Dear Johan, I suspect our new pastor has gone mad. He was given some sort of primitive-looking colorful wood carving by his previous parishioners and now he insists on installing it in our beautiful Gothic church. It would ruin the artistic integrity of our building. I am beside myself. What should I do?
Deep cleansing breaths: in with the art, out with the bad. And again . . .
It sounds like your pastor is attached to the art and does not care a bit about stylistic purity. So I suggest you learn to love it because I don’t suspect it will go away anytime soon. Maybe I can assist you in this process by simply easing your obsession with stylistic purity. The best thing for you to do would be to take a trip to Europe to visit the many, many cathedrals, churches, and chapels that would not pass your purity test. I am quite sure you will love them nonetheless. But short of such a trip, just a few words.
Let me begin by assuring you that you are not the only person who thinks that buildings, especially church buildings, should be stylistically pure. Even some well-educated people surprisingly subscribe to this theory. According to them, the highest form of church architecture is a church that has been built in one specific style and retains this purity of style throughout the ages. And, of course, this style is preferably Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, or one of their neo-renditions. For people who belong to this school of thinking, to have contemporary art in a beaux-arts building, for example, would be considered a great artistic and even a theological blunder. No disrespect intended, I suspect it is somewhat of a young countries’ syndrome.
Just one lesson in the history of ecclesiastical architecture would, of course, be enough to debunk these kinds of thought. Suffice it to look at the great European cathedrals. They proudly and very effectively bear the imprint of each generation that has worked on them and worshiped in them. Romanesque naves, Gothic apses, Baroque altars, and contemporary appointments create a wonderful testimony to the faith of the many, many generations who have gone before us. And like the church in her great diversity is one, these buildings in their stylistic richness are supremely harmonious.
As to the mental condition of your pastor, I would hesitate to declare him mad on account of his choice to bring contemporary art into your Gothic, presumably neo-Gothic, building. That seems a bit extreme and given my answer you may already have declared me likewise.
One more thing, maybe he can take you on that much needed trip to Europe?
© 2015 Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Excerpted from What’s the Smoke For? And Other Burning Questions about the Liturgy by Johan van Parys © 2014 Order of Saint Benedict, published by Liturgical Press, www.litpress.org. Used by permission.
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