. But, at the end of the day, we always discover our experimentations come from someplace, and the more we are unclear in our own minds the more likely other forces, spiritual or otherwise, will rule the day, and us. My take, and this applies to the “spirit” of the council and all that means, is that a great deal was done, including a great deal of destruction and deformation, because people had grown tired of the old ways and of old things. And I believe they grew tired because they ceased to truly know what they meant and what they were for.
Nonetheless, I pose the question: Is this a good Catholic church? Is it a proper design for what a Catholic church is meant to be?
Below is a time capsule Mass celebration in the church made for television:
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:
In a similar way that the Counter-Reformation, as its name describes, countered the Reformation, the Church must again counter a new “reformation.” But this new reformation has really been more of an internal revolution of modernism that has cause enormous damage within the Church as well as outside. Many have felt strongly that some kind of rediscovery and return to the rich architectural traditions of the Church, much like the return to the Traditional Latin Mass, should play a major role in this new counter-reformation. I agree.
Duncan Stroik is a practicing architect and devout Catholic who specializes in church design. He has been on a crusade of sorts to bring back to the foreground the traditions of church design that were once taken for granted and then largely lost (but, of course, not really lost, for we still have many examples). He is a leading voice in the return to beautiful and properly designed churches “movement,” if that’s the right word for it. He is also an author and Professor of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame.
Here is a recent lecture he gave, along with numerous examples, on twelve points of this new counter-reformation. This was part of the Catholic Artists Society’s 2018 Art of the Beautiful lecture series at New York University’s Catholic Center: