Search This Blog

Monday, June 09, 2003

Creeping Restorationism?

Maybe, but it's all-but imperceptible in most places.

Amy Welborn links to this cheering article about a Connecticut parish going the extra mile(s) to preserve Catholic tradition. The parishioners had a 16.5 ton marble high altar moved and installed at their church, to the delight of those in their 20s and their 60s.

Thank God for anonymous donors, one of whom essentially footed the bill for the project. Another local priest is quoted as saying this is part of a trend:

Renovations like those at St. Mary's are part of a wider movement in the Catholic Church, according to the Rev. Gregoire Fluet, pastor of St. Bridget of Kildare in Moodus. A return to classical styles of architecture and decoration in the churches coincides with a renewed emphasis on the “otherworldliness and mystery” of faith, Fluet said.

“There is an effort to bring a certain sense of mysticism back to Catholic worship,” Fluet said. “I think in the '60s the emphasis was more on the here and now. But people look to religion to point them to truths beyond the here and now.”

The work at St. Mary is more than superficial, Fluet said. “It's a rediscovery of our roots.”

It looks magnificent. Unfortunately, I don't agree that there's any real restoration momentum yet. Perhaps among some parishes. Ours, for example, has seen something along these lines: the commissioning and placing of an icon of the martyred saint for whom our church is named, the purchase of a statute of St. Joseph, and institution of the Divine Mercy chaplet (by a guy in his mid-30s). There's also a growing clamor for kneelers, which is increasingly likely to be successful, now that kneeling is being enforced.

But I certainly don't think such is the case at the diocesan level. To use a sports analogy (me?), the bishops are too enamored with the spartan Pontiac Silverdome/Busch Stadium/New Comiskey multipurpose style to let it go.

This week, centering prayer. Next week, a gathering of municipal officials for a conference. The week following: car-crushing monster truck action. (ACTIONACTIOnACTIonACTionACtion.....)

All right, fine. Maybe not number 3. At least not yet.

Meanwhile, much of secular architecture is trying to reclaim a treasured past, which can be seen both in sports (e.g., Camden Yards, Comerica Park) and in urban design (the movement to recreate "downtowns" in suburbia). There's a recognition that identity has been lost, and with it, our moorings. Which is partially the reason why the generic Silverdome (like the Kingdome and Astrodome before it) has a date with a wrecking ball. They were bloated convention centers first, and sports venues second. And the people could tell the difference. Contrast the unlamented 'Dome with Ford Field, which deliberately incorporates Detroit's industrial tradition, going so far as to close off a street and use the warehouse wall across that street as part of the structure.

But first and foremost, Ford Field is a great place to watch football. As is Comerica Park a great place to watch baseball. Why? In large measure, because tradition was remembered, reclaimed, and applied to new settings. Comerica Park is a ball park, and one that remembers and honors the past, complete with statues of Tiger heroes. It's not flawless, but there is an obvious recognition that fans have a living connection to the past, even if they never saw the games "their" heroes played. I never saw Hal Newhouser throw a pitch, but I can vigorously defend his induction into the Hall of Fame. The Park says: "You, like millions before you, are part of the living tradition of Tiger baseball." [No matter how wretched it's been lately.]

This should be the idea in every non-expansion sports venue, but it's odd how often that simple premise got lost.

Which is too often the case in church architecture. Ultimately, what is the church building for? Lord knows the Archdiocese of Detroit didn't get a restoration memo when Blessed Pipe Organ--er, Sacrament--Cathedral got the by-now obligatory renovation. The overall effect is as though someone put a spoiler, blower and Firebird decal from a '78 Trans-Am on a Bentley. IOW, you immediately notice the additions, right down to the easily-moved seating. Moreover, the Archdiocese is positively giddy about the Cathedral's multipurpose possibilities as a hospitality center. Which is odd, given the fact Detroit has a superb de facto convention center.

And you thought it was a domus dei. Silly layman....Not that it's all bad, of course--some real, welcome and necessary improvements have been made. But much of the connection with the past was severed in the "forward" movement's changes. The stained glass (beautifully restored) is the only obvious connection left.

And don't get me started on L'Edifice Mahony, where the most-overtly traditional touches are placed with the entombed. Subtle. Not to mention Milwaukee's homage to Abp. Weakland (and perhaps Space Ghost), itself another multiuse venue.

In a way, it figures: when the Church mistakenly tries to stay with the times, it ambles along about 30 years behind. Architecturally speaking, it's wearing a bauhaus leisure suit--Proudly. In a country where people are seeking identity, the Church decided to downplay its own. Here's hoping that the tentative moves towards the reawakening of the Catholic identity here in the States start percolating upwards before the moment passes.

No comments:

Post a Comment