Can’t Live Without It

Beauty is a necessity, not a luxury. …without beauty, the duties prove too hard and, eventually, seem pointless. 

Charles Klamut

Why is it that we feel happier when we’re in the presence of beauty? And why do drab or utilitarian surroundings make us feel sort of listless or depressed, or even agitated? We instinctively respond to beauty, just as we keenly, if unconsciously, sense it’s absence. 

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God is NOT Ugly or Banal

It is no accident that much of the most beautiful art and music in the Western tradition has been religious, and that a good deal of that has been produced for use in the sacred liturgy.

William Schaefer

Evangelization isn’t just giving people a set of propositions, or a rulebook to follow. It’s inviting them into a relationship with the living God. But first we must get their attention. Human beings are by nature drawn to beauty. If we want people to fall in love with God, we must give them a glimpse of His loveliness. 

Of course, love is the primary way we do this. But it’s a mistake to think that the outward forms of the Faith—liturgy, music, art, architecture—are superfluous. Nothing could be farther from the truth. These outward manifestations of beauty reveal something of the great love of God for us. They are also a sign of our love for Him. 

There’s so much ugliness and banality all around us—it’s the hallmark of our post-Christian age. The Church must provide a refuge from all that. 

The article linked below describes the connection between beauty and right worship, and explains why “there are no box stores… in the City of God.”

Fulton Sheen on Architecture

The Ancient architecture was always using material things as signs of something spiritual. But today our architecture is flat, nothing but steel and glass, almost like a cracker box. Why? Well, because our architects have no spiritual message to convey.

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen

Archbishop Fulton Sheen was not an architect, but he knew a thing or two about theology and philosophy, and so could diagnose the spiritual sickness lurking behind modernist architecture. Moreover, he knew what architecture—sacred architecture in particular—is supposed to be: a kind of sacrament.

Great Southern Churches

For your weekend viewing pleasure, here’s a tour of 10 amazing Catholic churches in the American South. There’s a surprising amount of notable Catholic heritage in our Protestant country (link below).

Here’s some food for thought: Throughout much of American history, Catholics (with some exceptions) tended to be an out-of-favor minority. They also tended to be working-class immigrants. Yet, they managed to fund and build many beautiful churches like the ones in this article, giving glory to God and visually propagating the Catholic Faith. How did they manage that? Is there something we can learn from our Catholic forebears?

Architecture as a Moral Force

Unless you happen to be an architecture buff, you may not know the name Pugin, though you’ve certainly seen some of his work. The Houses of Parliament and St. Stephen’s clock tower (known colloquially as “Big Ben,” which is actually the name of the bell inside) in London are two of the 19th century architect’s most famous contributions. But they’re not his most important contribution.

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was born in 1842 and died a mere 40 years later. During his short life, his work inspired an architectural movement that changed the British landscape and gave us many of the structures that today we so readily identify as British.

Pugin had a powerful moral vision for Britain, which was at that time experiencing the disruption of the industrial revolution and the decadence of the Georgian monarchy. A convert to the Catholic faith at a time when being Catholic was still a risky career move, he believed that architecture was the key to bringing about a renewed Christian society. For him, this Christian architecture was Gothic. The Gothic style represented a pure, medieval Christian faith and morality: precisely what the country had lost after the Protestant revolution. His Gothic revival churches in particular, such as St. Giles in Cheadle, Staffordshire, are testaments to his Catholic faith and medievalist vision.

Why is Pugin important for us today? We’ve talked a lot at St. Mark about the concept of lex orandi, lex credendi. That is, the way we worship both influences, and is influenced by, what we believe. There’s a similar idea in Pugin’s thought. For him, “bad” architecture is a sign of a spiritually sick society. But he also proposed that creating better, spiritually uplifting architecture would help cure society’s ills. He believed in the power of beauty to change souls. 

Take an hour sometime to watch the video linked below. Not only is it a superb presentation, but it tells the deeply moving story of the young man whose heart burned to restore a more moral, a more Catholic, Britain. 

Renovating the Renovations

One of the curious things about late-20th century church “renovations” is the sheer amount of work that went into hiding or eliminating many of the beautiful elements which marked these older buildings. These modernizations have not aged well, and a lot of time and money is now being spent to undo the changes and restore these buildings to something resembling their former dignity. For another example of this, look at the before-and-after shots in this article from the Liturgical Arts Journal

As we consider the future of our own church building at St. Mark, let’s try to think beyond contemporary trends and imagine how what we do will be received by future generations. 

“Form Follows Function”: How We Got to Where We Are

What is clear… is that forcing modernist principles of building design upon unwilling church congregations and passing them off as if they were principles of the Council simply must stop.

We’ve talked a lot on this blog about what church architecture ought to be; that there is a “theology of architecture” developed and passed down over centuries that should inform how our church buildings are designed.

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What a Difference a Little Color Makes!

Here’s an another great example, by the way of the Liturgical Arts Journal, of how restoring color to our Catholic churches can make such a big difference. This is from St. Patrick’s Oratory in Green Bay, Wisconsin. As we’ve learned watching the videos by Denis McNamara, returning beauty to our church buildings is not just about making things pretty—it helps churches fulfill their role of making Heaven present to us.

Catholic Architecture, Part 10: Vatican II

All things are set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful signs and symbols of heavenly realities.

Sacrosanctum concilium, 22

In this tenth and final episode, Dr. McNamara looks back at the Second Vatical Council and makes a claim that may surprise many people (except those who follow this blog!). Namely, that a careful reading of the documents of Vatican II reveals the traditional nature of the Council

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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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