Monday, December 23, 2002

This past weekend, we visited a couple of local churches that were new, at least to me. On Saturday, we were up in the northern nether reaches of Fort Wayne, a land called DuPont, which I never visit, but is a big growth area and home to one of the newer Catholic church buildings around, the parish of St. Vincent de Paul. It was nice enough with a interesting crucifix and attractive baptismal font, altar and ambo, although the placement of the ambo didn’t seem optimal to us, but who are we, anyway. The Eucharistic Chapel was a good distance away from the sanctuary – actually a short hallway, but too far, in my book. To me the optimal arrangement, if you’re going to have a separate Eucharistic chapel, is one that is constructed behind the sanctuary – I saw one somewhere – I can’t remember where – that was quite nice – one tabernacle, visible to both the larger church, but then, on the other side, to a smaller chapel.

The church was constructed, as most are, in the round – or half-round. Despite the historical importance and the symbolic power of the cruciform arrangement, I’ve never quite understood some people’s scorn for a more circular layout. No, not bunches o’chairs strewn in a circle, but a well-constructed setup that offers a good view of the altar wherever you sit. One of the more interesting church visits we had was to the Shrine of the Little Flower up in Royal Oak, Michicgan, which was built before Vatican II, and with a distinct circular arrangement, surprisingly.

Most irritating at St. Vincent's was the typical lack of representational art or color. Big white, boring walls. Stained glass that looked like ocean waves. Mary and Joseph statues stuck in nooks. And – in the church itself, not one (that I could find) statue, painting or window devoted to St. Vincent de Paul. Not even an explanation of who the fellow was.

The liturgists tell us, of course, that we don’t need representational art because it distracts from the truth that we are the Church. Posh. We are the Church, but we’re not the entire Church, thank God. Look. I live in a house. In a few days, I’m pleased to say, all my children are going to be here. We are a family.

Does putting pictures on the wall distract us from that reality? Does having old photographs of my mother and her brother when they were children, or my grandparents portrait, or a photograph of my dad with my two older sons render us all stupid and forgetful of the fact that we are a family?

Uh, no. In fact, most of us would say that it strengthens our sense of family because it reminds us of the fullness of who we are, roots us in the past and gives us hope for the future.

It just might be the same with Church. Might.

We ended up going to Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, which is new, but not as new as St. Vincent de Paul, not quite as nice, but with the same great expanses of white space on the walls. A little more representational art, including a large statue of St. Elizabeth and some children out front.

And, Michael noted, a large crucifix in the sanctuary that had not been there on his previous visit a couple of years ago, when their sanctuary crucifix was naught but a small processional number.

Times, they are a’changin’.

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