Tag Archives: worship

The Mass is about Worship

I love this video. Fr. Mike Schmitz does such a great job of cutting through a tendency so many of us have. That is, he takes to task the idea that the Mass is about us and what each of us can “get out of it.” Rather, he says, the Mass is about worship, and that worship requires sacrifice. Watch the video to get a better understanding of what I am poorly representing.

I am convinced that if more Catholics focused on worship at Mass, many of the disputes about what form is best, or what music is best, or should we hold hands or not, etc, etc, would just go away.

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Was the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass Pope Paul VI’s Bay of Pigs?

“How could I have been so stupid.” – President John F. Kennedy


I’m going to go off half cocked here, but oh well…

bay of pigs

Captured Bay of Pigs invasion forces walking towards their fate.

After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, with all its subsequent political fallout and public humiliation, various reports were issued as to why such a fiasco happened. One common view is that the Kennedy administration and CIA succumbed to the psychological condition known as “group think.” This idea of an influential and highly informed group of individuals moving forward on a known-to-be doomed plan, with no one seriously raising concerns to the commander-in-chief, and giving the go-ahead which resulted in lives lost, reputations forever sullied, and a country’s population reeling from humiliation on the world stage, made me wonder if there is a similarity to the post-Vatican II decisions regarding the Novus Ordo Mass.

I realize this sounds extremely harsh, especially to those who don’t have a problem with the new Mass. However, with the level of anger and vehemence raised by not a few towards Pope Paul VI and the Novus Ordo, and the claims by rather smart people that it has only caused catastrophic damage to the Church, I think it’s a fair question to ask.

So, did good intentions (however understood) snowball into far greater changes than most ever imagined? Did J.F.K. feel that he had inherited a plan that he had to execute? Did Pope Paul VI feel the same way when he “inherited” the Second Vatican Council and its “inevitable” outcomes, in particular the new Mass? Did few raise concerns because they assumed everyone else was on board and they didn’t want to be the only one making a fuss? Was the feeling that the trajectory was already set and  could no longer be changed? Was it group think?

I would not even consider such a comparison if there had not been the profoundly negative impacts in terms of Catholics leaving the Church, vocations going unheard and unheeded, monasteries closing, church building being raised, loss of beauty and reverence in the Mass, and numerous other ramifications since the council, and especially since the promulgation of the new Mass. I do recognize this is more a correlative argument and not so much a causal one. But just as J.F.K. inherited the CIA plan and trusted his advisors, I have been wondering if a similar comparison can be made regarding Pope Paul VI. Did he inherit a plan, or perhaps a movement, that surged forward with a kind on inevitability? Was he “carried along?” Did Pope Paul VI go along as though he was unable to put the brakes on? Was he merely weak or perhaps unskilled at leadership?


No longer needed. Traditional church furnishings.

One might think this was the case. Consider some of the things Pope Paul VI said at his General Audience, November 26, 1969, only a couple of days before the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated.

He speaks of innovation: “We ask you to turn your minds once more to the liturgical innovation of the new rite of the Mass.” We know there has traditionally been great reticence in the Church towards innovation in such matters.

He indicated that the changes affect the Church’s traditions: “A new rite of the Mass: a change in a venerable tradition that has gone on for centuries. This is something that affects our hereditary religious patrimony, which seemed to enjoy the privilege of being untouchable and settled.” He almost seems worried at the change, and even feels the need to call out that the Mass is actually unchangeable.

He points out tradition is valuable, and maybe now we will understand its value: “It is at such a moment as this that we get a better understanding of the value of historical tradition and the communion of the saints.” He seems to call out the need to retain what is valuable rather than move away from it.

He says some will be annoyed: “We shall become aware, perhaps with some feeling of annoyance, that the ceremonies at the altar are no longer being carried out with the same words and gestures to which we were accustomed—perhaps so much accustomed that we no longer took any notice of them.” Here it almost seems like he is offering a kind of apology. He also seems to say that now we will take notice of what we have accustomed to, which assumes that we then will not be losing those things, just appreciating them more, which assumes that they shouldn’t go away.

And he says many other things about the Novus Ordo being novel, inconvenient, and affecting in particular the pious and the faithful. He also says these changes will help wake us up in a sense, that it will “draw them out of their customary personal devotions or their usual torpor.” Which begs the question, once drawn out of one’s torpor do we go back with fresh eyes and eager hearts to our heritage? It also seems he is saying the purpose is to help us re-appreciate the traditional Latin Mass–as though we need to take a rough detour to help us love the smooth highway once again. Food for thought, especially if we take the long view.

One can almost get the sense that Pope Paul VI was trying to put a good face on something that he felt was not great at best, and maybe a big mistake at worst. Certainly there is a hint of trepidation. But…

church demo

Catholic church in Germany being demolished because of too few parishioners to keep it open.

I have come to the conclusion that Pope Paul VI was the movement, that these words from his general audience are, in fact, representative of his genuine excitement for the coming changes. Perhaps he regretted how some of it played out, but I doubt he ever really wavered in his decisions.

I want to be careful with this comparison. I have no intention to draw too close a comparison. Still, it is widely known that Martin Luther, the rebellious monk who became a catalyst and firebrand for the Protestant Reformation, and one who sought great changes for the sake of getting back to something more pure, later regretted much of what was done in the name of his disputation. Though Luther did not regret his doctrinal positions, he regretted how politically explosive it all became, and how quickly fellow Christians embraced divisive and polarizing positions to the point of a continuing and pervasive disunity within the Body of Christ. Of course, without political backing his “project” would likely have died or been relegated to a kind of heterodox strand within the history of the Church as so many other breakaway Protestant groups were. This has been basically true for all the “strands” of the Reformation. Still, Luther was absolutely convinced of his path and what he felt was his clear calling. It also seems clear such is the case regarding Pope Paul VI.

How then should we think of Pope Paul VI? I believe the answer to the question at the beginning of this post is no. The promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass was not Pope Paul VI’s Bay of Pigs. It was what he wanted, and he knew it would create a lot of turmoil. But, in a sense, it was.

First, this quote from Giovanni Battista Montini, then Bishop of Milan and future Pope Paul VI, conveys his thinking in 1958, years before the council, about the need to radically change the Mass:

The Latin is not the only obstacle [to modern man’s participation]. The difficulty arises principally from the way in which the liturgy expresses the prayer of the Church and the divine mysteries. The variety of its forms, the dramatic progression of its rites, the hieratic style of its language, the continual use of sign and symbol, the theological depth of the words and the mysteries fulfilled—all seem to conspire to impede the understanding of the liturgy, especially for the modern man, accustomed to reducing everything to an extreme intelligibility…. [The faithful] will find themselves excluded from its inner spiritual precincts, whereas the progress of culture has accustomed them to understanding and knowing all about everything in their environment and field of interest. We must transform the difficulty posed by the liturgical rite into a help for the penetration of the hidden meaning contained in Catholic worship.¹

This shows that the “spirit of Vatican II” was strong in this bishop long before the council, not only regarding what we read in the texts from the council, but also regarding the radical changes that later occurred.

Perhaps most telling is the last line that speaks to the modernist desire to deny the actual reality of the mystery of faith. Mystery is presented as a problem to be solved, as though it can be. The faithful should now have worship of God be entirely understandable, that they would finally know the hidden meaning — as though the meaning was hidden in and by the old rite (because of the rite itself) rather than because of the very nature of God and of faith. Pope Paul VI was a true believer in the changes wrought by the new Mass. He thought it really would bring about an enormous rebirth and rejuvenation of faith within the Church precisely because the Mass would now be without any “hidden meaning” getting in the way. I know little about this pope, and even less about his core ideas, but in this particular sense he strikes me as a modernist, a child of the Enlightenment.


Did the Pope see the future?

This leads me to why I believe the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass was Pope Paul VI’s Bay of Pigs. The failed Cuba invasion failed precisely because it did not do what its planners claimed it would do based on assumptions that, on later reflection were poor and very naive, and was executed because no one wanted to stand in the way of its momentum. The promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass, it is arguable (and has repeatedly been argued), has been directly responsible for great numbers of Catholics leaving the Church, many churches and monasteries closing their doors, parishes having to combine, Catholic schools closing or becoming in practice non-Catholic, very low new vocations, etc, etc, etc. Perhaps the only difference is that Pope Paul VI was not around long enough to see the full effect of the results and exclaim: “How could I have been so stupid.” (I mean no disrespect to the holy father.)

And yet, and yet… in a sense he had profound insight. Perhaps the old Mass, and pre-council Catholicism in the west was, in some way, dead or dying. Not because numbers were low, but because so many Catholics took the old rite for granted. He says just as much in his general audience address. Today we are seeing a resurgence of interest in the TLM, but this time with great passion and actual participation by the laity. Piety now seems to be combined with hearts on fire. Perhaps the pendulum is swinging back, driven by a renewed interest founded on a renewed understanding and thus aiming towards an authentic realization of the value and purpose of worship itself.

So… in conclusion, I have come to see Pope Paul VI in a new light. I think the results of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and let’s face it, a lot of crazy garbage happened in those years, will be a new flourishing of the Church. I can’t say Pope Paul VI saw all this, but it seems God used him to accomplish some important changes that only now may be coming to light.

Like I said at the beginning, half cocked.

  1. Giovanni Battista Montini, “Liturgical Formation: Pastoral Letter to the Archdiocese of Milan for Lent 1958,” English translation in Worship 33 (1958–59), 136–64; at 153–54. Found in: Kwasniewski, Peter A., and Martin Mosebach. Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages. 2017. Page 19-20.

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Traditional Latin Mass at Notre-Dame de Paris to commemorate Summorum Pontificum

July 7, 2017 was the ten-year anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio (Apostolic Letter) Summorum Pontificum. Those of you who love the traditional Latin Mass know the importance of this letter.

On that anniversary a traditional Latin Mass was celebrated as a commemoration and celebration at the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral. Here it is. It’s worth watching full screen with the audio up.

Things I observe:

  • The Mass is not stuffy or old feeling. It is certainly traditional, but does not seem at all out of date. The word is “timeless.”
  • A traditional Latin Mass seems more appropriate in Notre-Dame de Paris than does a Novus Ordo Mass (which one can find on the Notre-Dame website linked above). I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. That is, the “fittingness” of the form of the Mass (NO or TLM) and the church setting.
  • The Mass is beautiful. I am not against the Novus Ordo Mass. I have experienced some beautiful ones. I also participated in the choir at a Latin Novus Ordo Mass recently celebrated in my parish. However, this Mass above is truly beautiful and feels appropriate when one thinks that the King is present in their midst.
  • They have someone to direct the singing of the congregation. We could use that in the TLM I go to once a month in a nearby parish. It can get confusing without someone directing for those of us who are still learning the TLM (which is most of us).
  • The church is full. Maybe this is always true for this famous and grand cathedral, but on a hot and humid July day in Paris (many of the congregation fan themselves) this church is packed. Apparently not a few folks in France like the old ways.
  • At times I wonder if they are used to celebrating the TLM at Notre-Dame. I see little moments that seem to indicate not everything is going 100% smooth, that they are trying hard to make it work — and they do. I could be reading into it as well.
  • There is a mix of old chant and more “recent” polyphony (18th century, etc.). At least one of the polyphonic songs (really a prayer) I sang in the choir at our Latin Novus Ordo Mass.
  • I have never been to France, but I love this church. I studied it in art history class. What beauty and grandeur. A church truly appropriate to celebrate Mass in. Someday I may get there.
  • I love the moments of silence. This is one more reason the TLM is an antidote to our modern world. Silence is necessary for our humanity and our worship of God.
  • Latin! I love that I can follow the Mass even though they are French and I am not. We have a shared faith, and shared language, and a shared worship. This is true in many ways with the Novus Ordo Mass, but Latin brings us all together.
  • There is no altar rail. I don’t know if there never was, or if it was removed at some point (French Revolution? Post Vatican II?). I see some people having trouble kneeling to receive communion — bad knees, age, etc. I can relate. But kneeling is appropriate.
  • I love the humanity. Parisians dress better than where I’m from, but I see all kinds — well dressed, casual, sloppy, women with veils, most without, some folks with praying hands, some with arms crossed, some confused, some seeming to know exactly what is going on, etc., etc. All very human.
  • Excellent video coverage. Beautiful.
  • I must be strange to enjoy watching a complete Mass, but I did.

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Star Wars, Pageantry, and the Mass

In the summer of 1977 I was a boy of eleven looking for things to do with my friends. So, when a sci-fi samurai western fantasy movie, panned by critics and expected to fail big, came to an old single-screen theater without any air conditioning in my hometown, I and a friend just had to check it out. I loved the movie so much I saw it six times that week, and twelve times that year. Of course the movie was Star Wars.

To say the film was immensely popular is an understatement. Why it was such a hit and spawned perhaps the greatest movie franchise in history seems obvious now. The film had great characters, sets, costumes, action sequences, soundtrack, and it followed the classic hero’s journey, which meant the story had deep and broad timeless appeal. But I would also argue that its pageantry played a big role in the film’s success. In particular, the final scene before the credits, in which the principal characters get their recognition and rewards, is a scene of formal, royal, and solemn pageantry. It ties up the story in a perfect bow.

In case you need to be reminded:

I want to posit the need for this scene to exist in order for Star Wars to have succeeded. You see, human beings are designed in such a manner that proper pageantry feeds our souls, clarifies the world, and focuses our passions towards nobility — and our souls are designed to love nobility. Think of an Olympic Games medal ceremony. Is it needed? Absolutely. Does it determine who won? No. But it is the most proper action for the sport at that moment, in that setting — it is about the glory of sport. In Star Wars this final ceremony casts the rest of the story in the right light. Theses characters are not merely winners, they are glorious. And the audience is ennobled as they carry some of that nobility, now in their hearts, beyond the closing credits and into their daily lives. In short, that final scene is what the movie is all about.

I want to argue that something like that final scene in Star Wars, something like that kind of pageantry, is both proper and necessary to the Mass.

A Mass can be very simple and humble. Even the hood of a jeep on the battlefield can serve as a makeshift altar.

Robert Capa 937

Using the hood of a jeep as an altar, a Roman Catholic chaplain saying mass at the inauguration of an American cemetery, Omaha Beach, Normandy. Photo by Robert Capa, 1944.

A Mass can also have all the royal pageantry of a coronation. Think of the coronation of a Medieval king. There is pageantry, awe, solemnity, beauty, and reverence. There is also appropriate action: kneeling, proclamations, prayers, and a crowning — which requires the physical object of a crown.


The coronation of Charlemagne, Christmas day, 800 A.D. Painting by Friedrich Kaulbach, 1861

And with a coronation there is also a change in ontology. In others words, a man actually becomes a king. The pageantry is not merely symbolic. In some very real way a man has actually changed — a man made king, king made flesh. This sort of understanding is something that was lost on the way to modernity. This is something we moderns do not understand well in an overt sense.

But we still act sometimes as though it is, in fact, true. In other words we believe it, though we might want to admit it for what it is. Our actions give us away. Watching the Olympics I am struck by how many times it’s mentioned that once an athlete has become a medal winner they will always be one, and that cannot be take away from them. They have changed from a non-Olympic medalist to an Olympic medalist. They are set apart. They are now an Olympian. They walk the earth as a different creature.


1980 Winter Olympics Hockey Medal Ceremony

There is another activity we do that speaks volumes to this reality, and that is with our liturgical action in the Mass. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We believe in transubstantiation, that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Knowing what we know, the Mass becomes a pageant of Christ the King. We celebrate His death and resurrection with kneeling, proclamations, prayers, and a sacrifice. It has all the solemnity and reverence of temple worship, of a wedding, and of a coronation.


A Traditional Latin Mass properly celebrated

Catholics are always faced with the questions of 1) do you truly believe in the Real Presence and, if so, 2) how should behave when in the presence of your king and savior and your God? Treating the Mass for what it is obligates Catholics to certain behaviors. We may not want to be overly prescriptive and proscriptive, but it’s fair to say that we all can figure out basic ideas of of action, dress, and other factors based on our culture, history, and humanness.

God does not need our worship. We don’t go to Mass because God needs us to go. Rather, God gave us the Mass so that we might draw closer to Him, and that we might be fortified against the pressures of the world. The Mass is a gift, and worship is like a healthy diet and exercise. The closer our worship is to what is most proper, the better it is for us.

A truly solemn Novus Ordo Mass can provide this fairly well, but nothing compares to the beautiful and appropriate action of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, a.k.a. the Traditional Latin Mass. Here is an example* from a parish in Paris:

Notice how this Mass has a kind of similarity to the pageantry of the Star Wars scene above, especially once the organ begins (okay, I know it’s no John Williams score) and the procession enters the nave and sanctuary. People only do these kinds of things in the presence of royalty. A Mass like this is one of the most human activities any of us can experience. It is strangely foreign to our daily experience, but then again it is Heaven on Earth, and thus not quotidien. Still, we are made for this. God created us to need this kind of liturgy (the work of the people) and to be fed by such appropriate pageantry.

To not see this truth is to be broken in some substantial way. Modernity breaks people. The Devil breaks people. Sin does too, but modernity, as a tool of the Devil, has a special desire to rid humanity of right praise towards God. Evangelical Protestant attempts at worship recognize the need at some level, but fail because of some fundamental theological flaws, namely the disbelief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. This disbelief has many consequences, including the development of a non-sacramental view of creation and our faith, and this leads to a false anthropology to such a degree that true Christian pageantry is lost and even disdained. Without the Real Presence there is no King in the building and thus no worship except, perhaps, our own vanity. Poor theology breaks people too.

*This example is of a SSPX Mass. I’m not including it to promote the SSPX, but they do know how to celebrate a Traditional Latin Mass, and I truly love the inclusion of the very human life that infuses the Mass — people arriving, families, sounds and textures, etc.

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Quaerere Deum: A look at the daily life of the Benedictine Monks of Norcia

The true Benedict option:

From the YouTube description: “In the Jubilee year 2000 the monks of Norcia breathed new life into the birthplace of St Benedict. Armed with only their faith and zeal they founded a monastic community which has been attracting men from all over the world to follow St. Benedict’s ancient Rule. Many of their friends have long wanted an insight into the inner workings of their life and so they have produced this high quality up to date film which shows the monks as they go through the daily ora et labora. The title of the film, ‘Quaerere Deum,’ means to Seek God. This is the true calling of all monks, the first and most essential quality of an authentic monastic vocation, as laid out in the Rule of our Holy Father St. Benedict.”

The Monks of Norcia website.

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Loving the Cruciform Church

cyprus kouka

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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St. Mary Catholic Church Sanctuary Project: Thoughts Towards an Understanding of the Proper Placement of the High Altar and Tabernacle in the Church Sanctuary

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 don’t know if 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 content. 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.



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


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).


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.


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.

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 9.07.41 AM

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.


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:


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:


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?

st.mary projection (1)

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.

st.mary projection1 (2)

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