An Argument for the Return to Beauty in Our Churches
Cathedral Santiago de Compostela (Smithonian Journeys)
"And there was nothing in the temple that was not covered with gold: the whole altar of the oracle he covered also with gold. And he made in the oracle two cherubims of olive tree, of ten cubits in height." - 1 Kings 6:22-23, Douay-Rheims Bible
If you drive down any street in any modern city, you will see miles and miles of buildings that look almost identical. Modern architecture is all about the cost, and does not take in the longing of the human soul for beauty. Sadly we see this in our churches as well.
Older churches tend to have this sort of effect on the mind and soul, and raise the heart to God by their very design. Modern churches, even Catholic ones, are simply built with the same thing in mind: cost efficiency.
It is understandable since a lot of parishes do not have the money to build a soaring cathedral. However, there is something to be said for focusing more on the aesthetic aspect of the church, as it inspires in us a sort of awe, and awareness for something higher than ourselves.
The decline in truly beautiful architecture seems to have really taken place within the last 60 years. Interestingly enough, the rise in Atheism seems to almost coincide with this decline in modern architecture.
"Modern Catholic churches of the Novus Ordo, like their absence of aesthetics and splendor, are mortuaries of faith." - Justin Haggerty, The Daily Knight
Correlation does not always equal causation, but I sincerely believe there may be a link there. You can walk into any modern Catholic church now and see it devoid of the beauties of the past; stained glass windows, marble statues, soaring arches, and especially the high altar.
Although some modern churches, usually the ones who hold the Traditional Latin Mass seem to have retained a bit of this, for the most part, the high altar has been removed, only to be replaced by a simple Crucifix and the tabernacle. There is now a table instead of the altar rail, plain, white-washed walls instead of the ornate carvings and stained glass of the high altar.
Without these images to lift our minds to God, churches have become almost sterile and as plain as any modern building, and the average person walking in off the street doesn’t see anything of beauty that makes an impact on their soul.
I know from my own experience the difference I felt between walking into a modern day Catholic Church and going to one that was built over a half century ago. I had to stop and just gaze in awe at the stained glass and high altar. Tears welled up in my eyes and I fell to my knees in prayer.
Even as a former atheist, if I had seen the latter church, something in me would have been stirred. I sincerely believe that if we are to bring people back to God, we MUST sacrifice cost and efficiency for beauty. So let us pray that beauty will be returned to our churches, and more people would come back to God.
Since God is the creator of all that is good and beautiful, shouldn’t our churches reflect that?