I just finished reading a thought-provoking book by Moyra Doorly (an architect from England) entitled No Place for God. The book speaks of the Modernist architectural revolution and how it influenced (and still influences) the Catholic Church's architecture, and gives some examples to highlight some problems in the way the Church is expressing its faith through its buildings.
After reading the book (which now has many dog-eared pages), I thought about mindsets for Church architecture, and especially interior design. I can think of three main approaches to Church building and renovation today:
- Overly extravagent: The 'let's make it ridiculously ornate for the sake of having a pretty Church that people will be jealous of' group falls here. Those in this group would love a Church where every corner is full of gold-foil paint, icons, statues, candles, etc., to the point that it becomes hard to find the altar.
- Overly simplistic: Those who wish to remove all icons, artwork, and ornate furnishings from Church in order to create a space that shows how the community of people 'gathers around the table of the Lord.' However, simplistic Churches (and I'm sure anyone reading this has been inside at least one) tend to lead people's minds astray, especially since our wandering eyes don't have anything holy or spiritual to gaze upon (which would help bring us back into a state of holy awe and wonder).
- Just right: In order to foster devotional life in the Church, and to express the true liturgical worship that cannot happen outside of a sacred space, a Church should have visible signs of the divine—statues of saints, icons depicting our Lord's life, a decorated sanctuary with a pleasant and cohesive architectural structure and color scheme, and other means for the faithful (as well as the priest) to lift their eyes towards God. Nothing should be so gaudy as to detract from the mystery of Jesus' real presence, but neither should anything be so plain as to make people think the Church is a place just like any contemporary office building or apartment complex.
Doorly points out in her book that many Churches seem to have been built in the spirit of Modernism, and as such have very little or no sense of the sacred in them (besides, of course, Jesus' Real Presence), because, according to Modernism, we seek the sacred inside ourselves, and the Church building should lead us inward, not outward. Being born after 1980, I can't say whether all these claims are true; I didn't live through the revolutions of the 60s and 70s. But I can say that I don't see God's majesty visibly expressed in many of the Churches I visit.
I pray that all of the Church buildings in the world can offer enough majesty through their artwork and architecture to lift Catholics' souls to Heaven, but avoid the extravegances that some Churches of earlier times may have been part of.