Saturday, August 04, 2012

Lingering effects of theological insanity

I recently went out to have Mass in another parish. I edited out a lot of details.

The parish was established in 1904, and in 1907 it opened a school. The present church was consecrated in 1951. The neighborhoods around the church--and nearby churches--have, unfortunately, changed drastically for the worse in the years since. One wonders if the folks at that time--under the leadership of his grace, Archbishop Karl J. Alter--could have known they were at or near the high-water mark for city parishes?

When we pulled in, I noticed immediately the paving is a mess; these things are terribly expensive. (The school has been closed since the 60s.) The church has no air conditioning, but all the windows were open, and that helped create something of a breeze.

One of the seminarians living at the parish came with me; as we pulled away after Mass, I said to him, "if you want to know what not to do to a church--that's it!"

It was a classic example of what "wreckovation" looks like. And it is examples of this sort of  wreckovation that causes me--when asked by folks, "why did this things happen?" I simply say, "we went insane." There's a much longer answer, but it boils down to that.

You can see how lovely it might have been, and might be again.

It has a beautiful mosaic where the altar once was--no doubt the tabernacle as well. I can only imagine what sort of altar had been there; now nothing is but some marble steps, leading nowhere. In front of these steps--toward the nave--is a newer platform, carpeted, likely wood, on which sits a table altar. I would be curious to see what it looks like; however it was covered a couple of cloths. Approximately six feet to the left of the void (as you face the void where the altar had stood) is the tabernacle, on a--I'm sorry, but a rinky-dink table. Up on the wall are two ledges mounted--a perfect place for a pair of statues; no doubt they were there once. In their place were bouquets of artificial flowers. I wondered what became of the statues?

All the chairs and tables in the sanctuary, as well as the pulpit, were mediocre. They all looked not more than 40 years old, some much less. My point being not to fault the folks for not affording better; but to wonder why the older stuff was cleared out for this stuff?

After Mass, as I made my way back to hear confessions, one of the volunteers whispered, "you may not realize it, but they don't use the old confessionals; those are used for storage. Go back where the water fountain is and turn right, that's the room for confessions." So I walked by the beautiful, carved-wood confessionals, and found the room mentioned. Because of a table, a refrigerator, and some other items, there was only room for two chairs--no option for anonymous. There wasn't even room to move the chairs further from the door to allow folks to remain anonymous by standing. Why was this arrangement better than the old confessionals?

Oh, and by the way, I found the statues: they were literally in the closet. What was probably an ushers' closet, in the back corner of the nave, had had its door removed, and was now home to lovely statues of our Lady and Saint Joseph.

So back to my conversation with the seminarian as we left. He asked: if you're going to move the tabernacle, what is accomplished by moving it six feet? I can't explain it. All I could come up with was either a bureaucratic mindset, that says, "Someone sent an edict to move the tabernacle, so that's what we'll do"--without bothering to ask if it made sense; or else it was someone who was enthusiastic about the "move the tabernacle" movement, without having enough understanding to wonder if it even applied in this case.

I know what you're thinking: so why did they move tabernacles?

All right, I'm going to explain it to you. And you're not going to believe this: but it's absolutely true.

Some time after the Second Vatican Council, someone developed the idea that our Lord's "static" presence in the tabernacle would be a "distraction" from, or in competition with, his "dynamic" presence on the altar, during the celebration of the Mass. A related idea was that when the "Eucharistic Assembly" gathered for the liturgy, their focus should be on the proclaimed word, or on the presence of Christ in the people, or on the work of Christ in the liturgical action--not on the reserved sacrament...which, by the way, was mainly about keeping the Eucharist for the sick; the reservation of the Eucharist wasn't for adoration! As another priest I know was told (and I heard this too): Jesus said "take and eat," not keep and adore.

Now, let me be plain: there is absolutely nothing in the documents of Vatican II about any of this; any more than you will find a thing about shoving statues into closets, or ripping out altars and throwing out, or selling off, beautiful furnishings; or removing altar rails, or whitewashing artwork; or painting over multicolor statues with beige (this really happened in one parish I know of; it was the compromise in lieu of removing them altogether).

So why did they do these things?

Because someone told them to; because someone thought it reflected badly on the Gospel to have too many fancy items decorating the church (never mind they had already been purchased, with some money coming from the wealthy, yes, but much of it from folks of limited means who wanted God's House to be beautiful); because somehow it's more "authentic" to have drab things rather than attractive things--because of course, our Lord would never have worn, or used, anything elegant, even if someone gave it to him. And our proof for this me get back to you.

In short, someone thought this would help you pray better.

Make any sense to you? Me neither.

That's why, when folks ask me why these things happened, I tell them:

We went insane.


Fr. Josh Miller said...

Good to see "wreckovation" isn't just a word we youngsters use out here.

Good post, Father. Thanks for it.

Catholic Skywalker said...


Rachel said...

Yup, that last line is a decent way to summarize it!

Unknown said...

bravo Father, very good post!

truthfinder2 said...

Thankfully in some parishes, a semblance of sanity is returning (along with Perpetual Adoration). The people responsible for the "wreckovations"; on arriving in Heaven would probably demand that the pearly gates be torn down, and that the streets of gold be tarred over. God always deserves our best. Why would we want to give Him any less? Great post, Father! --- Rosemary

Unknown said...

And Vatican II was a good thing?

CatholicMom said...

"Going Insane"... How about "The devil at work?"

Good post.. it is great to hear your thoughts on this.

This is why my husband and I only financially support parishes that maintain their true Catholic identity, treating the Eucharist with the sense of awe and dignity it deserves, tabernacle in the center, preferably with altar rails.

I have to tell you... I live in Dayton, Ohio. This past Sunday our neighborhood church had so many lay ministers handing out communion, the priest did NOT hand out communion. (We only take communion from a priest or deacon, as we receive the way our Holy Father does, on the toungue. Personal preference, nothing wrong with either way, but we believe that our priests' hands are special and consecrated and more worthy to distribute Our Lord.)
Anyway, I was shocked to not see Father distributing. I didn't even take communion, I was so upset.

We have 3 Catholic churches within a mile or two from our house, but will still drive round trip of over an hour to go to downtown Dayton to visit our oldest parish in the City, due to her traditional values, lack of liturgical abuse, appropriate attire of the congregation, confessions being offered in the old-style confessionals, anonymous, and before mass, beautiful statues and stained glass windows, tabernacle in the center, altar rails, kneeling while receiving communion, wonderful priests, and over all respect for Our Lord by everyone present.

How can anybody deny that these things in Church draw our spirit closer to God?

Fr Martin Fox said...

Brave Catholic:

Non sequitur: how does any of this raise that question for you?

Fr Martin Fox said...


Thanks for your post.

It probably isn't necessary to say to you, per se, but perhaps for others reading...but there are times when the priest might be feeling under the weather or has a cold (and has germy hands or is sneezing) and thus does not distribute holy communion as usual. I have done that.

CatholicMom said...

Yes, thank you for bringing that thought to mind. :-) Hopefully, that was the case here...

htm said...

How rude to call the changes that were made in the 60's and 70's insane. I found the changes that were made calming and peaceful. I live in a home that has been changed many times over the years. That does not make it insane. Neither does changing the surroundings of my place of worship. One form of environment over any other is not better. It is just different. It is not insane, it is personal preference. HTM

Fr Martin Fox said...

HTM -- I'm not sure you actually read my post; where did I say all changes in the 60s and 70s were insane? I described the sorts of insanity in my post.

Since you disagree, can you give a rationale for:

Replacing elegant, beautiful furnishings with tacky ones? Espacially in a smaller parish with fewer means?

Moving a tabernacle six feet, from a prominent, physically secure, architecturally logical and otherwise intuitive location at the center of the altar, to a cruddy table, not prominent, not physically secure-- and by doing so, a void is created that makes no sense?

Putting statues into a closet?

Turning confessionals into closets and closets into confessionals-- with the result that no one has the option of anonymous confession?

Sine you reject my explanation, I await yours.

Gail Finke said...

Great post! I have never understood moving the tabernacle a few feet. Wha??? I don't agree with moving it to a special chapel, but at least that makes sense. Moving it a couple of feet makes it less central, yes. But if people want to look at it instead of the altar, they can. Unless, of course, it is hidden (as it often is).

Recently I have gone several times to nearby parish that moved the tabernacle to the side this way. The old altar, or part of it, is still on the wall under a big crucifix, where there is a huge and obvious space between the bottom of the cross and the top of the altar. Gee, wonder what used to go there? If I were the pastor I would move it back for no other reason than that it looks weird as it is! Talk about distracting you from the Eucharist...

I also sometimes go to another, very active (and from what I can tell very devout) church where there is nothing at all behind the altar table but a very obvious hook, which at Christmas holds a wreath. I suppose if you go there regularly, you don't even notice it. But you sure notice it if you're not used to it. During a recent renovation they moved the large old crucifix a couple of yards to the side of the altar. It's lit with a special flood light, so it's hardly hidden. But again, it just looks weird!

CatholicMom said...

God bless you but I completely disagree with you.

htm said...

I am sorry you are so offended by my disagreeing with you. I will not offer any rationale as what I stated were feelings. Feelings are feelings and can't always (nor should they always be) rationalized.

I just disagreed with you, but from the past, I guess I should realize that you are always right.

This is your post, and I'm sorry to have thought you were open to opposing thoughts. It will not happpen again.

May God bless you with the patience to hear other opinions, and the humility to accept them for what they are - feelings, not gospel.


Fr. Bedel said...

Nice post Father.
I just wish somebody had not revealed to me where you had Mass the other day. I would have liked to guess which parish you were describing. You described it very well. You could have even mentioned the inch-wide holes in the back wall where the high altar used to be bolted on, and the concrete patch work in the tile at the front of the sanctuary where the Communion rail was.

Fr Martin Fox said...


I am not offended. I just couldn't see how what seemed a sweeping response from you connected to the concrete observations I made. You don't have to say anything, but you did post a response, and I was asking your help to see the connections.

Rich Leonardi said...

"I will not offer any rationale as what I stated were feelings. Feelings are feelings and can't always (nor should they always be) rationalized."

Anyone looking for examples of the infantilism that runs below the surface of our therapeutic culture need look no further.

htm said...

Tongue in cheek:

Unless you act as a child you shall not enter the kingdom of God.

Ha Ha.


the Egyptian said...

htm said

Unless you act as a child you shall not enter the kingdom of God.
you sound pretty sure of yourself, I thought childishness was not a virtue, well for your sake, maybe

Wayne said...

Father, this was a very good post and, in reading it, I got pretty frustrated at the thought of what had happened to that parish. However, there could be a possible explanation for removing statues and other such items of such beauty and worth, especially in a rather poor parish (let's set aside the possibility that a city parish that remains faithful to the Church and retains it's beauty could, perhaps, remain wealthy) and that explanation is simply that these pieces required repairs that were too costly for the parish, so removing them was their only option. Do I believe that was the case here or that they couldn't have found a way to fund the repairs? NO! But it's an attempt at an explanation.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Yes, I thought of that. In this case, there are two nice statues of Mary and Joseph, displayed in a closet. They could have stayed up front. I didn't notice any defects in them.

Also, the church itself was built in the 1950s; it's hard to imagine the furnishings "wore out" in that time. I can't imagine what one does to cause a tabernacle to "wear out" in that time. At least, I'd rather not.

Православный физик said...

A great way to describe what's been going on.

CatholicMom said...

Just to clarify:

God bless you but I completely disagree with you.

(this comment was directed towards HRM).

And to follow up on my first original comment here: We had to go back to the aforementioned parish due to time constraints this weekend. I figured out that Father was going upstairs to hand out Communion. (This parish has an upstairs level). So I was wrong to be judgemental - I apologize.

My husband went upstairs and caused a near scene trying to receive from the priest. I couldn't make it in time, so I had to dodge the dozens of eucharistic ministers, bolt towards the deacon across the building, and received the Precious Blood from him as he was about to walk out the side of the church.

I am really struggling here. I feel so out of place. Is it wrong to want to be able to receive Communion from a priest or deacon and not have to receive from a lay minister, since I am receiving on the toungue? Is this too prideful or disruptive? (Please let me know.) Most of the parishes in our suburban area make it very hard for one to receive from a priest, and treat you very badly if you sit in the back and skip lines to receive from a priest. (I have been yelled at by ushers before, and I have gotten some very strange looks from priests, also.) This is extremely important to me, so I try to either go to Mass where I can do this without issue, or get there really early to sit in the isle where I know that the priest will be distributing or I sit in the back and try to inconspicuously move to the "right line". Recently I have noticed more and more priests switching things around so that they are not in the same place every Mass, and also not always taking the center anymore either. It is so discouraging. Now more and more permanent deacons are saying the homilies in lieu of the priests. (I guess that is OK...but it just seems we are taking this whole 'community' thing way too far. One day the lay people will be running the service, and the priest will be made to go into the closets with the St. Joseph statues doing the consecration in the dark so nobody will be offended.)

CatholicMom said...

*Meant to type htm, not hrm