On Church Closings and The Loss of Beauty

At a friend’s recent wedding, I sat in the pews of an old Gothic Church marveling that the art in every corner of the building so singularly brought the soul to contemplate the beauty of heaven. The rich harmonies of choir and organ, the solemn splendor of the Mass, and the inherent wonder of the mystery of the sacraments were complemented by the fittingly beautiful surroundings.

wedding

I have always loved how the Catholic Church sees and uses beauty as a tool to draw the soul upward toward eternal Truth. Studying the cathedrals and artists of the high Middle Ages opened my eyes to the capacity of architecture and art to enhance the worship and prayer life of the church. Although some look at the elements of such churches and see only the cost and difficulty of maintenance, they seem to me both fitting ornaments in the house of the Lord’s True Presence and doorways leading the mind and soul to higher things.

When I hear, then, of old churches lost to the decay of time, the expense of upkeep, or the absence of parish presence, I am tempted to fall into a sort of despair. In my home diocese of Detroit, economic hardship has made the threat of closing all too possible among its many historic churches. It is a loss to both the Catholic and the aesthete. Not only are they pieces of history and art, they are also wonderful examples of how the physical world can bring us closer to the spiritual one: places of worship made precious by absorbing decades, and sometimes centuries, of devotion.

A sense of sadness in the face of this great loss is not inappropriate. Thinking about it, however, ought not to throw me into “the depths of despair.” I, like many of our “living in the moment” generation, find myself acting a bit too much like Anne Shirley and allowing my present emotions to run away with me. Every battle lost seems like utter defeat.

The Church protects us from getting too caught up in these momentary disappointments, however, by reminding us that we are not isolated in time. The liturgical year reminds us that we are participating in a story in which there is “a time for everything.” We are part of a Church past, present, and future, eternally One. Our sorrows are halved and joys doubled by sharing them with the community of saints throughout time. The history of the Church should be a source of strength to us.

How many times did Christians mourn what seemed insurmountable losses only to find that Truth would continue to triumph? The Great Persecutions, wars political and religious, periods of corruption and lukewarm affections, the continual infringement of the temporal powers, and the attack of secular philosophies. Time and time again, the Church faced losses on every front, but always persevered.

This should come as no surprise to us, since Christ himself promised that His Church will not fail. Yet, still we are astounded when we see Her rise again and again from the ashes of what seemed Her destruction. We belong to the bride of Christ and She will continue until the end of the Earth.

Like the saints and martyrs who have gone before and who have been lifted up to lead in times of sorrow, our response to the loss of beauty should be unshakable faith, unfailing hope, and love that can change the world.

Bernard of Clairvoux, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, and Ignatius of Loyola and are just a few saints who refused to respond to difficulties with despair, but worked with the Holy Spirit to forge a future for His Church. They clung to the Words of Our Lord, sought the intercession of the Blessed Mother and the Saints, and trusted with their whole lives. And those lives brought new beauty into the world, new holiness to their culture, and helped bring new souls to Christ.

When we as a Church find ourselves facing confusion and ugliness, we do not need to fear. Truth and beauty are not passing fads. They have their source in Christ, Who always brings His Church back to Himself. When we face the loss of something beautiful, we do not need to mourn. We will find that beauty again: in the mind of God, where nothing beautiful is ever really lost, and in the person of God, of whom all other beauty is but a reflection.

Megan Twomey

Megan Twomey

Megan Twomey studied English and History at Hillsdale College. While she was there, she converted to Catholicism and also bumped into a friend's big brother, who just happened to be her perfect match. She now spends her time as a stay-at-home mama to a superhero preschooler and his toddler sidekick, with baby number three on the way.

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6 thoughts on “On Church Closings and The Loss of Beauty”

  1. Pingback: Ora et Labora and Vacation - BigPulpit.com

  2. But what bothers me is that new parishes are being added with a new Church building that has the beauty of a warehouse at the same time that a parish 30 minutes away is being closed that is beautiful and awe inspiring. Why? Are we not willing to drive thirty minutes on Sunday to our church while we drive 40 minutes to get to work every workday. My parish has a beautiful Mass and the average drive time for most parishioners is 45 minutes. Some drive as much as two hours. The reason is they love God and this beautiful Mass helps them keep that close sense of his nearness, as if they are at the threshold of heaven during the Mass. At least one of our parishioner died on one of these drives to Mass.

    What the Church needs urgently is a sense of the love of God and a sacrificial attitude. With both a beautiful Church and a beautiful Mass, We can gain that love of God and sacrificial attitude. A ‘Latin Mass’ as we have in my parish, is not a requirement for a beautiful Mass. I saw one extremely beautiful ‘Novus Ordo’ Mass a month ago. It was a daily mass with 40 or 50 in attendance. When was the last time you went to a regular weekly mass and there were that many attending. The reason was the people attending were drawn to God by the beauty and reverence of that Mass. It was a regular Novus Ordo mass but with all the beauty of a High Latin Mass. Beautiful vestments, beautiful old church, very reverential celebration by the priest. It is a thriving parish in a very small town in Wisconsin. Neighboring parishes in similar small town are being merged because of low attendance and lack of priests. Usually there are five parishes per priest. The order that is running the ‘beautiful Mass’ Church has an abundance of vocations, an abundance of altar boys (no girls), and more volunteers than they can use.

    Let us all pray that our Church leaders see that trying to modernize our faith, trying to make it ‘fit in’ to our modern culture, has only caused confusion and a slow death of the faith of its followers. Jesus said that we must be no part of the world and it desires. Let us separate ourselves from the earthly and mundane. Let us be lifted up to heaven as we worship our loving Father in heaven.

    1. I too go to a beautiful church which has a truly devoted parish family that drives long distances to support a reverent ordinary and extraordinary form Mass. I do think support for these Churches is extremely important and I think the fact that they are thriving is incredibly hopeful for the future of the Church. The young people are returning to a solemn beautiful form of worship. They are trying to save the old Churches. We should continue to show those in authority that this is what the Church desires: a return to beauty and reverence.
      I also just want to try to focus on hope in action, rather than despair over the loss of physical thing and places. It may seem like Church closings are a defeat, but Christ will not let His Church be lost.

      1. I agree with you focus on hope in action. I hope that articles like yours and comments like mine might have an effect that causes the leadership to appreciate and encourage our point of view. to me, these old Churches help in another important way. They help us understand that God and his expectations for man, do not change. It seems that people build a new Church and they think it brings with it, a new God. Yes, there are those that love new and shiny stuff, including Churches, even if it does look like a warehouse. They know their spirituality better than I and if that is what makes them feel closer to God and causes them to follow and obey the teachings of the Church, it is not my place to tell them not to abandon their very holy and beautiful old church for a warehouse.

        Also, people move to where the work is. Sometimes there just are not enough practicing Catholics in an area to support a priest and a parish. These must be closed no matter what we want. But at the same time, if there are Catholics within 30 minutes of an old parish that would be closed down otherwise, Catholics should support it, both clergy and laity, rather than building a new warehouse.

        My parish purchased an old Baptist church and remodeled it to at least feel more Catholic. Sadly, nobody is really as happy as they would be if we could just move one of the closed churches from back east out here in the West where the number of Catholics is growing.

  3. Old Churches are my favorite form of architecture. I want to go into every one. When I see an old church sitting idle, I am sad. I will think of the hope of the Church when that happens. “The gates of Hell shall not prevail…”

    1. That is not a ‘hope’ but a promise. One thing I try to keep in mind when I see a closed beautiful Church is that this time on Earth we have is only preparation for eternal life. Everything built here on Earth eventually will go back to the Earth just like Adam and we ourselves. The difference is that these old Churches are a representation of the awe inspiring beauty of heaven. When our bodies go to dust, our souls will be forever in the heavenly beauty and our hearts fully in the presence of God. We will no longer need the representation of heaven on Earth, but heaven itself.

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