.English Heritage has recently completed a pilot project to enhance our understanding of Roman Catholic Church heritage in the Archdiocese of Liverpool. This project involved the creation and enhancement of records of church buildings based upon an architectural survey commissioned by English Heritage and carried out by external consultants and the Roman Catholic Church. Liverpool was chosen for the pilot area as it represents the largest concentration of Roman Catholic architecture in England. (quote from "Pastscape.")
I have to say it - I feel as a Catholic that I've been short changed by the Church Architecture commissioned in the last 50 years. I agree with Pope Emeritus Benedict - what is most lovely about Catholic churches is the presence of Christ. But do the interiors reflect who is truly present there?
I guess I was spoiled in the Church of my childhood, with its wall to wall mosaics depicting forty foot high angels, and a domed canopy with barley- twist columns of gold over the sanctuary.
Many of our Catholic churches mimic a Calvanist aesthetic, sterile and devoid of artistic "interference".
The fecundity of the garden of Eden, has been replaced by an imagery that is desolate and sterile.
The influence of Modernism, has glorified the pre-fabricated, pointing to the superiority of the machine over the skill of man.
This banality of style attempts to force the souls in pews to recognise the humanity of Jesus; by removing physical "barriers".
in an age where "psychology is king" the altar rails were seen as a symbolic barrier to man's union with God. What was sanctuary, became stage, for all kinds of players, and the dress and demeanour expected at a royal court, became that of the supermarket forecourt.
This psychology was short sighted, and did not take into account that people were happy to kneel before their God, and that the altar rails were not a barrier, but a reminder that "every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord". Then as now the formula remains: "The body of Christ...." to which we reply in agreement "Amen".
Pastorally, the faithful expect the house of God, his temple - to reflect the throne room of a king. One expects to kneel when receiving a king.
It made sense then to those with simplicity at heart; that the Throne of Christ - the Tabernacle should be a central feature; as the Catechism states "the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life."
During this new wave of thinking, the traditional orientation of both people and priest toward the East, was seen as an insult, rather than a sign of unity in worship.
And thus our priests were made to face toward the people, and as though a priest's role is not difficult enough - a whole new realm of temptation to court celebrity status was born.
If one feels that I am being too pedantic or backward looking; I can only quote the recent words of the clutch of parishioners known as the "Development team" whose responsibility it is, to uphold and develop the faith in accordance with the needs of the parish.
When giving a presentation on the focus of our faith; the team insisted to a man, that it was the Holy Spirit which was the source and summit - not the Eucharist. Thankfully there were a few of the " un-chosen" out of the eighty bodies present, who were waving their Catechisms in disagreement.
For me, this incident seems a natural progression from a sterile building, to a sterile comprehension of our faith.
"During the day our churches should not be allowed to be dead houses, standing empty and seemingly useless. Jesus Christ's invitation is always being proffered from them. This sacred proximity to us is always alive in them. It is always calling us and inviting us in. This is what is lovely about Catholic churches, that within them there is, as it were, always worship, because the Eucharistic presence of the Lord dwells always within them" – Pope Benedict XVI
The topic of church interiors is one which intrigues me, so to this end I post my own thoughts occasionally..
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