Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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“Let them bring me… to thy dwelling”

October 27th, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

Entrance to St. John of Rochester Church, Fairport

“Oh send out thy light and thy truth; let them lead me, let them bring me to thy holy hill and to thy dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise thee with the lyre, O God, my God.”   – Psalm 43     

Sadly, the Creator of the universe now-a-days needs a sign for us to identify His house.     

The church entrance in the photograph to the left is clearly labeled (click on the picture to see a larger image) because the architecture of the church is the same as the parish ministry building -and other attached buildings- that sit on the campus of St. John of Rochester Church in Fairport. The other buildings/entrances are similarly labeled.     

Built at the start of the 1980s the church is a good example of the prevailing theory of church architecture of the time, namely, that a church building should blend-in and not stand-out from the surrounding natural or built environment. Actually, that approach still influences new church construction.     

I don’t know if the signage was included when the building complex at St. John’s of Rochester was constructed but I’m betting it wasn’t. I suspect the signs went up because people visiting the church from out of town or for weddings and funerals or for attending ‘ministry’ meetings or school events couldn’t determine which building/entrance to use.     

Nothing about the entrance tells us that we are crossing the threshold of a special building and entering a space reserved for the assembly of the Christian faithful, “and where is worshipped the presence of the Son of God our Savior.” CCC #11811  It is a space that houses the sacrificial altar upon which the Savior is offered up “for the help and consolation of the faithful.”  CCC #1181  These church buildings “are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ.” CCC #2106  

“Our visible churches, holy places, are images of the holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, toward which we are making our way on pilgrimage.” CCC #198  

“…this house ought to be in good taste and a worthy place for prayer and sacred ceremonial. In this ‘house of God’ the truth and the harmony of the signs that make it up should show Christ to be present and active in this place.” CCC #1181   

“Finally, the church (building) has an eschatological significance. To enter into the house of God, we must cross a threshold, which symbolizes passing from the world wounded by sin to the world of the new Life to which all men are called. The visible church (building) is a symbol of the Father’s house toward which the People of God is journeying and where the Father ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes.’” CCC #1186  

The problem with a good deal of contemporary church architecture is its emphasis on the gathering aspect of Christian worship to the exclusion of the church as symbolic of the Father’s house –God’s house. The result has been designs that embody a sense of practical functionality in accommodating the actions of the assembled but little or no sense of the sacred. A good church design must communicate both aspects of the Catholic understanding of the church building.  

Rather than tackle the entire problem of church architecture today let’s just make a brief comment on the reference in the CCC to the crossing of a threshold that symbolizes the passing into a redeemed world from a sinful world. The entrance to a church should dramatically suggest a symbolic threshold. Yet most contemporary church entrances today ignore the theological significance of the threshold in favor of the architectural and secular concern for creating a welcoming entrance. Thus, contemporary doors –not just church entrances- are overwhelmingly made of large planes of transparent glass that are meant to breakdown the feeling of any kind of threshold. Where there should be a strong sense of threshold most contemporary church entrances invite a blurring between the outside and the inside. What might be desired for a retail store entrance, however, is inappropriate for a church.  

“Sacred images in our churches and homes are intended to awaken and nourish our faith in the mystery of Christ.” CCC #1192 Therefore, it is entirely proper that imagery –especially figurative imagery- be incorporated in the design of church entrances.  

As we embark on the recovery of the sense of the sacred in our churches, let’s give careful consideration to the threshold where the sacred and holy is announced.  

What follows are just a couple of thresholds symbolizing that something special awaits inside.  

1 CCC = Catechism of the Catholic Church  

When I enter through this door I'm expecting to be in the presence of somebody who is very important.

Modern Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, Israel. Peter hears Christ predict Peter's denial. The church stands on the site where Peter denied Christ three times.

Pilgrimage Church of the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene, Vézelay, France. Over the doorway is depicted Christ commissioning the apostles to preach the Gospel to all the world.

A relatively simple set of contemporary church doors.

1 CCC = Catechism of the Catholic Church 

 Photo sources:   

Book suggestion: Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy, Denis R. McNamara, (Chicago, Hillenbrand Books, 2009)  

Website: Doorways of the World, a fascinating collection of photos of doorways from around the world. Includes more than just church entrances.     

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3 Responses to ““Let them bring me… to thy dwelling””

  1. avatar RochChaCha says:

    Bernie,

    The signs were added just within the last two years or so, at about the same time that the pastor, Father Clifford, started to allow lay people to join the procession with fishing poles and pretty streamers attached to them. St John of Rochester parish is now using the term ‘campus’ to talk about the property as if it was the size of the U of R. SJR is starting to follow in the footsteps of Fairport’s Church of the Assumption.

  2. avatar Nerina says:

    Keep ’em coming, Bernie. Another fantastic and educational post!

  3. avatar Maureen says:

    The first time I went to SJF for adoration I spent 10 minutes looking for Jesus (granted, I seek Him daily, but this time I had a visual image of a monstrance in mind). I found Him locked up in a tiny room apparently built just for Him so He wouldn’t get in the way “over thar in the Big House”…The space He’s in is more reminiscent of a noisy childrens’ cry room than a home for the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Son of God. I have some Seik friends in Africa, and accompanied them to their temple. They worship “The Book”. The Book has its own room complete with bed and air conditioning for the night. Perhaps the idea of a Room of His Own originated in the post conciliar attempt at Ecumenism (i.e. let’s loose ourselves to meet them more than half way just in order to express our sensitive, diverse, informed, welcoming selves…). Poor Jesus! At least I have more of a choice as to my surroundings! He still suffers for us.

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