Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

When to worry about the bathrooms, diversity and community.

February 7th, 2016, Promulgated by Bernie

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.

Please, not like this.

Please, not like this.

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.

Latin Cross Plan

Latin Cross Plan

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.

arkansa door

Bronze doors with images of the Twelve Apostles.

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.

Art Nouveau Style

Art Nouveau Style

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!

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9 Responses to “When to worry about the bathrooms, diversity and community.”

  1. snowshoes says:

    Thanks, Bernie, excellent articles! As an entrant in the SPX school contest for the previous church design, I can say that Father Murphy said that Bishop Sheen suggested an octagonal church. And of course, Father Murphy wanted the new church to be paid for when it was dedicated, so much of the work was done by the Aching Arms. It is a mystery that such good traditional priest and bishop went for such a design. Maybe they just didn’t foresee the effect. I don’t know. Maybe they were thinking Pantheon, but got Carousel instead.

    Let me beat my drum on one of your implications, Bernie, that perhaps the main reason for the basilica-style building, even before Christ, was for good acoustics. We need to get back to beautiful liturgical music. The only way to do that is for the voices and instruments to be NOT amplified. Does that mean that guitars are generally not loud enough? Yes, it does. Get over it. A classical guitarist can perform the occasional sacred music instrumental solo in a church with good acoustics. Strummers, take some lessons.

    No more St. Louis Jesuits “music”! When I was in high school, and one of the scholastics was introducing some of that “music” for the first time, and bragging how he strummed guitars with those SL Jebbies, we turned to one another and said, “this is crap, it’ll never fly…” We were right about the first premise, but wrong about the second… It’s time to make it die, friends. And, it’s still as bad as it was 50 years ago, but now it’s granny music too. A kid would rather die than sing granny music. Ditch it now, or lose another generation of children. Axiom: If it sounds like (looks like) hell, it probably is… satan takes the easy way to steal the children away.

    VII says that Gregorian and Sacred Polyphony are to have the pride of place. (I WISH all I heard was crickets…) Children at Mass have never had the experience of singing a beautiful hymn with the organ and congregation and hearing the church RING with the beautiful sound. It is the devil of amplification, and poor nouveau church design, that have deprived them of this grace. A well-built basilica-style church has good acoustics. Acoustics are number one in a well-designed church.

    Bernie, call Father Bonacci, he’s a great guy. Happy Mardi Gras!

  2. Eliza10 says:

    I attended a parish input meeting for the plans for that “Please, not like this” church you pictured. Of course, like all of Bp. Clark’s other wreckovations, the parish input meeting was a sham – no input was considered, and it was built exactly as Bp. Clark wanted it. I remember being shocked when the architect told us the bell tower was supposed be reminiscent of a silo, and the church, a BARN, to fit in with the rural community landscape!

  3. raymondfrice says:

    If the church in question is in Livonia, remember it has recently produced 2 vocations and is a church that I find very inviting. Of course when I went there I focused most of my attention on the Blessed Sacrament.

  4. Ben Anderson says:

    Imagine how many vocations they would’ve had if their Church wasn’t made to look like a barn. I’m not a statistician by trade, but I believe your sample set to be too small to draw any conclusions from (among other logical problems in your conclusion).

  5. raymondfrice says:

    You are correct, Ben. I will also abandon my theory that the Rochester Gothic barn, known as Sacred Heart Cathedral, had an effect in producing some troubled priests.

  6. Eliza10 says:

    Hi Raymond! I like your new avatar. Cro-Magnon Raymond? 😀

    Re: troubled priests – “Goodbye, Good Men” is a book that helped very much to explain to me, when I converted to Catholic, HOW such a holy sacred Church – that had MORE of Jesus than even the very most devoted Protestant churches – and had the fullness of the truth, besides – could produce priests that were so lukewarm and uninspiring in their faith. Yes, and then there are the troubled ones, too. That book helped me understand how this could happen. The other way it could happen is that this is just human nature, a problem always with us. Think of the hypocrite Pharisees. So, yes, I would abandon the theory that architecture causes the troubled priests! 😀 Yeah. Probably not the architecture.

    The architecture should reflect the faith but in the newer churches its been about invention, not scared tradition, so, generally, the newer churches do not reflect the faith. People are happy to have “new”, and figure they don’t have any other choice.

    And they really have not for years in the DOR, like many other places, too, but certainly in the DOR. As a new convert, it was so shocking and scandalous to me to see widespread and consistent discouragement from so many in so many Rochester Parishes who had worked so hard and with so commitment to fight off the Clark Church Wreckovations, to no avail. Because in the independent Protestant churches, that I was used to, the faith and desires of the people prevails. It is not shot down by a higher-up, as I witnessed to my surprise in the DOR, by a bishop and his administration. Instead, the people paying for the church the say in how its built. In a the DOR I only saw “Here is what you will be paying for.” To add insult to injury, there were even clear guidelines on what one each SHOULD pay for the bishops’s pet project.

    Oh, boy, that’s a bad memory.

    But it did not stop me from becoming Catholic because I looked beyond it for what is Catholic. Not what I saw being commonly practiced in the DOR. However, I did see faithful Catholics in EVERY parish – humble people who were like beacons of light in the darkness that could NOT be snuffed. Just, all too frequently – not among those leading it. 🙁

    This made me sad, because I knew that if I saw this as a Protestant and thought THIS is what Catholic was, I would have NEVER become Catholic. And ex-Catholics populated my Evangelical Protestant church (including both pastors and most of the elders!), and now I knew WHY.

    Even if those leading and representing parish life are lukewarm of the faith, even if they turn NOT to Jesus, fully present in the Eucharist, but instead, out to the people, in a “look at me and my personality!” fashion, still, people can get close to these people and then look BEYOND them to see Jesus. And Jesus is looking at them! So, in SPITE of Clark’s leadership in the DOR, a few vocations did come anyway. Because God can still work, even if we handicap Him by our disobedience.

    In much the same way, converts came to Jesus when Judas Iscariot was out preaching. Because they knew there was more to Jesus than the sketchy lukewarm explanation they were getting. Jesus can shine through even that. Because if people want Jesus, He is there. Its not all about the messenger. Lukewarmness and error is not going to get between God and a person, not if that person wants God.

    I only feel sorry for those that NEED the representatives of the Holy Church to direct them to the truth, and when they don’t see Jesus they feel a hypocrisy, and they turn away in distain. 🙁

  7. christian says:

    I agree with your comments regarding church design and artwork Bernie, but not with your comment “and only after all that– you can concentrate on bathrooms,…”

    In the words of St. John XXIII/Pope John XXIII, “”Non sumus angeli!”

    “I am reminded of a story concerning the Vatican, during the years of Pope John XXIII. It seems that a new building had to be constructed on Vatican grounds, and the architect submitted his plans directly to the Pope. Soon the plans were returned to the architect with the words “Non sumus angeli” written in the margin: “We are not angels.” The architect and his staff were baffled as to what the Pope meant, until finally someone noticed the plans did not include bathrooms.” -Medscape, News and Perspective

    How are parishioners expected to show up to a church without at least one bathroom available? Many people have been kept away from attending church and mass due to no accessible bathroom (toilet and sink) accommodations. A church should have at least one accessible bathroom which is handicap accessible. I also think a sink should be accessible for hand-washing and washing of sacred vessels in the sacristy. We strive for Divine, but we are still mortal!

    Accessibility for everyone to be able get into the building safely is another consideration.

  8. militia says:

    It’s a shame these criteria were not followed in many church closings.
    Sequere pecuniam. Cui bono?

  9. christian says:

    militia – I agree with “Sequere pecuniam. Cui bono?”

    It seems when parishioners have been asked to sacrifice and pledge money toward the renovation of their church,(and school), especially with making it more structurally sound, more handicap accessible, more aesthetically pleasing, while additionally repairing any damage, it has often been for the next congregation (or tenant), as the Diocese of Rochester deems these renovations at parishioners’ expense will make it more marketable and bring in a higher price. I know outfits like La Bella profit, and the next congregation (or tenant) profits from a better church (or school), but how does it profit the parishioners who have sacrificed, pledged, and paid out money for their spiritual home to have it sold underneath them by the Diocese?

    And how does the Diocese of Rochester profit by selling all these churches (and schools?)

    There have been pastoral staff who disdain the beautiful architecture and art that Bernie has stated in his article, and either talk about the possibility of selling the existing older, beautiful church and building a more modern church to replace it, or endeavor to transform the older, beautiful church into a more modern, contemporary church, more like a community room or living room, rather than it alluding to the Divine and reflecting it is God’ house.

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