February 21, 2000
volume 11, no. 36

To print out entire text
of Today's issue, go to


    Pat Ludwa, a committed lay Catholic from Cleveland, has been asked to contribute, on a regular basis, a lay person's point of view on the Church today. We have been impressed with his insight and the clear logic he brings to the table from his "view from the pew." In all humility, by his own admission, he feels he has very little to offer, but we're sure you'll agree with us that his viewpoint is exactly what millions of the silent majority of Catholics believe and have been trying to say as well. Pat puts it in words that help all of us better understand and convey to others what the Church teaches and we must believe.

    Today Pat constructs an excellent argument against the modernist rationale for gutting our churches of the reverence, art and architecture that identified Catholic churches as Catholic and truly holy ground. Through the sound Vatican II document Sancrosanctum Consilium Pat nails down reasons why we cannot continue building sterile auditoriums that pass as churches for the syllogism narrows down to the weakening not only of the sense of sacred, but of the tenets of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as well. That is the gist of his important column today, Secularizing the Sacred - part three: Bunker Mentality: Art and Architecture in the Liturgy.

    For past columns by Pat Ludwa, click on VIEW FROM THE PEW Archives   If you want to send him ideas or feedback, you can reach him at

Secularizing the Sacred part three: Bunker Mentality: Art and Architecture in the Liturgy

      "If you wish to see great Modernist architecture you must have plenty of time and your own Lear jet."
      Robert Krier

        I have been blessed to have seen some great churches and Cathedrals. To see the Cathedral in Aachen and realize that it was built in the time of Charlemagne is astounding, awe inspiring. It evokes the love and devotion these people had toward God.

        To see the Dom (Cathedral) in Florence, built during the Renaissance, again speaks to the continuing love and devotion these people had for God. And St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, what can one say. In fact, there are no words that can describe the sense of awe and grandeur there. It doesn't just speak of love and devotion, it shouts it!

        I have been blessed to see such beauty even in smaller churches. Inside the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels (from which Los Angeles derives it's name: Santa Maria de Los Angeles) there is the Portiuncula, the Little Portion. Just outside of Assisi, inside this grand Basilica is the little church St. Francis built with his own hands. Again, the art and form of it is no less awe inspiring; as is St. James in Lakewood Ohio. Big or small, when one entered these churches, one got the sense they were in the presence of God, that they were on holy ground.

        But the trend today seems to gut or tear down these visible signs of God's glory on earth in favor of simpler, blander, community centered structures. I've heard it said that L.A. is building a new Cathedral which looks more like a bunker than a church. Not only is the interior and exterior structures of these churches empty of expression and any sense of the sacred, often times, anything they feel a distraction, the Tabernacle, statues, etc, are removed as well. Placed either in some ante-chamber away from the nave, or removed altogether.

        The reasons are as varied as modernist theology which claims,

      "The Second Vatican Council requires us to reject traditional church architecture and design new churches in a Modernist style."
    Nothing could be further from the truth. "The Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her very own; she has admitted styles from every period according to the natural talents and circumstances of peoples, and the needs of the various rites. Thus, in the course of the centuries, she has brought into being a treasury of art which must be very carefully preserved. The art of our own days, coming from every race and region, shall also be given free scope in the Church, provided that it adorns the sacred buildings and holy rites with due reverence and honor; thereby it is enabled to contribute its own voice to that wonderful chorus of praise in honor of the Catholic faith sung by great men in times gone by." (Vatican II; SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM; Chapter VII Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings; #123)

        How does "in the course of the centuries, she has brought into being a treasury of art which must be very carefully preserved" translate to "The Second Vatican Council requires us to reject traditional church architecture and design new churches in a Modernist style"? Simple, it doesn't. In fact, it's another indication that someone is passing off Vatican II teachings without even reading Vatican II.

        Another response is:

      "New churches must be designed in accordance with the document Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, published by the Bishop's Committee on Liturgy in 1977."
    Here we have another problem. The document came from the Bishop's committee, not the Bishops. In fact, it was never even voted on by the Bishops and therefore holds no canonical weight. "Because the document "Environment and Art" focuses on hospitality, the human experience, the contemporeity of art--all valid points--it tends to see the experience of the sacred (or of the mystery) in terms of a "simple and attractive beauty" (n. 12) and the liturgy as demanding quality in artifacts, which comes when there is "love and care in the making of something, honesty and genuineness with any materials used, and the artist's special gifts in producing a harmonious whole, a well-crafted work" (n. 20). The liturgy also demands that works of art bear "the weight of mystery, awe, reverence and wonder" and serve the liturgical action carried out in the assembly of worshippers (n. 21). While these guidelines are well intentioned, they clearly flow from the "form follows function" school of aesthetic and do not give us a clearly transcendent vision as the brief but pithy sentence in the opening paragraph of Chapter V of the general instruction in the Roman missal which states: "The buildings and requisites for worship as signs and symbols of heavenly things, should be truly worthy and beautiful" (n. 253). I think it is the loss of the vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem that has given us such lack-luster environments in which to pray and such dull service music to sing when we do so." (Will Beauty Look After Herself? Sacred Music, Fall 1990; Giles R. Dimock, O.P.) [I believe a newer letter on Art and Environment has been issued but I have yet to see any action taken on it]

        Some more excuses are:

      "It is impossible for us to build beautiful churches today" and "We can't afford to build beautiful churches today. The Church doesn't have the money it had in the past."
    Well the first argument is empty, one might as well say saints are impossible for us to have today. Nothing is impossible for those who have the desire and will to do it. All things considered, it was probably even more impossible for the citizens of Aachen to built that beautiful cathedral in their day than it is for us today. As for the second excuse, that deals more with the lack of faith than the lack of money. When Catholics were on lower echelons of American economics, we built beautiful churches. Today, we've joined the affluent, are they saying we're poorer today?


      "The money spent on churches is better spent on serving the less fortunate, feeding the hungry and educating the young."
    Now where have we heard that before? "Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples (he who was to betray Him), said, 'Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?' This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. Jesus said, 'Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of My burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me'" (John 12:3-8).

        "If the church were merely a meeting place this view would be legitimate. However, a beautiful church is also a house for the poor, a place of spiritual feeding, and a catechism in stone. The church is a beacon and a city set on a hill. It can evangelize, by expressing the beauty, permanence, and transcendence of Christianity. Most importantly, the church building is an image of our Lord's body, and in constructing a place of worship we become like the woman anointing Christ's body with precious ointment." (Ten Myths of Contemporary Church Architecture; Duncan Stroik [A.I.A.; an architect and associate professor of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame] Sacred Architecture, Fall 1998)


      "The fan shape, in which everyone can see the assembly and be close to the altar, is the most appropriate form for expressing the full, active and conscious participation of the body of Christ."
    "This myth comes out of the extreme view that the assembly is the primary symbol of the church. While the fan shape is a wonderful shape for theater, for lectures, even for representative government - it is not an appropriate shape for the liturgy. Ironically, the reason often stated for using the fan shape is to encourage participation, yet the semicircular shape is derived from a room for entertainment. The fan shape does not derive from the writings of the Second Vatican Council, it derives from the Greek or Roman theater. Up until recently, it was never used as a model for Catholic churches. In fact, the first theater churches were 19th century Protestant auditoriums designed so as to focus on the preacher." (Ibid)

        Recently, when my wife asked our liturgist why we used the term 'presider' instead of celebrant, the response was that she had no good reason except that 'since the assembly, the community, celebrates Eucharist with the priest it's more appropriate.' Thing is, as said before 'we' don't celebrate the Mass as the priest does. If the focus of the liturgy is on God, then the fan is a bad idea, but if the community is the focus...well.


      "The church building should be designed with noble simplicity. Devotional chapels and images of saints distract and take away from the liturgy."
    Once, if you entered a church, there was little chance you'd mistake it for anything but a Catholic church. Again, if the focus is on God, then the Tabernacle and the crucifix draws ones attention toward God. The devotional chapels, the statues, remind us that we are one Church with the saints and they and the angels are with us in celebrating the glory of God. But what these 'images' do distract us from is the community as the focus of the liturgy. In fact, this view is nothing more than neo-iconoclasm.

        "The art historian, Winckelmann used 'noble simplicity' as early as 1755 to describe the genuine work of art that combined sensual and spiritual elements as well as beauty and moral ideas into one sublime form - which for him was embodied in classical Greek art. Thus 'noble simplicity' must not be confused with mere functionalism, abstract minimalism or crude banality." (Ibid)

        In fact, again, Vatican II teaches just the opposite: "Ordinaries, by the encouragement and favor they show to art which is truly sacred, should strive after noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display. This principle is to apply also in the matter of sacred vestments and ornaments. Let bishops carefully remove from the house of God and from other sacred places those works of artists which are repugnant to faith, morals, and Christian piety, and which offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretense." (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy; SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM; Chapter VII; Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings #124)

        What do we see in many modern churches? Felt hangings, tree branches, etc. Instead of beautiful statues, mosaics, tabernacles or crucifixes, we got things that "offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretense."


      "In the past, people saw the church building as the domus Dei or 'house of God', today we have gone back to the early Christian view of the church as domus ecclesia or 'house of people of God.'"
    Well, here we go with the distortion of history again to foster the notion that the focus is the community, the 'people of God' and not God Himself. "it is an antinomial view, derived from the Enlightenment, which claims that a church cannot be both God's house and the house of His people, who are members of His body. When the church is thought of merely as house of the people of God, it becomes designed as a horizontal living room or an auditorium. These two historic names, domus Dei and domus ecclesia, express two distinct but complimentary natures of the church building as the presence of God, and the community called together by God. "These visible churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ." (The Catechism) (Ten Myths of Contemporary Church Architecture by Duncan Stroik)

        And finally:

      "Since God dwells everywhere, He is just as present in the parking lot as in a church. Therefore, church buildings should no longer be seen as sacred places."
    "When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, 'Moses, Moses!' And he said, 'Here am I.' Then He said, 'Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground'" (Exodus 3:4-5).

    "And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, 'It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you make it a den of robbers'" (Matthew 21:12-13).

        If a church is not a sacred place, if it is not holy ground, then why do we read this? But there is always a vigil light lit by the Tabernacle to remind us that God IS present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. His Real Presence is there. If that doesn't make it holy ground and a sacred place, what does?

        However, if you remove God, if you cease to focus on Him and on yourself, then it isn't that it's not sacred, but that you have desecrated it. Made it a den of thieves.

        In closing, we can ask. If then you enter a church which doesn't look like a church...if it doesn't sound like a church...and the people don't act as though they're IN a church, a sacred, then, can we expect any one to give glory and honor to God in the church? The church, the Mass, the hymns, go from being acts of a faithful parish giving honor and glory to God to an assembly gathering together with a presider for a community event. And if it is simply a community event, then one need not go if one doesn't feel like it. One need not direct one's mind, heart and entire life to God, but can go it alone, as they will.

        Looked at individually, many of these things seem okay, but taken as a whole, we see real dangers. As I told one person, it's as though you were on your hands and knees, looking closely at a piece of granite. It looks okay and secure. But when you rise and look at the whole of it, you notice you're at a cliff's edge...and it's cracking.

    Pax Christi, Pat


February 21, 2000
volume 10, no. 36

To print out text of Today's issue, go to:

The DAILY CATHOLIC Search for anything
from the last three
years in past issues of
the DailyCATHOLIC: