|Concrete bunker decorated by two-by-fours: Christ the Light Cathedral in Oakland, California.|
In his memoirs of the Second World War, in the chapter about the destruction of the House of Commons in the Blitz, Winston Churchill discusses the reasons for the original design and layout of the House chamber, and why he chose not to change it in its rebuilding. He sums it up with the following remark: we shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us.
Catholic churches are no different. From floor to ceiling, a Catholic church is catechesis in stone, wood and glass. It is not only the stained-glass windows and the statuary that contain lessons about the faith, but the very architecture. Have you ever thought about the significance of the three distinct spaces within a Catholic church: the vestibule, the nave, and the sanctuary? The vestibule symbolizes the underworld; the nave symbolizes the earth; the sanctuary symbolizes heaven. Different standards of behavior apply in each.
Of course, badly designed churches -- all too common in our time -- are also catechetical. What lessons do we learn about the Faith in a church with ugly stained-glass windows, or no distinct boundary between the nave and the sanctuary? Is what we are learning true? Is an ugly church with twisted architecture worthy of the God Whose house it is? Can we have anything but a disordered relationship with God when we fail to give Him His due?
Here is a terrific homily, delivered 10 years ago, that treats these very issues, and gives us some important insights on why we need to leave gates the way we find them.
I can't help fearing that there are an awful lot of priests and bishops who will be in Purgatory until their architectural monstrosities are either razed or repaired, or the end of the world, whichever comes first.