Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Churches in the Spirit of Vatican II

July 23rd, 2011, Promulgated by Bernie

Saint Paul the Apostle Catholic Church - Westerville, Ohio

A while ago I received from reader Christopher a link to an interesting article which, in turn, led me
to the web page of an architectural firm that I believe is designing churches according to the authentic principles outlined at Vatican II. I’m thinking this gives me an opportunity to perhaps explain better the points I was trying to make in my last post. There are some things I don’t personally like in these designs but they are not important to my goal in this post which is to illustrate, by showing some successful modern projects, my interpretation of what I believe the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council had in mind when they adopted Sacrosanctum Concilium. I had to turn to some post-Council documents to clarify some things that lacked specifics in the Council document.

Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church - Leawood, Kansas

As the altars are free-standing the liturgy can be celebrated with the priest either facing with the people (toward the East) or toward the people (over the altar). In addition, the priest can move around to all sides of the altar when incensing. [1]

The eschatological dimension of the liturgy [2] is stressed by the large centralized Christological imagery [3] behind the altars in both churches. There no devotional images of Christ, Mary, or the saints in the chancels or reservation chapels of the churches. And, there is a clear hierarchy respected in the imagery. [4]

Preliminary sketch for St. Paul's.

At St. Paul’s Church it is a crucifixion scene (of cosmic importance, witnessed by saints and angels). [5]


"Christ in Glory"

In the case of St. Michael’s Church it is an image of “Majesta(s) Domini “(Christ in Glory, Enthroned Christ, or Christ Pantocrator.) St. Michael the Archangel and all the Church (at the end of time?) are depicted smaller and below Christ. Christ, true God and true man, all-powerful ruler of the universe, and judge of all is the point of focus; Christ our end, the Omega. No doubt about it.

Garden (and other) imagery over the tabernacle in St. Paul's.

Further, garden imagery and rich decorative patterns recall Paradise and the New Jerusalem (a New Heaven and a New Earth) –our destination. [6]

The chancel in both churches is clearly defined [7] and marked off by communion rails and higher elevation imitating the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem Temple as well as the New Jerusalem, also known as The Tabernacle of God, Holy City, City of God, Celestial City and Heavenly Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation, as well as Jerusalem Above, Zion and “shining city on a hill” in other books of the Bible; a city that is or will be the dwelling place of the Saints.

The tabernacles and altars are separate as instructed in the 1970 GIRM. [8] The Council was silent about the placement of the tabernacle. In these two chancels that I am showing you, the tabernacles and altars are now clearly experienced as separate; the faithful can respond to each appropriately.

The tabernacles invite quiet private meditation. They retain a centralized and clearly viewable position in each church.  St. Paul’s actually appears to be a reservation chapel. [9]

The altars are now free to clearly invite action, the action of the liturgy –the congregation, as an assembly, acting together. [10]

The forward positioning of the altars, with the congregations seated on three sides, also encourages a sense of full and active participation mentioned just above, although the Council made no recommendation as to positioning of the altar other than that it be the point of focus [11] of the assembly, and also not attached to a wall. The Council did not refer to the position of the altar when it called for the promotion of a sense of community or “active participation.” [12]

The art and furnishings are noble and beautiful. [13] (Not “simple.” The Council, in regards to liturgical art, called for noble beauty, [14] NOT noble simplicity.) Note especially the substantial and permanent altars. [15]

I believe there is a real danger in nearly surround seating in that the community can begin to worship itself, taking delight in itself rather than in the Lord. I also think it diminishes a sense of movement toward the Lord that was so beautifully expressed in the early Christian Basilicas which, in fact, became -basically-  the prevailing plan through the centuries. You could appropriately point to St. Peter’s Basilica in support of surround seating. Of course, there the altar is elevated and surmounted by a large baldacchino. St. Peter’s altar is also preceded by a longitudinal nave (it was originally, however, designed as a Greek cross plan; all arms the same length). The altars in these two churches I’ve shown you in this post appear to be at the crossing of the arms of a Latin cross plan, and are elevated, like St. Peter’s.

1.  General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 1970, Chapter V, IV, 262
2.  Sacrosanctum Concilium, 47
3.  SC 125
4.  SC 7 and 8
5.  SC 6
6.  SC 8
7. GIRM, Chapter V, II and III
8.  GIRM, Chapter V,X
9.  Euchristicum Mysterium, 1967, 7
10.  SC 48, and EM 3 and 4, EM Chapter II, C
11. GIRM, 262
12.  SC 30
13.  SC 122
14.  SC 124
15. GIRM, 262 and 263
Photo Sources:

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3 Responses to “Churches in the Spirit of Vatican II”

  1. Raymond F. Rice says:

    Unfortunately, a lot of the principles of architecture you elaborate on in the above setting are already present in St Thomas the Apostle Church on St. Paul Blvd.

  2. Bernie says:

    Raymond F. Rice: You are so right! I was wondering if anyone was going to mentioned that. Thanks.

  3. annonymouse says:

    Raymond, EXACTLY what I was thinking. Especially considering that St. Cecilia and St. Margaret Mary are relatively poor worship spaces, as compared to STA.

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