I have not been called, yet; not from the rebuilding committee at Saint Pius Tenth Church. I expect a call anytime now requesting my guidance on making the new church building truly Catholic.
(chirp, chirp… )
I will be ready, however. Here is the list I have been preparing (for any new Catholic church in the planning stage, not just Pius Tenth).
1. Make it look like a Catholic church both inside and out. The Romanesque style is my preference and the most recognizable as Catholic. The Baroque, too, fully espouses Catholic theology, as well as the Byzantine but with an eastern twist. Modernism, however, has proved a failure. Please avoid it.
Use stone, brick, wood and stained glass. Hide the steel. (Concrete, only if you must.)
Please tell the world through the architectural style you choose that the building is a church: not a store, bank, Target, suburban house, town center, concert hall, or a dairy farm. May the new building announce that something really, really important and serious happens there. A church building is sacred space in which we offer sacrifice in worship of the Holy Trinity led in that worship by the Second Person of that Trinity, Jesus Christ. We have malls, senior citizen centers, youth centers, theaters and town halls to do other things; places meant to cater to us and our personal and community needs.
2. Use the traditional basilica ground plan: Latin or Greek Cross. It has worked for 1,700 years. Emphasize the linear, not the circular. We are traveling to heaven, not wandering around in circles. Our focus is on God and we want to rush toward Him without sociological, political, or faddish distractions.
The governing concept here is that salvation history has a definite beginning and a definite end. It is a whole lot different from the thinking of far eastern religions that delight in endless and limitless oceans of “being”. So, stress linear movement to the altar and not so much a gathering “around” the altar.
3. Speaking of beginnings and endings: Place the main entrance at the opposite end from the altar and make that entrance glorious. It is, after all, meant to mark movement from secular into sacred space. Symbolically, those doors represent the gates of heaven. Surround the doors with images of the saints and angels. Christ enthroned, the vision of Ezekiel or Last Judgment scene would be most appropriate over the doors. The doors themselves must be heavy wood or bronze and display Biblical scenes –perhaps the Annunciation, the angel on one door and Mary on the other. I prefer heavy doors on churches; doors that insist on being taken seriously. Please, no see-through glass doors. This isn’t K Mart.
The concept here is mystery: Catholicism exudes mystery and the doors should convey that experience.
Additional entrances should be treated in the same way except, perhaps, in scale. Marian and saint themes might be best at those entrances. (A “Marian” door and a “Saint Pius Tenth” door would be nice.)
4. Yes, the baptismal font should be right inside the main doors. I prefer the combination pool and pedestal style. Whatever it is, include imagery of the Baptism of Christ as part of it. At least that. There are plenty of other figurative baptismal imagery from our Catholic past that could be used.
5. At the far end opposite the main doors and font should be the altar, freestanding and covered by a beautiful ciborium (if the building is Classical, Romanesque or Byzantine) or a baldachin (if the architecture is Classical or Baroque).
The altar itself should be stone or at least one with marble facing and sculpted on all four sides, perhaps with the Last Supper on the front and scenes of Old Testament prefiguring of the Eucharist –Melchizedek, Sacrifice of Abraham, multiplication of the loaves and fish– on the sides.
The altar should be raised on a platform, 3 steps high. Some kind of railing or boundary should enclose the chancel marking off the space of the chancel as special.
6. For the love of God, visually center the Tabernacle in the church. It’s the Catholic thing to do. I prefer that the Tabernacle look like a temple or an ark. Images of angels all around the space, please.
7. Lavish the inside and outside of the building with images of saints and Biblical scenes carefully programmed to reinforce Christian teaching and that convey a sense of hierarchy of theology as one moves from the doors to the altar. Include rich patterns, especially in and near the chancel that suggest a king’s chamber or a paradise.
8. Please, original works of art only –created by liturgical artists with training in traditional Catholic styles! No insect-like figures. The best figurative styles to use as a guide can be found in our rich Catholic tradition: Gothic, Baroque, Byzantine, and even Art Nouveau. Avoid Realism. Figures should express a sense of being redeemed, transformed by grace, transfigured. They are in heaven and should appear noticeably ‘better’ than they would on earth.
9. After all that –and only after all that– you can concentrate on bathrooms, building community, and respecting diversity. Anyway, those are things of concern like coffee hours, movie nights, social justice committees, Rosary Society, Knights of Columbus, youth organizations, choir. You should have all those things already.
Can’t wait for my invite! Excited!