Have you noticed that nobody loves modern churches? Nobody. I mean NOBODY.
Seriously. Have you ever met anyone who sees a church like this and and heard them whisper, “I just love that church! It is so inspiring!”.
Have you ever gone into a “worship space” like this and heard someone say how awed they were to be in the presence of God? I doubt it.
That’s because these buildings were not designed to inspire awe or to remind you about the presence of God. They are people centered, not God centered. They are auditoria not temples.
There is a gut level negative respond to these buildings. Even those who have got used to them make comments like, “Well, it’s our church and we’re doing the best we can.” Worse still, they have grown up with these monstrosities and they do not know of anything else.
I have spent the last week in central Missouri worshipping in a beautifully restored country church built at the end of the 1800’s. My heart opened in worship simply because the space was sacred, simple and beautiful.
The gut level rejection of the modern, brutal, utilitarian barns is not merely a hankering after “ole time traditions”. It is not simply a nostalgia for the past or a question of personal preference.
We react negatively to round churches because we want to be oriented towards God in worship, not towards one another.
Furthermore, everyone knew this down the ages. That’s why there was a certain pattern to Christian churches, and did you know the pattern was actually established by God?
In the Old Testament God revealed to Moses how to build the tabernacle–the traveling tent/temple they used in the wilderness. The tabernacle was rectangular with a large outer meeting place of the people. Then there was the “Holy Place” for the priests and this was surmounted by the “Holy of Holies” where the Ark of the Covenant was lodged. The Ark of the Covenant was the Throne of God himself.
This was the prescribed plan for a building to worship God, and the Temple in Jerusalem was a larger, permanent version of the tabernacle.
Now nobody is suggesting that Christian churches should be traveling tents (although the preachers in the American south used to do pretty well in their tent meeting revival services) Neither am I suggesting that we should build churches that are replicas of Solomon’s temple.
But there was a basic pattern here that was followed in all Christian churches from the earliest days. The pattern was of a three fold, hierarchical space. A large meeting space for the people, a next step into the holy place for the priests and then the dwelling place of God which is the Holy of Holies.
Catholic churches, (with a few very rare exceptions) maintained this pattern. There was the nave where the people met, the chancel for the priests and at the far east end was the “Holy of Holies” the tabernacle–where Christ our God resides. Between the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place there was hung a heavy curtain as a divider. This is why inside the tabernacle of a Catholic Church today we hang a small curtain or veil.
This three fold pattern was the basic template for all churches. It worked. It was understood. There was also another significance. The direction of the traditional church is linear. There is a beginning and and end–an Alpha and Omega point. You entered the West doors and your eye moved forward to the summit where Christ was in the tabernacle. This reflected life’s journey. This is why the font was at the back of the church. You entered by the font and moved forward in life to your final home in heaven. The chancel and tabernacle therefore represented the destination of your journey.
A round church undermines that. There is no beginning and end a round church says. Paganism is circular with its never ending cycle of life. Christianity is linear. There is a beginning and end of our lives and of all things.
So that’s why you hate the round churches. There’s plenty more to hate as well–the cheap materials, the shoddy workmanship, the tacky, low cost furniture, the candles that are really electric lights that you pay a nickel to light up, the mass felt banners and the artificially cheerful atmosphere–but the real reason the round churches are so despised are the deeper reasons I’ve outlined.
They are despised because Catholics sense that something is wrong with this architecture. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t inspire prayer. It doesn’t lift the heart. It doesn’t draw you to God, and it doesn’t do all those things because it runs counter to the very plan for a temple that God himself ordained.
I make it a point of asking our priests if they received any training at all when they were in seminary on the principles and history of sacred architecture. Did they receive any training during their liturgy classes on what makes a church Christian, what works in worship and why? I have not found one priest who has been trained in these matters. And yet they are supposed to go out and renovate churches, build churches and redevelop churches? What kind of training are they getting? Why are they not being trained in the sacred tradition so they know what to do?
Here’s my push–and I am consciously writing about these things on my blog because in my parish we are trying to do something positive and creative to put this right.
I’m asking you to help us by making a good contribution to our building fund. We are building this new church which will be a beautiful temple.
If you read my blog regularly and are tired of me pitching for donations, don’t worry, I’m going to back off soon…
But right now we are in the final stages of our fund raising for this new church.
If you agree that Catholic church architecture in America needs a new direction will you support this project?
Will you help? Can you help with a large donation? If you would like more information on tax benefits or how you can choose a naming opportunity be in touch with me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can send checks to Our Lady of the Rosary, 3710 Augusta Road, Greenville, SC, 29605
You can make an instant donation online by going here to our website.
Thanks to all who have helped so far, and if you can make a year end gift in this way please help!