How a Catholic church should look

From the video

From the video

By: Msgr. Charles Pope

The following comes from a Sept. 23 posting on the Washington D.C. archdiocese website.

Catholics have often endured the charge that we are an unbiblical Church. Strange accusation, really, for the Church that collected the Scriptures, determined the canon of Scripture and preached it for 1,500 years before there ever was a Protestant denomination. The fact is we are quite biblical and often in ways that are stunningly powerful….

DSC00056My own Parish Church is a sermon in stone and wood and glass. It is designed around the Book of Revelation, Chapters 4 and 5 in which John is caught up into heaven and describes it in detail. The fundamental design of the sanctuary drawn from Revelation 4 and 5 includes the throne-like altar (Rev 4:2), seven tall candles around the throne (Rev 4:5), the four living creatures in the clerestory windows above the altar (Rev 4:6-8). At the center of the altar is the tabernacle wherein dwells the Lamb once slain who lives forever, Jesus (Rev 5:6). Around the throne (altar) are seated the twenty-four elders (Rev. 4:4) symbolized by the 12 wooden pillars on the back sanctuary wall and the 12 stained glass windows of the Apostles in the transept windows. The multitude of angels who surround the throne (Rev 5:11) are symbolized by the blue and gold diamonds on the apse wall.

I have assembled pictures of these details along with the scripture texts from Revelation in the following PDF document: Holy Comforter Church in Washington DC and the Book of Revelation

Biblical-RootsIn effect the builders of my Church (built in 1939) were saying, when you walk into this church, you have entered heaven. Indeed, it is a replica of the heavenly vision of John. And when we celebrate the liturgy it is more than a replica for we are taken up to heaven in every Mass where we join countless angels and saints around the heavenly altar. There we worship God with them. We don’t have to wait for some rapture, we go there in every Mass.

But there is more! For what John saw in heaven is none other than what God had prescribed to Moses. Moses was told quite explicitly by God how to construct the ancient sanctuary, the tent of Meeting in the desert. The layout, materials and elements are all carefully described.

And, having given these details God says, Now have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. (Exodus 25:8-9) And again God later says, See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain (Ex 25:40). And yet again God repeats: “Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you on the mountain (Ex 26:40).

The Book of Hebrews, commenting on this pattern says why God insists on the following of the pattern so exactly: They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. (Heb 8:5). In other words, the Ancient Temple was a replica, or a pattern really of the heavenly sanctuary.

Most older Catholic Churches maintain the basic pattern of what Moses was shown. Note this diagram, comparing the layout of the sanctuary in my parish church, Holy Comforter St Cyprian (HCSC) with the layout temple:

In the photo just below, you can see the remarkable similarity more visually. The pattern is even etched on the floor of my church which echoes a detail about the layout of the temple that Ezekiel described:

So there were four tables on one side of the gateway [of the sanctuary] and four on the other–eight tables in all–on which the sacrifices were slaughtered. (Ez 40:41)

Here below (on the left) is a depiction of the setup of the Tent of Meeting as it was when the people were still in the desert, next to a picture of my parish church sanctuary showing the remarkable similarity:


Document2-1024x517Note the way the scroll work on the floor of my parish (right) matches the four tables on either side in the sanctuary where the animals were slaughtered. The fiery square and horned altar in the photo of the temple (left) is represented by the horned square on the floor of my church (right). In the photo on the left of the ancient sanctuary, the holy place, and the holy of holies towers in the back, as does the high altar and tabernacle in my parish church on the right.

Simply put, the builders of my parish church remarkably depict the ancient temple and also the vision of heaven in the book of Revelation. This is what Church building should do: exemplify the heavenly sanctuary, a plan which God himself gave. Sadly, modern architecture has departed from the plan significantly. But in recent years, there has been something of a return, a trend for which we can only be grateful.

Here is a video of some of the details of my parish.

To read the original posting, click here.





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  1. Abeca Christian says:

    “A little boy who had been to Sunday School told his father that he learned that God the Father and Son were equal. The father said: “That is ridiculous. I am your father; you are my son. I existed a long time before you.” “No,” said the boy, “you did not begin to be a father until I began to be a son.”
    He Who was eternally generated by the Father is generated in time, in the womb of a virgin Mary. The Son of God then becomes the Son of Man. As the word which I speak to you is not different because I give it breath and sound, so neither is the Word of the Son of God changed because He takes on a human nature like ours in all things except sin, “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.” Fulton Sheen

  2. I really don’t care for churches with terrible views of the altar, terrible acoustics that those that are poorly equipped to handle the flow of Holy Communion.

    “Bowling lane churches” with fenced-off choir areas were OK when budgets and available building materials/expertise were often limited. That’s often not the case today and while some will argue “it’s not important that we see nor hear what’s going on in the sanctuary” I’ll respond with simply “that’s absurd if the option does exist to clearly see and hear what’s going on in the sanctuary.”

    So many people get whipped-up into a hideous lather whining about “churches in the round” yet they get giddy at the thought of a cruciform church with a nave, two transcpets and a presbyterium surrounding the sanctuary. What’s the difference? I guess only two things when it comes down to it. “Churches in the round” offers more people better views of the sanctuary and its use has been condemned by EWTN and Catholic Answers. Other than that, both layouts are pretty much identical.

    • It certainly comes as a surprise to learn that the reason behind traditional church architecture was a limitation on funds.

      One can only guess how expensive circles must have been in that benighted age, or imagine what wonders the architect at Chartres could have done had his budget not been so sorely limited!

    • R. B. Rodda, I find it hard to believe that you read the same article posted here that I did. Where in the explanation of this intricately designed beautiful church did you extract the notion that this “Bowling Lane” church was “o.k. when budgets and available building materials/expertise were often limited”?

      Really? You are comparing God’s design for a church as so beautifully typified by Holy Comforter St Cyprian Church with a “Bowling Lane”? You don’t see the use of expensive materials and expertise in building exhibited here? I don’t know when was the last time you were at a bowling alley, but the ceilings are still low, the building short and wide, with very few adornments (come to think of it, kind of like our modern day church architecture!) Oh, and I can further see that from your perspective, God overlooked our modern day affinity for speedy efficient communion lines when he proposed his archaic plans! Please, please, please, don’t tell us that if you make it to Heaven, you will be insisting on a modern update on the design of Heaven too!

  3. This is a marvelous article with a beautiful video of a gorgeous, Revelation-like (heavenly) Catholic church. Thank you Msgr. Charles Pope and CCD for this opportunity to see inside and outside of it.

  4. Maryanne Leonard says:

    There are beautiful uses of mosaics here, as well. It is thrilling to walk into a beautiful church, knowing that this sacred place would not exist if Jesus Christ had not walked among us, and had not a great many people still cared greatly about that wonderful fact, many hundreds of years after His crucifixion and resurrection. Beautiful places of worship are gifts to God and to believers, and I for one do so appreciate the wonderful effort that went into creating these marvelous places of worship, thankful to God for sending His Son, and to those who came before us for leaving us such a rich legacy of faith.

  5. St. Christopher says:

    Nice Church, except for the card table in front that ruins it. Get rid of this and say Mass as it should be said, in Latin, and as our Fathers, and the Saints, said it.
    This will not make people like “R.B. Rodda” pleased, but there were many whiners in the desert with Moses, as well, notwithstanding that he was just speaking directly with God. Good luck, “Crystal Christ Cathedral,” and all those who believe consistent with its architecture. But Wait — Pope Francis, and his curia, probably like it — no need for all that Medieval stuff. And, who understands Latin anyway. Better to have some like Archbishop Piero Marini make up liturgies as we go along: much better to do this than have a true sense of community, where all pray in one language and in one form under one Faith.

    • Why interject Latin into this? Your personal preference for the EF in no way makes the Mass “better.”

      I also don’t think there altar is a “card table” but I suppose you know that — you were merely trying to be rude.

      To suggest everyone would “pray in one language” during the EF-only Mass days is laughable. Most people just ignored the Mass altogether back then and prayed the Rosary, fell asleep or slowly stopped attending.

      Thank goodness that even back in the old days they had the option to attend an Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy often in the vernacular. Liturgies that predate the EF Mass by hundreds of years in some cases.

      • R. B. Rodda, I did not grow up with the Latin Mass, but I never heard of these things you’ve stated as fact. ‘Most people just ignored the Mass altogether back then and prayed the Rosary, fell asleep or slowly stopped attending.” Do you have statistical evidence for these claims, or was this just the case at your own parish? I’ve always heard that church attendance has declined more rapidly since Vatican II. Am I wrong about this? At any rate, I think it has been quite a few centuries ago since the faithful have understood Latin, yet the faithful came from all around the world to build churches in this country to assist at the “Latin” Mass, which they did not understand. Here in California, they came in droves in the 1940’s and 50’s from the other States and built new churches where there where none before, in order to assist at the “Latin” Mass which they could not understand. Maybe those people just weren’t as discerning as those of us in these modern times. What were they thinking anyway, building inefficient bowling lane churches? I do know that there are far fewer priest and religious sisters now than there were during those times. Unfortunately those folks did not have easy access to contraception as they do today. No doubt, if they had, there would have been fewer religious born in the first place, and the laity would have at least been more empowered in the Church as they currently are today.

    • Amen! I want a Church that feeds my senses, lifts my heart to Heaven, a Church that says to me,”you are in God’s house.” I don’t want a protestant “worship space” with bare walls and a set of drums. Where is my Lord in the Tabernacle? Where is the Holy water? Where is the statue of Our blessed Mother? Crystal Cathedral? Rather a Glass Monstrosity, says I. Call me old-fashioned, that’s OK.

    • St. Christopher, I agree. Get rid of the table and say the Traditional Mass at the altar!

      • There you go! Placate your own personal desires and run the balance of the faithful away! That’s certainly the “traditionalist” thing to do!

  6. Beautiful church! Wish mine was like that.

  7. Steve Phoenix says:

    One of the churches I have had the good fortune to visit that most complies with Monsgr. Pope’s observations about the heavenly sanctuary and that a church should attempt to be its earthly copy is that of SS Cosmas and Damien in the ancient Forum of Rome. Here, tucked away from the crowds is a church with magnificent apse mosaics and images of the evangelists and the Paschal lamb witnessing to the True Lamb of the Book of Revelation. I remember being transfixed in time at this ancient place, this 6th century (at least) church, and the whole architecture being a witness to an eternal event that is coming and yet is already here. Now that is what a church should do for you.

  8. Western Schnieder says:

    I know the Innovation Mass is real Mass, that Christ indeed comes and is present on the Altar and that indeed on the Altar, ‘the Table of plenty’ Heaven and Earth do meet. Why is it then I do not go to this (Novus Ordo) Mass which the Church herself has ordained as her ordinary Form of rendering to God what is only God’s?

    1. The Church allows me to go to the Mass of my Choice. The TLM

    2. The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is unregulated so that no matter how holy a priest is their personality always shines through in the sacrifice.
    3. The TLM is clearly more superior as a form as perceived by the senses. More work of worship goes into making it more worthy of God.

    4. on a regular ordinary mass there is just too much drama and activity around the mass itself distracting from worship

  9. Maryanne Leonard says:

    I grew up attending Mass reading my Roman Missal which had the Latin words on one page and directly opposite the same words in English. By the second grade, I understood every word in both languages, which was also true of every other childhood friend of mine who attended daily Mass, something we Catholic school kids did every morning before school. I am not sure if it was mandatory, as we loved it so much, and it was natural and fully understood even before we took our First Holy Communions.

    We did not fall asleep or mentally escape Mass by praying the rosary instead, but were transfixed by the beauty of the Mass and wondrous liturgy. Our familiarity with the words we heard and read daily at Mass in Latin and read in English helped all of us develop facility with language based on an easy familiarity with those Latin words we learned at Mass through our Missals.

    R. B. Rodda, I am sorry you didn’t have the same wonderful experiences with Latin Mass to help you know what you are talking about.

    Mass today is still fully worthwhile to attend in any language, but we both gained and lost a great deal when everything changed. Catholics who have not been gently uplifted by attending a Latin Mass in a gorgeous little hand-built stone church or exquisite ancient cathedral, preferably lit by candlelight, with sunlight beams streaming through beautiful stained glass windows, and heard high Mass and Gregorian chants celebrating God and His wondrous gifts, have not fully experienced the transfixing glory of our incredibly rich Catholic heritage.

  10. St. Christopher says:

    “R.B. Rodda”: Your response is laughable in its liberal predictability. Having said that, you are correct in one thing — most Catholics know that N.O., just as most Soviet-era Russian children were taught that America was an awful place, full of discrimation and injustice. What is increasingly clear, over the past 50-years, is that a true revolution did take place. Pope Benedict simply did not go far enough (or perhaps thought that he could not) in teaching that there was no hermeneutics of rupture after Vatican II, in fact there is a virtual severing of the way that the Church now transmits the Faith to its people. You are a perfect example of how lost a professing Catholic can be in his view of the liturgy and of the Faith. No one who lived in the Catholic Church of post-war America remembers people falling asleep, or not understanding what was going on. In fact, Mass attendance was seen as a privilege, and the sacrament of communion was understood as sacred, not a “meal” to which “all are invited.” The greatest disservice to the Faith is the focus on “Pastoralness” versus focusing on bringing people to salvation. It does no good to make the Mass a “Happy Time” as Christ himself spoke the most in the New Testament about Hell and the reality of damnation.

    • Steve Phoenix says:

      St C on target as usual, in my opinion. Pastoral, smashtoral re. Hell and damnation as real. Look at the New Testament (NT): Hades or, Gehenna, as a “Place of the lost” (= Hell) is used 23 times in the NT — 15 of those times by Christ. So much for “good and gentle Jesus”. (Oh: nasty old St Paul never uses the word Hell at all. Check it out.) If anyone is still believing in universal salvation and wants to be “passssstoral”, they may want to re-read Our Lord’s clearly enunciated revelation about matter regarding the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:23ff): paradise vs. a place of torment (so saith “Dives”, the Rich Man). And the “Old Mass” made that as clear as nails, ending as it does with the Last Gospel. So it really is in the end all about Heaven, Hell, Death and Judgment (CCC 1023-1041). A church and its liturgy should reflect that honestly.

  11. I always get queasy when I read about how a church “should” look. A beautiful cathedral is a little like a beautiful woman; its a nice cherry on top, but what happens inside the participants is much more important that what it looks like from the outside.

    • JonJ, you posted, “I always get queasy when I read about how a church “should” look.” Have you ever asked yourself, why this this troubles you so?

      The author of this article writes, “The Book of Hebrews, commenting on this pattern says why God insists on the following of the pattern so exactly: They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. (Heb 8:5). In other words, the Ancient Temple was a replica, or a pattern really of the heavenly sanctuary.”

      Now when I read this, my reaction to modern day church architecture actually nauseated me all the more. I’ve always instinctively known that I did not care for it, but to be honest I was not familiar with Heb 8:5 until reading this article. It has become clear to me that modern day architecture is a clear and willful violation of God’s mandate.

      • I know the reason it troubles me. It suggests many people with misplaced values. A building is a building. A warehouse can be a more vibrant church than the most elaborate medieval cathedral if the people have God in their heart.

        The problem is, too many people wish to adopt strict obedience to scriptures not out of any desire to help their fellow man or to honor God, but instead to gain the vicarious satisfaction of telling other people what to do. Some people relish being the voice of authority, even if it is on the behalf of someone else.

        You can cite scripture all you want, but the Catholic Church says you must also use reason and tradition in addition to scripture.

        Some passages in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) are blatantly immoral—such as the command in Dueteronomy that the Jews should slaughter entire city populations if they do not worship the right God—or commands in leviticus that people with “flat noses should be banned from approaching the altar of god.

        I attribute that to human error, and the known fact that over the last 2,000 years so many transcribers added to the text to “clarify” the meaning, or sidebar notes were confused at part of the text in the long years, that it is impossible to determine the original text at this end of history.

        Another source of misunderstanding is not comprehending the culture of the times, so we miss the motifs and literary forms that people knew were colloquialisms and not literalisms. That is how I understand Biblical stories such as Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. Either it is metaphorical, or botched, because no moral man would even contemplate butchering his own son for no apparent reason. If I thought such a command came from God, I would doubt my sanity before believing God wanted me to murder my innocent son.

        • Anonymous says:

          St. Paul says that Abraham obeyed figuring that he who gave life to Issac could raise him. There is an allegorical sense to it but it is not metaphorical. The Bible is infallible. You can trust what it shares of the Divine. It was written over many centuries by different human authors but the True Author is the Holy Spirit. One must not judge but “sit at the Lord’s feet listening to what he says” Luke 10:39

        • There is a good series on YouTube on Catholic Church Architecture by Dr. Denis McNamera.

  12. Stephen Joto says:

    Church’s that are devoid of stained glass, the stations of the cross, and statues and statuary are truly boring…void symbolism is boring…man has a finite mind, and these religious sacramental’s are provided to stimulate his faith and to stir up zeal and ardor, when reflecting on his Creator and Savior. The austerity of some Church’s smack’s of Calvinism and does not illicit a feeling of the sacred and the divine. Beautiful Church’s in Europe were erected to give glory to God, not to appease the minimalist notion of our fallen away protestant brother’s and sisters. Nothing is too good for God, and the regal attributes of the world’s great Catholic cathedral’s are but an outgrowth of man’s desire to show reverence and love to the Creator.

  13. Catherine says:

    Brian S says,

    “I know the reason”….”The problem is”…..”You can cite scripture all you want”…..”Some passages in the Bible are blatantly immoral”……”I attribute that to human error”

    “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible”.

    There are two types of people – those who come into a room and say, “Well, here I am!” and those who come in and say, “Ah, there you are.”…….Frederick L. Collins

    Brian S., There are two types of people – those who come into a Catholic church and say. “Well, here I am!” and those who come into a Catholic church and say to God. “Ah, there you are!!! “

  14. I’m confident that the vibrant church group meeting in the warehouse would work together to spruce the place up.

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