Catholic Architecture, Part 9: Heaven and Architecture

…Heaven in stone and glass.

In this ninth video in the series, Dr. McNamara describes how a church building should be a reflection of Heaven, a foretaste of our future in Glory in the presence of God. He paraphrases an unnamed saint who said something to the effect of, “A church is an earthly Heaven, where Christ walks about with us.” But what does this look like?

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Illuminated Altar Cards

For something a little different, here is a link to an article in the Liturgical Arts Journal on hand-made altar cards, created by Pelican Printery House in Lincoln, Nebraska. For those not familiar with altar cards, these are the cards that are framed and placed on the altar, containing some key Mass texts for the priest to refer to during the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. It’s wonderful to see this kind of art still being made today.

Catholic Church Architecture, Part 8: Rediscovering Liturgical Images

How come churches don’t look like they used to look when I was a kid?

Last week, we saw how the use of sacred images in churches has waned over the past half-century or so, and why it’s important to rediscover them, as they are a legitimate part of the liturgy itself. In Part 8 of the series, Dr. McNamara draws our attention specifically to liturgical images, and explains why the good intentions of liturgical reformers ultimately resulted in the beige, sterile church environments we often encounter today. He goes on to 

distinguish liturgical images from the other types of sacred images (devotional and historical) and calls for the return of images to their rightful place in the liturgical space.

“Liturgy Wars”: Isn’t There a Better Way?

The article from The Catholic Thing linked at the bottom provides an interesting perspective on the ongoing conflict over the two forms of the Latin Rite Mass, a conflict sometimes referred to as “the Liturgy Wars.” 

This unfortunate battle involves a small but vociferous minority of Catholics who have only hardened their positions since Pope Francis issued Traditionis custodesWhether you’re a partisan in these “wars,” or merely a bemused bystander, we should be able to agree on one thing: this is NOT the way forward for Christ’s Holy Church.

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Catholic Architecture, Part 7: Sacred Images

…a colorful pulse of life.

In Part 7 of the Catholic Architecture series, Dr. McNamara addresses the importance sacred images in the church building. Like many of the things we’ve been looking at in this video series, the use of sacred images suffered a bit of a decline in the years since Vatican II, at least in the Western Church. Some spoke of images being a “distraction,” taking your attention away from the action of the liturgy. 

But as Dr. McNamara points out, far from being a distraction during the liturgy, sacred images are part of the liturgy itself. They make visible things that are ordinarily invisible. They enable us to encounter people (and other beings) who are not physically with us, but who are nevertheless present spiritually. Images also make us aware that we are worshiping with a much larger community than we can see with our eyes. 

Vestments: a Tradition of Beauty

For centuries, it was de rigueur for the Church to invest in beautiful appointments for the celebration of the liturgy, including the vestments worn by the clergy. Even humble rural parishes acquired the best they could afford. It was generally understood that divine worship required the best we could offer. However, like much of the Catholic artistic tradition in recent decades, vestment quality has often taken a back seat to more “practical” concerns. 

There are still some vestment manufacturers who produce genuine works of art. Here’s a post from the Liturgical Arts Journal showing some contemporary examples of fine vestments:

Catholic Church Architecture, Part 6: Columns

A church building is a sacramental image of the mystical body of Christ.

Dr. Denis McNamara

When you think of columns, you probably think of “old-fashioned” buildings, and it’s true that the column is a staple of traditional architecture, giving buildings a “classical” look. Of course, they also perform the practical function of supporting the structure. But if you’ve followed this series thus far, you have probably guessed that there’s a deeper meaning behind even this architectural element.

In the 6th part of the series, Dr. McNamara explains how even back in the ancient pre-Christian world, columns were an architectural representation of people. This concept was easily taken up in later Christian architecture, where Scripture speaks of the faithful being “living stones” building up the mystical Body of Christ, the Church.  

Catholic Architecture, Part 5: Decoration and Ornament

In the modernist movements of the 20th century, the use of decorative elements in architecture fell out of favor. Leaving the bare structure exposed on a building was considered more “honest.” But even here, there are deeper considerations, even theological ones, that we need to recover in order to save our buildings from a kind of visual nihilism. In part 5 of this series, Dr. McNamara looks at the meaning and importance of decoration and ornament in architecture.