Christ Cathedral – could’ve been worse, much worse

Not brutal like its neighbor in L.A.
Antiphonal seating

Antiphonal seating

The following comes from a Sept. 25 posting by Fr. Dwight Longenecker on Patheos.com.

I’ve taken the time to look at the pictures and plans for the diocese of Orange’s Christ Cathedral and it presents some very interesting problems and solutions.

First of all one has to take the building as it is and wonder at it. We are confronted first of all with the problem of modern architecture for sacred space. While I am fond of traditional church architecture, I’m not opposed in principle to a church building constructed with modern materials in a modern style. A church is not good or bad just because it is old fashioned or new fashioned. One has to ask other questions.

One of the questions we asked when planning our Romanesque style church in Greenville SC (pictured here) is whether it should be built out of solid masonry or not. Solid masonry would have the advantage of being what it looks like: a solid permanent building. However, a modern steel structure is more cost effective, easier and faster to build. (Go here for more information about our new church and how to donate)

Greenville church

Greenville church

Is it always wrong to build with modern materials in a traditional style? I think not. Wouldn’t the eminently practical architects of the Middle Ages have used steel and glass if they were available?

If they had glass and steel in the Middle Ages what would they have built? This leads one to ponder what the Gothic architects were trying to do.

In examples like Sainte Chapelle in Paris or Kings College Cambridge the architects strove to make the stone walls just as thin as possible and fill them with unimaginable acres of glass. If they had steel would they not have done something approaching Christ Cathedral? In that respect, given the modern context and location, materials, etc. perhaps Christ Cathedral is in continuity with the Gothic in a few other modern churches are. At least it is not built in the brutal concrete bunker style of its neighbor in Los Angeles. (By the way here are my thoughts on the LA cathedral also in California.) The building speaks of light and is transcendent and beautiful in a way few other modern churches even attempt to be.

Sainte Chapelle in Paris

Sainte Chapelle in Paris

The problem with traditional churches is that they can sometimes be no more than copies of earlier churches. The problem with modern churches is that there is no continuity with the past, and this is what hits me most as what is “bad” about Christ Cathedral. Just how does one maintain continuity with the past in a building that is so modern? The idea of the floating canopy over the altar is a strong reference to the past, and of course the furnishings in their simplicity echo the past, and it would certainly be wrong to plonk down a baroque altarpiece or a gothic pulpit in such a building.

On balance I think the architects have managed the sanctuary space relatively well. What disturbs me is the “antiphonal” seating. I’ve been in those kind of churches and it is difficult to focus together on the action at the altar when you’re watching the people on the other side. On the other hand, in such a vast space should all the seating be “straight up and down” large numbers would be miles away from the altar. The debates must have gone back and forth.

What’s good? I think the building itself makes one of the best modern cathedrals I’ve seen. It is light, airy and speaks of heaven in an otherworldly sense. It is not brutally utilitarian. It has a sense of space, glory and attempts to lift one to another plane. The icon of Christ in the narthex seems both modern and ancient. It does provide some continuity.

Los Angeles cathedral

Los Angeles cathedral

What’s bad? It breaks the great tradition rather than developing the great tradition. It’s iconic and iconoclastic at the same time. This is a problem because our language of worship is built up from the images, signs and symbols–including architectural styles–from the past. The danger is that Catholics will go into a building like this and not find any connecting points. Like most modern, unique buildings it exudes a certain hubris. Its a bit “hey! look at me!”

What’s ugly? I’m afraid the baptismal in the shape of a cross is a tacky and hackneyed idea, and what on earth is that tabernacle in the separate Blessed Sacrament chapel? Surely these are the areas where some tradition and continuity could have been brought in and developed.

On the whole we have a modern cathedral for a modern age. In my opinion it could be worse.

Much worse.

To read the original posting, click here.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. I don’t know Fr. Longenecker’s architectural or liturgical theology credentials. So I’m not about to question his opinions on those bases. Still, much of what he wrote falls under the maxim “de gustibus, non est disputandum”. Roughly translated it means: don’t make normative statements about matters of taste. Still, what purpose does it serve to title of article (which he might have had no part in choosing) so negatively? Much of what is pictured, in my subjective view, will make for a beautiful cathedral in which to worship the Lord. Why prejudice the matter by titling the article “could have been worse, much worse”?

    • Ann Malley says:

      ….So I’m not about to question his opinions on those bases. No, you just opt to attack a confrer by other means. No rough translation necessary as your ivory tower based tomahawk missile stratagem is not only negative, but achingly obvious.

      That said, your own subjective prejudice is quite clear as well. Undermine, dismiss, and attempt to move on. More of a ladies locker room approach than that of the ‘Greg’. Too wicked a though to imagine such base behavior is taught at a Pontifical institute.

  2. ” It breaks the great tradition rather than developing the great tradition. It’s iconic and iconoclastic at the same time. This is a problem because our language of worship is built up from the images, signs and symbols–including architectural styles–from the past. The danger is that Catholics will go into a building like this and not find any connecting points. Like most modern, unique buildings it exudes a certain hubris. Its a bit “hey! look at me!” ”

    Sacred Art is a critical component of any Catholic Church, to inspire one to think of God and eventually being with Him in Heaven.

    Although permitted otherwise by a Bishop, the TABERNACLE / EUCHARIST should be in the most honored place.
    CCC: ” 1183 The tabernacle is to be situated “in churches in a most worthy place with the greatest honor.”
    The dignity, placing, and security of the Eucharistic tabernacle should foster adoration before the Lord really present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. ”

    CCC: ” 2502 Sacred art is true and beautiful when its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God – the surpassing invisible beauty of truth and love visible in Christ, who “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature,” in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”
    This spiritual beauty of God is reflected in the most holy Virgin Mother of God, the angels, and saints.
    Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier. ”

    Receiving Our Lord while kneeling –
    Phil 2:10; Rom 14:11; Ps 95:6.

    1) Where is the Tabernacle?
    2) Where is the Sacred Art?
    3) Where are kneelers for those who wish to receive Our Lord on bended knee ?

  3. That “cathedral” is ghastly! It is the architectural equivalent of a garish, loudmouthed televangelist.

    • Anonymous says:

      It is the Lord’s House.

      • John Feeney says:

        Which lord Anonymous?

      • Anyone who reveres the Lord and loves Him would provide Him with a “House” more befitting the Grandeur and Majesty and Eternity of God rather that something that looks like a passing fad in building design. Would we want to worship God in a building with flashing neon signs all over it like gambling casinos? The design of a church is important because it reflects the deep love and high regard that we have toward our God. This glass cathedral may not be as gaudy as a casino, but the comparison makes my point that we should be more mindful of the holy and noble purpose of a church when selecting, or building anew, a house wherein the Lord of Lords will dwell.

  4. St. Christopher says:

    Ah, “Fr. Bob B.”: You are certainly entitled to your opinion, although be careful. You are a priest, an “inside man” and your subjective views could be seen as advertising. The “Christ Cathedral” is wrong as a Catholic Church, in any fashion. This is said by one not bearing any architectural or “liturgical theological” pedigree, so such opinion is offered as the personal observation of a mere supplicant, a penitent. In fact, you missed the roaring debate to the site’s, “Christ Cathedral-the Transformation” (September 26, 2014). But you can catch-up, Father. And, when you do, I would incorporate by reference by post of September 29th (10:21 am), in partial response to your views. Additionally, and this argument seems very hard for modernist, post-Vatican II clergy to understand, the post-Counsel Church pretty much says, “this is our church and we are going to so what we want with it: like it or leave”; Christ Cathedral (and the monstrosities of LA and Oakland) make this point without hesitation. With all the talk of “pastoral” Catholic behavior, the complete institutional destruction of the Church in most respects since Vatican II (and accelerating under Francis), shows what was really planned at that time. Many of us believe along the lines of Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi, which is why Catholic Tradition never died and has been, and will be, the source of continued struggle within the Church.

  5. OneoftheSheep says:

    My dearly departed friend Agnes might have commented: “Could be better. Could be worse.”

  6. U.S. Catholic says:

    From what I learned in Art History at a Catholic college, the “basilica” was originally a public Roman meeting place, used for public business, etc. Not originally a religious building. The Romans had temples for that. So what we consider “sacred space” in “churchy basilica form” was originally more like a market or gathering area. Rather a revolutionary idea to turn it into a sanctuary for Mass, I would think. P.S. What would you call that L.A. cathedral by the way ? Something like “neo-romanesque” or “romanesque meets Frank Lloyd Wright,” or ???

    • 1) ) Where is the Tabernacle?
      2) Where is the Sacred Art?
      3) Where are kneelers for those who wish to receive Our Lord on bended knee ?

  7. Greetings! I’m writing from Iowa, so hopefully the distance will provide some perspective. As I understand it, “Crystal Cathedral” was purchased for about half the cost of purchasing the land and building a new cathedral from scratch. IOW, it was a steal, esp. considering all the outbuildings (a school, a second chapel that was easily and quickly turned into a functioning Catholic liturgical space, etc.) that got thrown in at no extra charge. From that perspective, a lot of the complaints I’m hearing have no real basis: you get what you pay for, and it’s mostly a matter of making do with what you’ve bought. There’s all the whining of “But it’s not Catholic!” As U.S. Catholic noted above, neither were the original Roman buildings that got co-opted into being used as churches. (BTW, U.S.? I think the architectural school responsible for the LA cathedral is “brutalism”.)

    Frankly, from what I’ve seen of the drawings, I think they’ve done an excellent job of shoehorning a Catholic liturgical space into what was designed to be an overgrown TV studio. Personally, I would prefer that the tabernacle space be surmounted by a monstrace so the spot can be dedicated for perpetual adoration, but that’s just me.

    • Yes, the real estate was a bargain. But that no more justifies its use as a cathedral than any other cheaply-acquired thing.

  8. PS: since everyone seems to be complaining about CC being too modern, I have a suggestion that will both add a touch of history AND not frighten away those non-Catholics who find a corpus on the cross offensive.

    There is a style of crucifix called “Christus Rex”. It shows Christ affixed to the cross, but instead of a broken body He is erect with His arms outstretched, and He is wearing the robes and crown that mark Him as Prophet, Priest, and King. It was a style of crucifix that was popular in Bavaria and the other southern German states in the late 1700’s–early 1800’s. Since those are the people that settled my small Midwestern town, that’s what they put in their church and that’s what I grew up with.

    You can bet CC will be a tourist attraction like the “Crystal Cathedral” used to be. I think the “Christus Rex” style is what the NEW Cathedral needs

    • Spot on!

    • Denial or sugar coating Christ’s Sacrifice of Love for each of us, is not Catholic.

      Catholics need to read a Catholic Bible.

      CCC: ” 598 In her Magisterial teaching of the faith and in the witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that “sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured.”
      Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself, the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus,
      a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone:
      We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins.
      Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt.
      And it can be seen that our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews. As for them, according to the witness of the Apostle, “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
      We, however, profess to know him. And when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him.
      Nor did demons crucify him; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins. “

      • Anonymous says:

        Nobody is sugar coating, unless you believe the Resurrection is a sugar coating of the Passion. Boy is that poor theology and poor catechesis! Not to mention heretical.

        • Ann Malley says:

          Overshooting the necessity of the Cross and our own need to carry it in Christ’s example is bad theology in the current age of convenience. (The survey says, the major of portion of Catholic folks do not know or agree with Catholic morals, mous.) There is no heresy in reminding Catholics, especially during the Sacrifice of the Mass, that there is indeed a sacrifice. Not just a resurrection.

          So yes, there is indeed a sugar coating of Easter with no Good Friday.

        • Catherine says:

          “Nobody is sugar coating” = Oh, yes they ARE! It is widely known that the lavender mafia within the Church have their own theology of sugar coated ideas and many are contained in the fluffy but heretical “resurrection rainbow bible”. This is really the age old poor theology known as “I Will Not Serve”….unless I can have it MY WAY!

          A Crucifix convicts a compromised conscience right down to publicly displaying a childish tantrum on a Catholic website.

  9. Well, you won’t get any support in these pages for Christus Rex. While its use in Bavaria two hundred years ago may have been defensible among a better catechized people, its use today feeds today’s Christ as myth and allegory heresay. The corpus emphasizes that the crucifixion was a real event inflicted on a real person. Crosses without a body offend me, I find them a denial of reality. Lots of people were condemned to the cross, after all. Christians are not concerned with the cross in general, only one specific cross – the one identified by the Body of Christ.

    • Ann Malley says:

      “…While its use in Bavaria two hundred years ago may have been defensible among a better catechized people, its use today feeds today’s Christ as myth and allegory heresay. The corpus emphasizes that the crucifixion was a real event inflicted on a real person.”

      Spot on, Brian S. In today’s climate, it is important that Christians recall and evangelize that Christ did die for our sins. Helps to recall that when trying to carry the cross every day.

    • Anonymous says:

      The story of the Cross did not end with his death upon it. He is the Risen and Glorified Christ. But I suppose you find those who believe in the Ressurrection and Ascension to be “poorly catechized”?

      • Ann Malley says:

        Those who want the resurrection without the crucifixion are poorly catechized, mous. That is often why folks shy away from suffering as they want Easter Morning minus the Good Friday that’s scary and icky.

        • Anonymous says:

          Malley of course you can’t have resurrection without crucifixion. But you are assuming that people who view a Christus Rex are poorly catechized. This is just utter nonsense.

      • Catherine says:

        “The wicked fear the good, because the good are a constant reproach to their consciences. The ungodly like religion in the same way that they like lions, either dead or behind bars; they fear religion when it breaks loose and begins to challenge their consciences.”
        ― Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ

        “The Western post-Christian civilization has picked up the Christ without His Cross. But a Christ without a sacrifice that reconciles the world to God is a cheap, colorless, itinerant preacher who deserves to be popular for His great Sermon on the Mount, but also merits unpopularity for what He said about His Divinity on the one hand, and divorce, judgment, and hell on the other. This sentimental Christ is patched together with a thousand commonplaces, sustained sometimes by academic etymologists who cannot see the Word for the letters, or distorted beyond personal recognition by a dogmatic principle that anything which is Divine must necessarily be a myth. Without His Cross, He becomes nothing more than a sultry precursor of democracy or a humanitarian who taught brotherhood without tears.”
        ― Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ

    • Catherine says:

      Brian S,

      “The corpus emphasizes that the crucifixion was a real event inflicted on a real person. Crosses without a body offend me, I find them a denial of reality. Lots of people were condemned to the cross, after all. Christians are not concerned with the cross in general, only one specific cross – the one identified by the Body of Christ.”

      Thank you again for another excellent post. That was beautiful. You’re previous post below is also spot on.

      “This real-estate speculation masquerading as a Cathedral is a good example of how the Church squanders its credibility among the public, and among its believers.

    • Anonymous says:

      Catholics revere the Holy Cross. On Good Friday, we publicly adore the Holy Cross. We do not adore the crosses of the thieves. We adore the instrument of our Salvation.
      “Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung our Salvation…come, let us adore.”

  10. “I’m afraid the baptismal in the shape of a cross is a tacky and hackneyed idea.” I guess. If you consider something that’s been around since the fourth century “hackneyed.” Certainly Fr. Longenecker is entitled to his opinion but it seems he little expertise in this area.

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