A Longing for Architecture to Stand the Test of Time

By Wemhoff, Joseph | National Catholic Reporter, May 26, 2000 | Go to article overview

A Longing for Architecture to Stand the Test of Time


Wemhoff, Joseph, National Catholic Reporter


Popular interest in recovering tradition is obvious in everything from ballparks to Coca-Cola Classic

In reading Michael DeSanctis' essay in the April 21 NCR, I remembered advice from a former teacher: "Listen to what they are saying; listen to what they are not saying; and listen to what they are trying to tell you but don't know how."

While the essay elucidates the New Classicism of Thomas Gordon Smith and Duncan Stroik of Notre Dame, it sadly devolves into a philippic against New Classicism, and, more disturbingly, into a singularly mean-spirited, ad hominem attack.

DeSanctis raises more questions than he answers. Isn't the world big enough for both modernism and classicism? Why denigrate others' preferences? Why not lead the way for more tolerance and diversity around church architecture? Where is this negative energy coming from?

Even more significantly, DeSanctis is strangely silent on the forced nature of modernist "renovations" and on the new theology that both drives and flows from these changes.

The best way to implement modernistic church design would be as nature generally does evolution -- slowly, for new churches first, adjusting for experience. Instead, there has been a massive, compressed wave of "renovations" of existing churches, unseen since The Great Plundering, when Cromwell, Cranmer et al. smashed statues, whitewashed walls, converted altars to "tables," ripped out kneelers and so on in forming the Church of England.

Today's wave of renovations is not driven externally by Roundheads, but internally by modernist bishops, priests, theologians, "liturgical consultants" and others whose agenda is similar to the English iconoclasts: the establishment of a new theology.

But Vatican II mandates these changes, you say. Is that your final answer? Oh, sorry, you do not win the million dollars.

In his new book, The Renovation Manipulation, Michael Rose demonstrates conclusively that the modernist style is neither mandated nor supported by Vatican II, either in letter or intent. The "renovations" are being lead by "dissidents" who cloak themselves in "the spirit of Vatican II" to justify their own agenda for unauthorized change.

Which brings us to the second omission: the theology around the architectural changes. A church is now domus ecclesiae (house of the church), not domus Dei (house of God). The tabernacle containing God Himself is:

* Banished to an "adoration chapel" or hidden behind a "rood screen"; or

* Cast to one side of the sanctuary; and

* Lowered vertically to be level with the congregation.

"In the round" seating mimics meeting halls or Masonic lodges. Kneelers disappear so Catholics stand at the consecration -- just as the first Protestants did to underscore separateness from Rome and nonbelief in the Real Presence. The altar of sacrifice (so-named since Melchizedek) becomes a "table."

We are now told that "the community" effects the Mass -- not the priest in lieu of Christ -- and that the Mass is the action of the community -- not the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary. …

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