There is a new wind blowing within the architectural designs of Church buildings in Catholicism. It is the restoration of the Church’s ancient and traditional appreciation of our Eucharistic celebration as an act of transcendence towards a deeper understanding of the Divine. New church buildings and sanctuaries are undergoing a restoration of traditional applications of classical art and architectural motifs, which thankfully call our liturgical prayer to an awesome appreciation of the mysteries of salvation history. Time and space again are reconciled through the architecture of this shrine that loudly calls the worshiper to metaphysical and ontological beliefs that go beyond modern presentations of secular humanism, towards an ascent into the sacred mystery of God’s existence.
The liturgical expression of the Church at prayer is an action that incorporates the most sacred mysteries of our beliefs and rituals into a human expression and human attempt to worship God. One of the remarkable things that I have noticed recently while attending the celebration of the Mass is the fact that Catholic priests and the faithful are increasingly willing to participate in a deeper manner of prayerful and sacred celebrations. Consideration once again is made in our Catholic Churches to utilize not only better communal participation in the Sacred Mystery, but there is a restored feeling of “sacred” taking place with the use of formerly exiled rituals such as chanting and incensation of the Altar. Catholics are once again being Catholics…with all of the signs, symbols and rituals that accompany our rich theological and liturgical traditions. Perhaps this rejuvenization of Catholic ritual is a sign that modern believers are beginning to understand the eschatological and transcendent nature of the Pascal Mystery. Perhaps, it is better catechesis and education of our Catholic faithful about the ritual foundations of our sacred liturgies, or finally perhaps it is just a deeper sense on the part of humanity that there is a more significant and deeper intensity to the meaning and purpose of our lives.
Perhaps after decades of institutional and architectural vandalism Catholics both clerical and laity together are taking a retrospective look at the rich historical, social and artistic heritage that is found in our Catholic Churches. Just a generation ago…Catholic Churches were…so to speak…modernized…or in my estimation, sanitized of there ornate signs and symbols of Catholic sacraments and beliefs. Today, thankfully there is a movement to restore Catholic art and design to its appropriate pedestal that integrates not only form and function, but ritual and sacred traditions as well.
My own Catholic parish, which was built post- Vatican II, was void of any devotional shrines to the Blessed Mother. Recently, racks of votive candles were installed, so Catholics would offer prayers for the Blessed Mother’s intercession before God. There is a resurgence of appreciation towards the rituals of the past, with a healthy inclusion of 21 century theology happening in our Catholic Churches. Not only does this resurgence apply to older generation Catholics, but is prominent among generations X, Y and Z…as they explore the mysteries of Catholicism through a perspective and appreciation of it’s deep spiritual heritage.
John XXIII famously called upon the Holy Spirit in the Second Vatican Council to “open the windows,” of the Church. During the decades that followed, not only were the windows opened, but treasured parts of our Catholic identity were tossed out the open windows as well. It is refreshing to know that modern Catholic artists, architects and believers are willing and able to integrate the finest points of our artistic and cultural past into living examples of contemporary Catholic worship. Proving again and again the true transcendent nature of our sacramental and theological beliefs in a Triune God.
Copyright 2010 Hugh McNichol