Reading the Cathedral, Part 1: Three Principles
At various times throughout this year, I will be turning my theological church tour into written articles. These are meant to help teach you how to “read” our Cathedral, and so learn from this sacred building various aspects of our faith. I hope you find them helpful!
Michael Rose, in his book Ugly as Sin, discovers three general characteristics of a truly Catholic church building. They are verticality, permanence, and teaches the faith.
Verticality. A Catholic church building will follow the precept of St. Paul to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). This means that even in its structure the church building will raise the heart by raising the eyes—it will lead one heavenward even physically, so that spiritually the heart may soar. Towers and spires, high ceilings, and the like prevent us from remaining limited to the earth, and instead remind us that we are to have our “true citizenship in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).
Permanence. Any building that looks like it will fall apart in relatively short order betrays the thoughts of the architect: this building was not meant to last. Church buildings, on the other hand, should never look like this. They should convey the notion that they, like the faith, are here to last until Christ returns. The choice of everything from building materials to adornments and furnishings must communicate this: the Church and the faith are not cheap, passing, and insignificant—they are rich, eternal, and meaningful.
Teaches the faith. A truly Catholic church building will, by its very set up, help to instruct believers in the faith. Everything, from the stained glass and images to the way the building itself is used in the celebration of the sacraments, should be at the service of the faith, and of teaching many generations what is their baptismal birthright. Anything which hinders this has no place in the church building.
You will note that our Cathedral meets these criteria well! It is a vertical building meant to last that teaches the faith. Praise God our forebears gave us such a gift as this!
This week’s FORMED.org recommendation: Daily Reflection with Dr. Tim Gray (1/14/24, Cycle B)
The Secret of Saint Therese