Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Modern Church Architecture, A Little Off Center?

A friend of mine once told of a story of a local parishioner who was visiting another parish upon the construction of their new church. While touring the inside and noting that the tabernacle was not up on the altar and instead off to the side, he remarked to the priest, "Well Father, that's what you get when you go for the lowest bidder." Father replied, "How so?" To which the gentleman remarked, "Everything is a little off center." Perhaps that is more than just a metaphor. The following article by Deacon Fournier explains.

Bring Back the Tabernacle: A Call to Worship
By Deacon Keith A. Fournier

Catholic Online

In the emptiness of our age, when men and women are hungering for an encounter with the Living Lord, we simply should not place that tabernacle in a hidden place.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it clearly: “The tabernacle is to be situated "in churches in a most worthy place with the greatest honor." The dignity, placing, and security of the Eucharistic tabernacle should foster adoration before the Lord really present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.”

So why is the tabernacle hard to find? I wonder whether in an effort to encourage the recovery of a “sense of community”, as commendable as that may be, we have forgotten the One who invites us into the very communion of Trinitarian love and makes it all more than another secular experience.

How many times have you visited a Catholic Church and had to search for the tabernacle? Bishop D’Arcy is to be commended for his decision in his Diocese to promulgate norms on June 14, 2009, the feast of Corpus Christi, concerning the placement of the tabernacle.

In the emptiness of our age, when men and women are hungering for an encounter with the Living Lord, we simply should not place that tabernacle in a hidden place. There, the beauty of the Incarnation is revealed in the new “holy of holies.” There, Jesus Christ, who once dwelt in the womb of the Virgin, now dwells in the Eucharistic Sacrament, awaiting a dialogue of love with all who will come and spend time in prayer.

I am a “revert” to the Catholic Church who loves to spend time in prayer and adoration before the tabernacle. I love even more to come to the Altar during the Eucharistic Liturgy, to participate in the Mass. This is the when we who are mere mortals enter into the timeless sacrifice of Calvary and touch heaven itself; a time when we eat the bread of angels; when we come forward to receive the very body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. This God of the whole universe who condescended to become one of us gives Himself as food for our journey in the pilgrimage of life at this Eucharistic Sacrifice.

On that altar, Jesus Christ becomes true sustenance for us in our mission and sends us forth from the altar into the world to carry forward His redemptive work. This “work of worship” which is what “Liturgy” means, should be an encounter with the mystery, the grandeur, the intimacy and the pure wonder of a living God! So why are we also beginning to see the lessening of the use of the symbols which have for centuries made our sanctuaries so profoundly inviting?

Was the move of the Tabernacle out of the center of the sanctuary an over- reaction? I know it was intended to correct against a perceived “privatized piety” which some thought could distract from the community nature of the Eucharistic worship. Well, we truly need to ask ourselves whether the cure was worse than the perceived problem.

Has it also invited a trivializing of Liturgy? It seems that we have embraced a kind of minimalism in our worship. In some Catholic Churches there are no symbols that would even make you think that you have entered a Catholic Church. There are no icons or images reflecting the heavenly touching the earth, drawing the pilgrim into a transcendent encounter with the God in whom we are all invited to live and move and have our being.

How often at Liturgies are we reminded that this sanctuary is the place where the Lord will manifest Himself and give Himself away, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity on that Altar where heaven touches earth? Before the processional, we are more often invited to “greet everyone around us” then we are to prepare for that extraordinary encounter with the Living God. Why, at least in some of our parishes, have we discarded kneeling?

Though I understand that kneeling is primarily a western practice, there is usually no substitute such as bowing (primarily an eastern practice), no gestures of humbling ourselves in adoration before the living and true God. In effect, no use of the body in the profound act that is liturgical worship. Our bodies were made for gift and worship and gestures are a vital part of the language of worship. We are not Manichees!

I am not a Protestant Christian. I am a Catholic Christian. I have the utmost respect for my brethren who are Protestants in each of their confessions and communities. However, I am not one by choice. I don’t want a Protestant looking church building or stripped down worship.

I do not want barren liturgy and symbol-less Catholicism. Having tasted the full richness of liturgical life, I want to be fully Catholic. I also want to live my life, bring my wife, children, grandchildren and all who hunger for God, into a full, rich and beautiful experience of Catholic faith, worship and life.

There was a movement called Iconoclasm ("Image-breaking") in the eighth and ninth centuries in the Church. It was a heresy. The term has come to be associated with those who rejected icons, but I think it speaks to a broader problem. Icons are meant to put us in touch with the transcendent mysteries of our faith.

I pray with icons and have for many years. I cherish their role in the Eastern Church. In fact, one would never find an Eastern Church, Catholic or Orthodox, without icons. I maintain that the contemporary “iconoclasts” are those who now seek to de-mystify Christian faith, life, worship and practice. They are not the future of the Church but the past.

They sometimes think they are “freeing” the faithful from antiquated traditions; that the symbols of our worship, faith and life are a problem. They claim they have helped us by somehow making the faith ‘relevant”, “meaningful” or “contemporary.” They fail to grasp that by nature and grace human persons are symbolic. Man (and woman) is created in the image of God, and is a divine icon.Jesus Christ is the Icon of the Father. Symbols touch us at a much deeper level than words or emotive or affective participation. They touch us at the level where authentic religion and deep worship truly begins. It is there where we hunger the most for God.

Let’s bring the Tabernacle back into the prominent place where it belongs in our churches. I know the Lord is present in the people. I know He is present in His Word. However, I also know He is mysteriously and wonderfully present in that Tabernacle. Along with the Tabernacle, bring back the full beauty that is Catholic worship.