A few weeks ago, I met someone who asked me how I got into church architecture, sacred art, and the liturgy. I explained that it all started because, as a kid, I was fascinated with the architecture and aesthetics of sports stadiums.
Universities and governments spend unfathomable amounts of money on these buildings because they are a very large and emphatic statement about who we are and what we value as fans of the team or citizens of the state. Notre Dame’s facilities remind fans of all the legends who’ve played there, the “echoes of glory” and whatnot. Oregon’s facilities are cutting-edge, high-tech, and unbelievably cool. We spend loads of time and money on these structures because we believe (wrongly) that something extremely important happens there. And, in a thousand years, archaeologists will find the ruins of these stadiums and postulate (rightly) that these must have been the centers of civic life.
Although these sports facilities are cool, I gradually became more interested in the places where we do the Actual Most Important Thing In The Universe: the Mass.
It is not hard to see the connection between the Yankee Stadium of today and the massive cathedrals of the past. The citizens of central France built Chartres because it said something about who they were, and what they believed to be taking place inside.
Cathedrals and ancient ruins are interesting to us precisely because they required a lot of capital, and thus were a statement about the values and priorities of the societies that built them. Well, this is still true today. The way we build and decorate our churches says everything about what we believe is happening in there.
If we hold that the primary point of the Mass is to be “a welcoming community of believers, gathered around the table for a festive meal” or something, then our churches will look and feel like a living room or a family restaurant. If this is you, don’t work with Granda. You are going to hate us. Sorry.
But, if we believe that something of cosmic importance takes place on the altar — namely, our eternal redemption in Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, and all that that entails — then we ought to create spaces fitting for that. This is what I believe, and this is what Granda is all about.
Archbishop Sample of Portland recently did an interview with Catholic World Report, which is worth a read. During the conversation he quotes Pope Benedict, who said “If we don’t have the liturgy, what do we have?” It’s a good question. The way we approach the liturgy determines everything else about who we are as Christians. That’s why this matters. It’s the most important thing in the world.
Chartes Cathedral photo: CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=293808