Monday, December 5, 2011

A Little Help for the Parish...

According to one source, the Vatican has set up an agency to deal with the problem of ugly church buildings -- not as the competition of one taste for another but ugly in the sense of buildings that are alien to what goes on in them and whose identity does not flow from and back to the central purpose of the structure -- the Mass.

A team has been set up, to put a stop to garage style churches, boldly shaped structures that risk denaturing modern places for Catholic worship. Its task is also to promote singing that really helps the celebration of mass. The “Liturgical art and sacred music commission” will be established by the Congregation for Divine Worship over the coming weeks. This will not be just any office, but a true and proper team, whose task will be to collaborate with the commissions in charge of evaluating construction projects for churches of various dioceses. 

I have long been in favor of just such an agency in Lutheranism.  Perhaps the LCEF (our Missouri Church Bank) could require as one of its conditions of borrowing that the architect or the plans themselves be reviewed.  Again this is not a preference for style per se but a concern that the structure actually assist what takes place within it instead of competing against the Divine Service.  I have long lamented the many church buildings Lutherans have erected that seem to have been built with no clue to their purpose.  There is no clear line of sight to the altar, no place for the font and baptismal entrance into the faith and life of the Church, no prominent pulpit to give visual weight to the weighty work of God's Word that is proclaimed there...

It is not aesthetics but how serviceable these buildings are to their primary purpose.  That includes attention to acoustics.  If singing is not accidental but essential to the Lutheran Divine Service, then the acoustical setting of the building needs to favor singing.  I have been in so many naves where the abundance of carpeting, pew pads, and the like and the absence of hard surfaces and right angles has left every parishioner with the feeling that he or she is the only one singing and with the sad reality that sound systems have to be used for nearly every spoken word (including getting the attention of the acolyte sitting next to you).

Beauty is not simply the line or form but the architectural setting that enhances and assists what takes place within its walls -- the Divine Service.  Both visually and acoustically, the goal is to keep the focus of our attention upon the means of grace and the sung responses which form the liturgical conversation of the Mass.  It does not matter how nice looking or how ugly the structure is -- if it conflicts or competes with its essential purpose as the setting for the Eucharist and proclamation of the Word, it is a failure.

It is not necessary to spend exorbitant amounts to obtain a building which is both friendly to its purpose and a good canvas for the Word and Sacraments to take form with the gathered community of faith.  So many architects see a church as its own art and end that they forget the poor people who have to live with that building week after week after week.  Like the plethora of contemporary worship and musical forms, they forget that God is center stage and not some idea of God but the means of grace to which He has attached Himself for our benefit and through which He bestows the blessings and grace of the cross and empty tomb.

I am not one to insist upon central control but somebody needs to tell us when we are making a grave mistake that will handicap our congregation for a generation or more.  Apparently the Roman Catholics have awoken to the danger of architecture that has worked against the Mass.  Apparently we Lutherans are not yet aware of the problem within our own denomination.


Christopher Gillespie said...

LCEF has a committee of theologians to provide such advice. Dr. Paul Grime and Dr. Art Just both have served on it. Unfortunately, as I understand it, such consultation is part of their more expensive loan package and not a requirement.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, the LCMS would care about ugly church buildings only if the non-denominational seeker-churches and/or TCN were to see it as a problem.

Chris said...

Fr. Peters,

I'm disappointed in you. The architecture of the church should not be such only to enhance sung responses. The architecture informs the church about the theology the church proclaims. Church architecture is also a proclamation of the Gospel. To only look at architecture as for what it does for acoustics really misses the point.

The whole of the body must be engaged in the act of worship and that certainly includes our eyes. Having an architecture and an artistic aesthetic which also elevates our sight is as important as having ears to hear.

Of course, you'd never know that with modern Lutheran churches as you can only wonder if they were built by 20th/21st century iconoclasts which have infiltrated the Lutheran churches.

Anonymous said...

The Valpo Chapel compels you to
look up at the altar as the center
of worship. The entire edifice
shouts God is in our presence.

The St. Louis Seminary Chapel makes
a theological statement since the
floor plan is in the shape of a
cross. The Altar is at the head of
that cross.

Focal Point of Worship is the Altar.

Pastor Peters said...

?? I am confused. Where did I say that the architecture of the church should only be such to enhance sung responses??

Both visually and acoustically, the goal is to keep the focus of our attention upon the means of grace and the sung responses which form the liturgical conversation of the Mass. It is easier to pay attention to the visual line of sight than to deal with acoustics and that is the only reason I singled out the sound setting for more comment.