Charleston Cathedral all dressed up for the Solemnity of the Mother of God on Friday. It was really nice to be able to sit in the pew and worship quietly for once. The beauty of the liturgy and the high gothic style of the cathedral reminded me how important beauty is for worship. The anonymous architect of the ancient abbey of Glastonbury said, “I want to create a building so beautiful that even the hardest heart will be moved to prayer.”
Pancake and circus tent churches just don’t cut it. This is because they have been designed by followers of the ‘form follows function’ school of architecture. Even if this is a proper dictum for architects, it overlooks the fact that one of the functions of a Catholic church is to inspire and uplift the heart, and the only way to do that is through beauty. Why does the heart lift in a church with high ceilings, lofty stained glass and pointed arches? Because as they eye is lifted up the heart is lifted up. The eye, the mind and the heart ascend in an act of worship simply by entering a lofty building. The beauty and richness of marble and stone and glass take the worshipper into a new dimension–a less mundane dimension.
Of course the Mass is the Mass, and the Christ child who was born in a stable is still present in the humblest of settings. But that Christ child of Bethlehem is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We should try our hardest and make the sacrifices necessary to build a temple fit for the one before whom the kings of the East prostrated themselves.