Sunday, March 24, 2013

Beauty and Worship

More greatness from one of my new favorite blogs, Lamentably Sane
Some priests were formed with the idea that being humble means dressing in rags, celebrating banal liturgies, and building ugly churches. With all respect, there is no one in this world more patronizing than someone who professes to love the poor but has never been poor themselves. The poor, by and large, don't want ugliness and banality. Their lives are hard and they want a glimpse of heaven. Think about it: the most beautiful churches in the United States were built with the money and hard work of poor or working class immigrants. Our great-grandfathers worshiped in ornate cathedrals and gorgeous parish churches with reredos and high altars adorned with exquisite wood working, stone altars, and lovely statuary. It was their comfortable, easy going, middle class descendants who tore it all down and replaced them with felt banners and picnic table altars. "Why was this expensive oil not sold and given to the poor?"
Humans are made to appreciate beauty, and beauty on earth points to the beauty of heaven.  Those who would do away with beauty at Mass are implicitly embracing a sort of Cartesian idea of a transcendent rational will that works best when it is not influenced by "worldly" things like aesthetics.  This is utterly opposed to the traditional Christian understanding that we are not simply intellects inhabiting bodies but that each person is a unity of body and soul.  Our neurochemistry and our immaterial intellect are both ordered to appreciate a beautiful liturgy and a beautiful church.  We should not fight against our natural attraction to beauty but embrace it, especially in  our churches.


  1. Our great-grandfathers & grandfathers were poor immigrants who built those churches. They were willing to sacrifice some of the little money they had & often their time after work to help build them.
    I wonder what they would say if they could see how their descendants disdained what they did as well as what would be their condescending attitude towards them?

    1. "I wonder what they would say if they could see how their descendants disdained what they did as well as what would be their condescending attitude towards them?"

      Probably something unprintable.

    2. In a language most of them wouldn't understand as well.

  2. So very true, Mr. Button.

    It's also been my experience that those 'wreckovations' were often done at great expense.
    Evidently, taking something beautiful and making it repulsive and banal doesn't come cheap.

    One phenomenon that still baffles me is that of priests and religious that abandon community
    life in paid-for rectories and convents and move to rented apartments. I've heard all sorts of
    rationalizations for that, mostly along the lines of "being in solidarity with the people we serve".
    It seems to me that the poor are not best served if Church and convent properties (paid for
    ages ago) fall into disuse/underuse whilst diocesan, parish, and convent funds go to pay rent.

    1. The religious already make vows of poverty. One would think that ought to be solidarity enough.

  3. Thanks for the link Mr. Button!

    Clinton is right on. The cathedral of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles - referred to as the "Taj Mahony" - cost tens of millions of dollars. Likewise the cathedral of the Diocese of Oakland, California which is almost indistinguishable from the surrounding office buildings if you don't know what you're looking at. The cathedral of my own diocese, Sacramento, was spared wreckovation because the state legislature has designated it a historical landmark. I remember once attending a priestly ordination there and I overheard a seminarian from another diocese say, "I'm so happy there are still cathedrals in California that look like cathedrals!"

    1. The state of California acting as a defender of the faith. Never thought I'd hear that!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Beefy, I believe the Taj Mahoney came in at just under $190 million. The budget
      for H.E. Mahoney's cathedra alone was $1 million. For his chair. The diocese
      justified abandoning and demolishing the old cathedral because the $20 million it
      would have cost to repair and strengthen it was too much. All this from the same
      prelate who just gushed on twitter that the Vatican finally discovered simplicity
      and solidarity with the poor! Apparently, the people of the LA Archdiocese dislike
      their new cathedral/airport concourse-- but their preferences were not consulted
      in either the design or the budgeting for this vanity project.


      Yes, I yearn for the day someone opens an industrial-size can of fraternal correction
      on Cardinal Mahoney, but he's not why I'm posting again in this thread. Mr. Button,
      I wanted to bring a link to an excellent article on beauty and worship by Shawn
      Tribe at his marvelous blog "The New Liturgical Movement". I'd be interested to
      read what you have to say about it.

      (Had to delete my first attempt to reply-- the auto-adjust of the margins made
      my layout look like a Walt Whitman poem...)

    4. Thanks for directing me to The New Liturgical Movement. They seem to be an eminently sane bunch. The best traditionalists are like TNLM. They spend promote beautiful liturgy instead of spending their time exclusively complaining about bad liturgy.