I have noticed that when it comes to discussions on liturgical music and church architecture on my blog and on others that there is a direct correlation between the theological views of the commenter and whether they like or dislike something pertaining to those subjects. Those that accept all Church teaching are usually critical of much of what goes for modern liturgical music and church architecture, while those that disagree with one or more Church teaching are generally approving of these forms.
Why is that? If beauty is suppose to be so subjective and in the eye (or ear) of the beholder, then why does opposing or support develop along theological fault lines? For the sake of shorthand I will use the terms conservatives and progressives even though they are an inexact and mainly political term. Plus maybe it is a little more charitable then dividing it between the faithful and the heretics.
If all of this was just a matter of taste then we should expect to see equal amount of like and dislike for modern liturgical music and church architecture among conservatives and progressives. Why is it that we never see a Bishop Bruskewitz or an Archbishop Chaput tearing up their Cathedrals, removing statues and kneelers, and putting in Mass in the round arrangements? Why is it that it is always the Cardinal Mahoney types that are constructing the Cathedral bunkers? I think it goes much farther then just that conservatives like older more traditional stuff and that progressives like less traditional modern stuff.
I don’t pretend to have the answers totally for why this is. I can only speak for myself that I don’t think I like Gregorian Chant and for example Romanesque architecture just because it was around before I was born. I am a geek who likes SF and music of the head banging variety, yet I discern that some forms a music are more applicable to worship then others. Sacred means to be set apart and music and architecture that can not be separated from the culture around it does not seem to me to be set apart and sacred. I have often read in defense of modern hymns that the form of music just doesn’t matter. If that is true then why won’t they simply accept chant and polyphony to make peace with those of us who think that it does matter?
One church that I sometimes go to adoration at has a more modern appearance throughout and a 3D mural in the back of the Sanctuary. The church is mainly simple in appearance and yet it helps me to worship. The mural which contains an embedded crucifix as part of it is not traditional but again it helps to turn my thoughts to God. I think that others that consider themselves to be traditionalists would also find beauty in this church. The other argument often made is that it doesn’t matter what our churches look like. Again speaking for myself I need the equivalent of liturgical training wheels to help me in prayer. I am not advanced enough to walk of into the desert and to easily raise my heart to God. I think a specific test of church architecture is that you should be able to identify it as a church and not for example a modern art museum. Too many modern structures seem to be made more to worship the architectural prowess of the architect and not God. If you are thinking this is a daring structure are you really thinking about worship? Looking at the Oakland and L.A. Cathedrals the words beauty just does not come to my mind. Interesting structure perhaps, but are people going to want to get their pictures taken in front of it (other then for Halloween)? Do they elicit the same awe as the churches in Rome or other places? Would the majority of people want to have a screensaver of these structures on their computer?
As for the argument that the structure just doesn’t matter I would whole-heartily disagree with. We are not just spirit and the idea that just as long as the Eucharist is being celebrated that the rest is of no concern. We have fallen natures that need all the help we can get. Our churches to celebrate the incarnation should be incarnational themselves. Sure during times of persecutions the faithful were happy to just be able to celebrate Mass whether it was out in field or secretly in someone’s house. To pretend that whether Mass is celebrated in St. Peters or in a conference room that the faithful will have the same spiritual dispositions I believe is mistaken.
When God instructed Moses on the tent of the offering in the book of Exodus he did not just say "do what ever appeals to you since it just doesn’t matter", but laid out specific instructions on how it was to be built and how parts of it was to be overlaid with gold and even mentioned the type of statuary that it was to be decorated with (two cherubim of gold).
The fact is that there is a divide in the appreciation of liturgical music and church architecture mainly along conservative/progressive lines and I would be interested in the insights that my readers may have for why this is.