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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Classicism is not a style; it is a way of imitating the mind of God in architecture.
When it comes to church architecture, are we merely talking about this style vs. another style, or are there deeper considerations? Having watched the previous three episodes, we can see that there is more at play here than aesthetic taste.
In part 4 of the “Catholic Architecture” series, Dr. McNamara asks why, in spite of the architectural fads that are always coming and going, the classical tradition (or, “classicism”) remains so attractive to so many.
Does it matter what your church looks like? Is a church building just a place in which to gather out of the elements, or is there some kind of significance in the way it’s put together? More importantly, does God care about any of this?
In this 10-part video series entitled “Catholic Architecture,” Dr. Denis McNamara lays out the theological rationale for sacred architecture in the Catholic tradition. Each short, accessible episode focuses on one aspect of sacred architecture and how it supports the Catholic understanding of God, worship, and the Sacraments.
This week, we look at the first episode, “Architectural Theology,” where Dr. McNamara argues that material things can be used to communicate something of the mind of God and the nature of the Church. In this way, church architecture is not merely a matter of personal taste or what’s popular, but rather should present a foretaste of Heavenly realities.
Dr. McNamara McNamara holds a Bachelor of Arts in History of Art from Yale University, as well as a Masters and Doctorate in Architectural History from the University of Virginia. He is currently the Director of the Center for Beauty and Culture at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.