Building a church … lets buy back our Catholic heritage!
A marble Angel of the Lord (1 of 2 angels)salvaged from the former Saint Aloysius Church in Philadelphia, being held hostage by King Richard’s Religious Antiques.Throughout the United States, there was a terrible practice of designing our Catholic Churches as “multi-purpose “buildings. Often such a designation included an area for the celebration of the Mass, parish social activities and clerical space for administrative duties of the parish. While the intent was to make the Catholic Church portray a more open and modern religious institution the effect backfired and destroyed our artistic patronages and our architectural heritages. Churches that were constructed during the 40 or so years after the Second Vatican Council is was always most appropriate for pastors and priests to modernize their Churches by taking out the altar rails, removing the statues, modifying or removing completely confessionals and sadly removing the Tridentate Altar of Sacrifice. During these years, we searched as a Church for religious expression; we searched even for the Real Presence of Jesus, because the Eucharistic species was moved around the Church from place to place. First there was a Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, sometimes there were dueling tabernacles, and finally in some archdioceses and dioceses…Jesus is back in the center. He is right back where he started.
Because the Second Vatican Council encouraged a new openness to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, some pastors saw this as an opportunity to replace traditional Catholic liturgical accessories with new and modernized vestments, chalices…the seemingly always present liturgical banner and finally plastic floral designs.
With the new appreciation of the Liturgy of Blessed John XXIII and the papal permission issued by Benedict XVI for unrestricted celebration of this rite, Catholic parishes are hurriedly looking for the liturgical accessories they basically have sold off in liturgical yard sales in the past 40 years. Firms that specialize in reclaiming religious materials from closing Catholic Churches have proliferated in the Catholic world. Sacred articles such as statues, stained glass, liturgical vessels and even vestments are offered for sale on E-Bay, at King Richard’s.com and numerous other sites via the internet.
Our Catholic Church has allowed our donated and gifted materials to become part of a secular antiques auction. Signs and symbols that adorned our most sacred spaces can be found as decorative accessories in hotels, bars, dance clubs and yes even non-Catholic religious buildings. A few weeks ago there was a loud outcry regarding the sale of saint’s relics on EBay. While the Church maintains the buying and selling of sacred relics is considered the sin of simony. What do you call selling the pews, stained glass, marble, sacred vessels and vestments from parish Churches that have closed, modernized or consolidated? This author firmly states such materials are for Catholic sacred purposes and not an architectural harvest for salvage dealers that resell our own Catholic fixtures back to us at obscenely inflated price.
While the American Catholic Church is shifting in the demographic distribution of its Catholic population, carefull consideration and reintegration of sacred spaces materials and accessories should always be a primary concern. In a ever conscious eco-friendly world, the Catholic Church needs to reconstitute its sacred materials into new and renovated sacred spaces as an ecological message to the world, and as a gesture of good financial stewardship. Faithful Catholics that struggled and provided the financial resources to provide for our older parishes never imagined their donation, intended for perpetual memorial to find new homes as designer accessories or surplus architectural details. Furthermore, the priests and pastors that have sold off these materials, regardless of bishop’s directives, or well founded intentions have surpassed the limit of fiducial responsibility we entrusted to them.
As we begin to acknowledge our Catholic architectural and artistic heritage, it is time to design, build and worship in Catholic Churches that identify us as Catholics. Incorporating materials from other Catholic sites as appropriate provides a keen tie to our history in both secular and religious forms.
As a parishioner, I strongly shout to all of those responsible for new Catholic buildings and their planning. Utilize an architectural firm that is knowledgeable of the history of Catholic art and architecture. Plan to reuse materials from suppressed or closed parishes. Remember the truly tangible connection that exists between our Catholic ancestors and their aspirations they left us a spiritual and physical legacy. Incorporate old and new, modern with antique, such integration will allow the parish to experience the physical and historical continuity of an inherited Catholicism.