Nov 30 2008

Why the Latin Mass? #2: Beautiful Churches

(This is the second in a series of posts called Why the Latin Mass? I’ve been asked by several people why I like the Latin Mass—why people will drive a hundred miles to get to one, or spend a lot of time and money bringing it to their area. I’ll try to answer that in this series.)

This one isn’t an absolute, of course. There are plenty of new-style Masses being said in beautiful, ornate churches like St. Francis in Quincy. There have also been many Masses of both rites said in basements, barns, or outdoors, when the circumstances demanded it, as in missionary locations or when a church is being rebuilt. That’s all good.

St. Rose

But when people get a chance to build a new church of their choice, then we start to see a difference. Latin Mass devotees, today or pre-1960s, tend to build churches like the first one on the right. People attending the Novus Ordo Mass over the few decades of its use have tended to wander to other concepts, like the two below that.

Call me an old fogey if you like (won’t be the first time), but I want a church to look like churches have for centuries. Styles change, but some things are common to what we’d all instantly recognize as a church. I don’t want to feel like I’m walking into an office building or branch library; nor do I want to feel like I might bump into Klingons while I’m there. If you go to a Latin Mass, you can be pretty sure the church will direct the focus to Christ’s presence in the tabernacle and at the altar during Mass. The first priority of the building won’t be comfort or efficiency or community spirit, but worship and glory to God.

What really awes me about older churches is that most of them were built when construction was much harder than it is now. I’ve done some bricklaying and other construction, and I know how much work it is. Even today, with all our power tools and hydraulic lifts and laser levels, building a church like St. Rose would be a huge and expensive project. When it was built nearly a century ago, it would have involved far more sweat and heavy lifting. They didn’t have to build huge domes and towers way up in the sky, and adorn it inside and out with complicated brickwork and vast windows and paintings. They wanted their church to inspire people to worship and direct their gaze to God. In my opinion, it paid off.

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