I have been thinking about some of the changes in church architecture coming up on the twenty years I have lived in the Diocese of St. Augustine. The downtown parish where I came into the church looked like everything I had come to exspect what a Catholic parish would look like from Hollywood. I had found it accidentally when driving around I spotted the Catholic bookstore sign and so bought my first Catholic books there. When my wife and I walked into the church afterwards I was totally struck by the beauty of the high altar, stained glass, and statues.
I soon learned that this was not the normal state of things regarding church building architecture in my diocese. Seemingly the majority of parishes I encountered were of the ubiquitos clamshell design. Nothing uplifting about them as they could be converted to civic auditoriums overnight. When I saw one parish close to me was rebuilding, I was happy until I found out the clamshell design was being replaced by another larger clamshell. The other parish close to me when they started building their new church building, was also of the same design. Having been to many parishes in my city this is the dominant design. As much as I dislike this design, another parish went for the design with a altar in a center with a runway up to it. I guess the common factor was to make sure people were staring at each other.
Since I now go to daily Mass at a typical clamshell church I started taking a new route into where I go to work. Because of this I found a new parish I had not been aware of. A somewhat large cruciform shaped building traditional in design. I had been wanting to check it out, but there daily Mass is after the time I need to be at work. So last week when I had a day off ofter a week of travel I finally got around to visiting it. The daily Mass was held in a chapel behind the main church. I have seen this type of design in many parishes. I imagine this arrangement is for cost savings regarding heating and A/C.
The interior of the church was as I hoped it would be based on the exterior. Fairly beautiful and you could actually recognized things in teh stained glass and not the abstract blobs I have found prevalent. The chapel was packed with people and they had a beautiful bust of Pope Saint John Paul II. The Mass was said reverently. After Mass the priest asked me my name and welcomed me. Now as an introvert, this can be unnerving to me. Still I actually did feel welcomed as something more than some fake sense of community. At the daily Mass I have been attending I haven’t had one word from any of the priests there. This was especially disconcerting since the pastor had given my wife Last Rites. This same priest had told me my wife looked fine, a week before she died. So I guess even introverts such as myself desire some level of acknowlegment.
So this parish was a nice surprise. Still in the last ten years the new parishes I have visited have all been of cruciform design. One of the new parishes is not only beautiful, but had a liturgy to match. So this is all a good development and I have seen other parishes stuck with the clamshell making changes they could like moving the Tabernacle from a side chapel to the center. So the microcosm that I see in my diocese seems to be for the good. I do wonder if this is a trend nationwide or not?
In other news I am now singing with the choir at the Latin Mass I attend. They must be desparate since they asked me to join even after they heard me sing. Still I do love to sing and I did have four years of choir in High School which was initially quite accidental. I sing so much better when I have confident voices around me to keep me in tune. Plus the acoustics of this wooden church are spetacular.