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It is Right and Just: Spending on Glorious Architecture

April 7, AD 2017 5 Comments

Truth is recognized by the beauty in which it manifests itself.

Singapore’s Cathedral of the Good Shepherd was recently renovated after suffering massive cracks from nearby construction which destabilized the building. Among the positive comments, one person wrote: “God doesn’t need this. It’s all just human vanity.”

Sure, God doesn’t need grand buildings. He doesn’t need anything. He’s the only completely self-sufficient being.

Santuario de las Lajas, Ipiales, Colombia

Santuario de las Lajas, Ipiales, Colombia

But He deserves it.

When people build majestic courtrooms, city halls, and castles, it serves to emphasize the importance of the proceedings carried out inside—the meting out of justice and the deliberation of governance.

When people make magnificent gestures to the ones they love, splurging on expensive meals and massive bouquets which are going to wilt, they are performing symbolic actions which express how much they cherish the beloved.

When Catholics build beautiful churches which cost considerable sums, we point to the sublime salvific significance of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as well as the importance of baptisms, Confirmations, Confessions, weddings, ordinations, and funerals, which are all conduits of God’s outpouring of grace in the Mystical Body of Christ. We express our love and reverence for God, the King and ruler of our hearts, present in the tabernacle. We create a sacred place where Heaven bends down to Earth, where the Kingdom of God is palpably upon us.

Church architecture is a statement which can convert hearts. Cathedrals are sermons in stone, speaking silently but eloquently of the grandeur of God. May we desist from scrimping on our churches, lest we turn hungry souls away from the presence of our Lord.

But after all, for us Catholics… a church… is more that just an ordinary spacious attractive meeting house. It is even more than just a house of prayer. It is the place for us where the living Presence of the Godhead dwells, it is the great audience chamber where the God made Flesh and Dwelt Among us is here constantly, here ready for you at all times, to listen to your prayers and your petitions. It is the one place, the one spot perhaps for each of us that is intimately connected with the most important, the greatest events of our lives.
George Cardinal Mundelein, Archbishop of Chicago, 1939

And it is from the Saints that we must learn to love Jesus, surrounding with affectionate care the holy tabernacles, the altars and the churches, His dwelling place (Mark 11:17). Everything must express decorum, everything must inspire devotion and adoration, even in the little things, even in details. Nothing will ever be too much when it concerns loving and honoring the “King of Glory” (Psalm 23:10). One thinks of a few old practices, for example, requiring that even perfumed water be used for the ablution of the fingers of the priest during Holy Mass.
Furthermore, Jesus chose to institute the Sacrament of Love in a respectable, beautiful place; namely, the Cenacle, which was a large dining hall, with furniture and carpeting (Luke 22:12). The Saints have always shown wholehearted zeal and resourcefulness in seeing to the beauty and tidiness of the house of God.
– Fr. Stefano Maria Manelli, F.I., Jesus Our Eucharistic Love

I have heard people say, “What about the Catholic Church with its art treasures in the Vatican and its elaborate church buildings? Why not sell them and give to the poor?” Yes, I have heard such remarks. I must tell you that they are wrong. Our first duty is to God and to give Him glory. Church buildings should always be the biggest and most beautiful buildings in any neighborhood.
There is, obviously, a balance to be maintained, and this could be overdone. But the principle is as I have stated.
The Real Mary MacKillop

Surely the Churches which we inherit are not the purchase of wealth nor the creation of genius, they are the fruits of martyrdom. They come of high deeds and sufferings, as long before their very building as we are after it. Their foundations are laid very deep, even in the preaching of Apostles, and the confession of Saints, and the first victories of the Gospel in our land. All that is so noble in their architecture, all that captivates the eye and makes its way to the heart, is not a human imagination, but a divine gift, a moral result, a spiritual work.
Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman

Image: Bernardo Andrade Tapia / PD-US

About the Author:

Jean Elizabeth Seah is a 28-year-old law and liberal arts graduate. She has had several adventures with Our Lord and Our Lady, including running away to join a convent after law school. The journey is tough and the path ahead is foggy, but she knows that as long as you hold firmly onto Our Lady’s hand, you’ll make it through! She blogs at http://signum-crucis.tumblr.com/ and http://allthingscatholic.tumblr.com/.
  • adam aquinas

    Surely you cannot believe that Jesus, the God-Man, would be desirous in any way of grand churches, basilicas, gold chalices and outrageous flamboyant vestments. As long as children go hungry,refugees are homeless, the poor lack shelter and clothing, the afflicted are not comforted, etc. Jesus never commanded worship on a grand scale. He was clear that he came for the marginalized and those people are not found in architectural wonders. Take time to read Matthew 25, the Parable of the Sheep and Goats…here you will know where you really encounter God and what God really desires…..Grand cathedrals are more a testament to monolithic clericalism than the will of God. BTW, many bishops build these grand edifices to glorify themselves, not God. Gove what you have and give to those who go hungry….1 in 5 children go to bed hungry.

    • On the contrary, many poor people built cathedrals and churches of old, as with the painted churches of Texas, built by determined immigrant parishioners who sacrificed to create the masterpieces which still stand today as a testament to their faith and love. It is a false dichotomy to pit the needs of the spirit against the needs of the body. Man does not live on bread alone; humans require beauty and an abiding sense of the sacred in the midst of the tribulations of this world.

      Recall Mark 14:3-7, where Jesus rebukes those who said, “Why was this waste of the ointment made? For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and given to the poor.”
      Love of neighbor flows from love of God; they are not to be placed in competition, but in their proper order. Spending on sacred art and architecture does not negate spending on charitable works. The Church remains the largest charitable organisation in the world, in the USA and in Australia, and in many parts of Africa.

      • adam aquinas

        It is not right and just to compare a massive ornate cathedral to the needs of the hungry….Remember the Parable of the Goats and sheep….remember who has done things for Christ … those who care for the marginalized. Do you think that God care about a massive edifice of stone when compared to a starving child … don’t be foolish. First take care of all people then think about the edifice ….

      • Natural_Family

        Starving artists and artisans buy their daily bread for their families when they are paid for creating those beautiful buildings and works of art. And in the church, they are available for the poorst person to enjoy.

    • Bennett Kalafut

      Christ did not oppose love of God and love of neighbor (indeed he lays them out together!) nor did our great saints oppose corporal works of mercy and the virtue of religion. What tradition is yours, that sets these things in opposition? It is not Christian.