Cleansing Fire

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Should Sacred Space Ever Be Used for a Secular Purpose?

March 16th, 2016, Promulgated by Bernie

Have you seen the post (link to a National Catholic Register article) on the custodian who was arrested for the way in which he protested a movie themed flower show in the Omaha Cathedral? Do take a minute and peruse the post HERE.

The Church has rules concerning acceptable use of the sacred space of a church. I don’t know, specifically, what those are so I hope some readers who know can inform us of the rules in the comment box.

Regardless of the official rules, however, I pose the question as to whether you think it is ever proper to use a church for secular events or displays? (Let’s keep in mind that, unlike the middle ages, there are plenty of secular venues available for large gatherings.)

A few years ago I ran into a very beautiful art installation in the Abbey Church of Melk, Austria. From an aesthetic point of view it was a stunning play on the colors of the interior of the church and the rounded architectural forms of the dome and arches. Curtains of (what appeared to be) flowers added an ethereal or transcendental feeling. Certainly we could not object to this use of a church as much as we might to the Omaha installation that featured costumed manikins depicting movie scenes. But, should even the Melk Abbey church installation have been allowed?

(Click on each photograph)

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4 Responses to “Should Sacred Space Ever Be Used for a Secular Purpose?”

  1. avatar christian says:

    “Pope Benedict XVI recently observed that:‘At the very centre of social life there must be a presence that evokes the mystery of the transcendent God. God and man walk together in history, and the role of the Temple is to provide a visible sign of
    this communion.'” Catechesis,14th September, 2005 -part of the foreword of “Consecrated for Worship: A Directory on Church Building”.

    This document which quotes Pope Benedict XVI and draws from Vatican documents was published by the Catholic Bishops’ Council of England and Wales. I believe this document answers questions to how a church building/sacred space should be used. (Particularly the section: “A Place of Prayer”)
    http://www.liturgyoffice.org.uk/Resources/CFW/CFW.pdf

  2. avatar snowshoes says:

    As a logical exercise, why not use the Senate Chamber as a place for such aerial decorations? Or the Blue Room of the White House? Or the Parliament Chamber? Or the Eastman Theater?

    We’ve gotten away, sorta, from the decoration of churches as done in Europe, or India, or the Philippines, for the great feasts, and as described in historical documents, or novels like Le Rouge et le Noir. I recall how Holy Redeemer used to be decorated for Christmas and Easter. Wow. The church is always the Throne Room of the Great King, or at least is supposed to be.

    Congress is always in Session in a Catholic Church. Decorations in a church should always refer directly to the One Whose House it is. Now, when the village here burned, the church was spared and was used as a hospital and shelter for the injured and homeless. That’s a good “secular” use, but it is a work of mercy, so not really secular. So, to answer the question, no. Next question? Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

  3. avatar christian says:

    I agree with snowshoes comments -“the church should always be the Throne Room of the Great King, or at least it is supposed to be.” and in a village that was burned “a church was spared and was used as a hospital and shelter for the injured and homeless. That’s a a good “secular” use, but it is a work of mercy, so not really secular.”

    I have already weighed in on my opinion regarding the nave of the Cathedral of Omaha being used as a movies theme exhibition, using manikins and flowers, including a bust of Buddha in one of the displays, which was not only inappropriate for a Catholic church, but also inappropriate for use as part of movies theme display, which may have been an affront to serious Buddhists. I don’t think Catholic churches and cathedrals should not be used as a museum to display art or science exhibits.

    With regard to flowers in church: I think flower displays in church are wonderful if they are used in such a way that they emphasize the holiness, reverence, and awe of God’s house and enhance worship, but are a problem if they distract from that.

    I can pretty much ascertain why the bishop, pastor, sister, and brother who thought there was no reason why a Flowers Festival shouldn’t be held in the nave of The Cathedral of Omaha. They probably giving liberal interpretation to the the USCCB’s 1978 document “Environment and Art in Catholic Worship.” That document deemphasizes a church as a House of God, and rather, emphasizes the church as a gathering place, a House of the People. That document also suggests modification in the church environment to make it more people-focused. The people who have espoused that 1978 document regard older churches and cathedrals as “outdated” and tend to think of them as museums.

    Commentaries on the USCCB 1978 document “Environment and Art in Catholic Worship” state the following points:
    1. It was drafted hastily by the Bishops’ Liturgy committee in response to Vatican II.
    2. Not all the bishops agreed to the proposals in the document.
    3. There was much controversy among the bishops regarding the content of the document.
    4. There was never a vote taken for approval of the document and its content.
    5. The wording in the document was so vague that it left it open for interpretation particularly among those who had a liberal agenda.
    6. It was latched onto as if it was church law when it was meant only as a list of suggestions.
    7. After it was released, there was widespread controversy in dioceses and among bishops.

    This document is responsible for many a wreckovation in old church buildings and it was used as the basis for designing new church buildings. Often you see that people who have adhered to this document and have implemented it in a radical manner, have no concept of “sacred space.”

    I have dealt with people who adhered radically to the 1978 Environment and Art in Catholic Worship” who detested the layout/design and architecture of older church buildings.

    In one instance, while on a committee with one pastor of a church in the Diocese of Rochester, this pastor revealed how disappointed and angry he was at being assigned to serve in an old church which he deemed as “outdated.” I, and other parishioners on the committee, in addition to the rest of the parishioners, loved our old church building and took pride in it. We all thought it was extremely beautiful and very inspirational.

    This pastor referenced our church as “a museum.” Those of us on the committee were shocked when he announced that he wanted to build another church for the parish with modern design and architecture, and he wanted to use our existing older church as a museum and conduct tours to raise money. He somehow thought he could get bus tours to come and view the older church.

    When he learned that there was no way he could build a new church with modern design and architecture, he then came up with new plans for using the older church, which thank God, never came to fruition.

    There have been and are, clergy, religious, bishops, and laity throughout the United States who don’t like older churches or cathedrals, and like the one pastor, regard them as “outdated” and consider them “museums.” There appears to be no acknowledgment of consecrated space/sacred space.

    The USCCB set out to clarify their document of 1978 twenty years later in 1998, and released “Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture, and Worship” in 2000. Judge for yourself if there is more clarity. http://www.ajdiocese.org/sites/default/files/Built%20of%20Living%20Stones.pdf

  4. avatar Scott W. says:

    As a logical exercise, why not use the Senate Chamber as a place for such aerial decorations? Or the Blue Room of the White House? Or the Parliament Chamber? Or the Eastman Theater?.

    That’s an excellent excerise that reminds me of my point about idle chatter in the nave. Namely, imagine it in a public library.


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