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Thursday, December 02, 2004


I haven't had any liturgy-related stuff in a while. Here's the reparation:

1. The Pontificator (a blog by an Anglican priest) offers up 10 ways to improve the Western Rite Liturgy. Thumbs up to all 10. (Hat tip: Aristotle at Recovering Choir Director.)

Not so BTW, scroll around the site and you'll see that the always-worthwhile Pontificator (to be blogrolled) offers advice straight from The Amityville Horror to faithful Anglicans still in the ECUSA:

"Get out!"

[BTW, the stories about the house in Amityville have been conclusively debunked as a hoax.]

2. The "renovation" of Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit gets a review in Sacred Architecture. It is not favorable, in the main, and nails the problems perfectly.

Though a veteran modernist architect, Gunnar Birkerts claims a distaste for anything dogmatic. By giving "each building its own theoretical base" he seeks to free himself from "the imposition of a set structure on any design" and believes that "the theory can be deduced" from the resulting forms he creates. Readers of Sacred Architecture will be familiar with the contradiction in terms which is constantly utilized by modernist architects; i.e., the dogmatic belief that an architect should never follow anything dogmatic. The idea of creating rules without organic reference to the known Good, True and Beautiful is a bit like a Cartesian mind game attempting to create its own past, present and future.

* * *

"You know, one of the first things that he [Birkerts] wanted to do was to change the nature of a gothic cathedral, which by its very nature is very dark down below with large stained glass windows above. Now, that reflected the Church of the Middle Ages where people were insignificant and were always looking up to the godly. We're in a more unified Church where people have a much stronger role today than in the past. They're involved in every single part of church life and so we wanted some light to come in to that cathedral ... "

Here we have the medieval Church pitted against the modern Church in order to justify the new lighting scheme. And despite Tocco's claims, Birkerts did not change the nature of the Gothic cathedral even with the added lighting and other novel insertions. In fact, it is remarkable how the Gothic church that exists still overpowers the intruding elements simply by beauty of form, scale, and proportion. The new elements look more like a Star Trek set inserted into the crossing of a venerable Gothic church.

* * *

But beyond the actual building, the language surrounding this project serves as a self-condemnation for modern-ist interventions in general. Fr. Pelc, in an article in Faith and Form in 1987, stated that "Catholic Christians, in the main, now know that they can never be comfortable celebrating one type of ecclesiology in a building that silently screams another."

In other words, traditional architecture cannot be reconciled to the new liturgy. Is traditional architecture obsolete then? Msgr. Tocco believes that we still have room for it:"I would have said yes ten years ago, but I'm not sure that in the climate of the church today that's necessarily true. We have a lot of areas where we're not only looking forward, we're looking backward as well ... it is much easier to do liturgy in a church that is designed with the new directives for art and architecture, where people can gather around the altar, where sight lines are better, where there are not so many barriers, where you don't have a thousand things pulling them away from the altar, where the sound system is good, where the word and music are integral to the building itself."

And the last paragraph is probably the most heartening news about the renovation--the sign that the modernist assault is losing steam and confidence in itself, with this half a loaf approach signalling a retreat from the high-water mark of the Rog Mahal in L.A (all hail the Yellow Armadillo!).

It still rankles. Though Blessed Sacrament had its flaws, it was not the "pathetic," dark, dingy hellhole the archdiocesan pointmen claim it was. I gaped like a tourist during the Rite of Enrollment there in 1999. It would have "cleaned up" just fine without adding marble versions of the Enterprise's command chair and transporter platform.

But... I'll take it. The admission of Fr. Tocco is remarkable: ten years ago, they could have done so much more. Now--they can't. And there's nothing in that statement to indicate the pendulum is going to swing back any time soon.

It could have been much, much worse. And given that the changes (unlike the gothic structure itself) will age about as well as olive shag carpet, in 25 years it can be truly renovated with comparatively little effort.

3. On a related note, Michael Rose (of Ugly as Sin fame) has a new website on church architecture called Dellachiesa. Go there often--a veritable clearing house of things architectural and liturgical. (Hat tip to Mark Sullivan.)

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