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The Beautiful


A Beautiful Church is A Wordless Sermon

My dear parishioners,

One of the most joyful songs for entering  a church building is Psalm 122:

"I was glad when they said unto me,

                          let us go into the house of the Lord."

The first thing  everyone says when they see our newly renovated

church is “It’s beautiful!” 


This renovation project was the dream of  many of you. It may have just started as  thought of upgrading sections of the  church from re-carpeting to repainting the  walls. However, my thought of renovating  our church, which is also shared by many  of you, is an issue of great importance  because it is a matter of making visible, in  signs and symbols, our relationship with  God, for divine revelation is always  communicated in a human way. It is  God’s manner of teaching that a  sacramental celebration is woven from  signs and symbols and their meaning is  rooted in the work of creation and human  culture. This is not only used to manifest  this relationship with God but in fact can  nourish, and strengthen this relationship as  well. When we were designing the  renovation of our church, we gave utmost  importance and consideration that the  building and all of its parts support the  mission of the Church, the “sanctification  of man and the glorification of God” (SC,  10)

In considering the importance of the church building, the sacred action taking  place within the building is of paramount  importance. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger  addressed the high dignity of the liturgy  writing: “Thus it brings heaven into the  community assembled on earth, or rather  it takes that community beyond itself into  the communion of saints of all times and  places.” Since liturgy is man’s highest act  of worship and communicates man’s  salvation, the church building holds a  singular purpose in expressing man’s  ultimate destiny, which is union with God in heaven.  Not only is the  rite carried out within the church, but the  church actually becomes a sacramental  image of man’s union with God as well.

One characteristic of Christians is how  they love one another even while they  meet the challenges of renovating a  church. It may be difficult and the fabric  of our community may fray and tear. But  the Spirit’s work in our community  encourages cooperation so that each can  perform a task for building up the Body of  Christ.  

If the community looks upon its work with  the eyes of faith, then it can be assured  that God will bring the good work to  completion. Renovating our church is  itself an act of worship, because beauty is  a reflection of God and a call to  

transcendence. We made sure that our  church should mirror divine beauty,  balancing the social needs of our local  faith community with our duty to worship  God through beauty which affects the  equation of design and execution. This  beauty can also be found in our church’s  elegant design and in worthy religious arts  that are in our church now. 

Liturgy is our participation in the work of  God. Our church, therefore, must be a  place suited to sacred celebrations,  dignified and beautiful. Our church  building and the religious artworks that beautify it are forms of worship themselves and both inspire and reflect the  prayer of our community as well as the  inner life of grace.

Why should our church be beautiful? We  might as well ask why we take the trouble  to make anything beautiful. There are  many reasons why we might do so. We  might beautify ourselves out of vanity. We  might beautify our homes or drive  beautiful cars in an attempt to impress  others or ourselves. All of these understandable reasons are our personal  justifications for beauty. We do not make  our church beautiful because we want to  show off or because we want to be  superior or because we have a taste for  finery. We make our church beautiful  because beauty is one aspect of the Holy  Trinity. 

Beauty is woven with Goodness and Truth  as three cords in a rope. The rope is strong  for having the three strands woven  together. Unravel one and the others come  undone. Our church, of all our buildings,  most needs to be beautiful because the church is not simply a place to hear  sermons. It is a sermon. Therefore, the  religion that is practiced in the beautiful  church needs also to be good and true, so  that it reflects the Holy Trinity, which is  the summit and source of all Truth,  Beauty, and Goodness. 

The flaw in the argument would seem to  be that making a saint does not need a  Gothic cathedral. True. But this leads us to  analyze what is beautiful. There is a  delightful detail in the film version of the  life of St. Damien of Molokai.  When he arrives at the leper colony  the small church building is  dilapidated, neglected, and filthy.  The furniture is broken, the altar  polluted, and the crucifix upended.  Before he even speaks to the lepers,  the saint first picks up a broom and  begins to clean and beautify the  house of God. Damien’s church  remains humble and poor, but his  priority of worship brings beauty to  even the humblest of chapels.

Beauty, Truth, and Goodness.  Three in One and One in Three,  and Damien’s example shows it to  be so. For if beauty is good and  expresses truth, then goodness is  also beautiful and true, and truth is  beautiful and good, and where one  cord of the Trinitarian rope really  exists, the others cannot be absent

Some of the most rewarding work I  do happen when I am blissfully  unaware of my physical  surroundings. Psychologists call  this a “state of flow,” in which we  become completely enmeshed in  the task at hand. Time flies by. We  feel satisfied with what we’re  doing. We stop thinking so much  about ourselves.

For me, most of this is word work - working on the weekly bulletin,  preparing homilies, writing prayers  at Mass, and a lot more office  works and because I find this work  compelling, it so engrosses me that my physical surroundings can fall into a sorry state. Of course, the work I am  doing is immeasurably more important than  my cluttered office space, but the latter  should not simply be dismissed outright.

I think the work we do as a Church is so  vital that we often rightly lose sight of  secondary realities, such as the physical  structures where we do ministry. The real  work of the Church is the worship of God  and the proclamation of the gospel. This  includes hearing the Word of God and the  sacramental life; it means feeding the  hungry, and teaching children the faith. All  of this is crucial, and certainly worth our  full attention. Still, for many of us, our life  of worship is housed in a building. While  caring for our worship space is not our  mission, at times it is still worthy of  theological reflection. 

Throughout the history of the Church, the  church building has been understood as a  sacramental image of heaven which gives a  “foretaste of the heavenly liturgy.” The  Book of Revelation gives a mystical vision  of heaven, calling it the “New Jerusalem,”  a radiant, jewel-like city filled with  heavenly beings singing God’s praises in  the eternal liturgy. This image provides the  model for every earthly church building,  which, as Vatican II reminds us, manifests  the “signs and symbols of the heavenly  realities” (Sacrosanctum Concillium, 122)  in and through the medium of the arts: architecture, paintings, statues, and stained glass. 

The last point (and I could go on) is that a  church is not just a meeting place. It is a  house of prayer. It is a place that becomes  hallowed with prayer. Therefore, it must be  a place that lifts the heart to prayer. The  human heart is vulnerable to beauty. The  beauty of worship and the beauty of a  church building lifts even the hardest heart  to prayer.


In a beautiful church, people’s  hearts are opened. They stop and gaze and  lift their eyes upward and as they do the  fall to their knees, and even the most  unlearned stumble and mumble the words  their stuttering tongues seek to find:

Holy,  Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts.

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