The Renovation of
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CHURCH
The Beautiful Church
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.
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” (SC, 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.
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