dotCommonweal is hosting one of the blogosphere’s usual discussions on liturgy. Some of us note the limitations of the “written internet” as a communications medium. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually host a real-time discussion? That’s why I think Brian’s format is cool.
However, the wires are getting crossed at dotCommonweal, too. Fr Robert Imbelli writes of his parish:
(T)he lower church, where daily Eucharist is celebrated, had been “creatively” renovated in the early seventies. The walls were painted a garish orange; the altar and ambo looked like they were hand-made of wooden crates in the local high school workshop.
Lots of Catholics think the liturgy tussles are about liberals versus conservatives or progressives versus traditionalists. This is untrue.
There’s actually a triangulation afoot.
These days most Christian iconoclasts are pragmatists. They sure aren’t liberals. They usually sit on finance committees. The caricature is that they sit in the back pew, drop a George Washington or two in the Sunday basket, and look for ways to criticize every parish endeavor without lifting a finger to get truly involved.
The real adversary of beauty is a hyper-rational mindset that tries to boil down everything into practicality and functionality. If all we need for a valid Mass is the priest saying the right words with the right substances, who needs any of the frills?
Father Imbelli’s lower church was not uncommon. If the local hardware store had orange paint on sale, it’s more likely his predecessor nabbed that deal. He probably also got the Boy Scouts or the Confirmation Class to paint it for him.
I’ll admit that the post-WWII church culture, including the misreading of Vatican II, emboldened some pastors to cut corners.
Before casting blind aspersions in the liturgy tussles, let’s give ourselves the benefit of accurate information and analysis of the problems.
I think you’re correct on this one. My parish has We Celebrate hymnal, and everyone knows it’s because the previous pastor bought the single cheapest hymnal he could. It really isn’t a “liberal” hymnal, as there isn’t much useful music of the “contemporary” sort. It’s just a cheap hymnal that parishes which don’t want to spend money on music would buy.
Although I might ask, isn’t it a “liberal” value to take a church and make it look like not a church? De-sacralizing? I’m thinking of a particular parish in my city where it basically looks like a sombrero. It’s a rounded cone with the top over the altar, pew seating is a 180 degree arc, and the walls are so bare it actually hurts my eyes to look at them. It really does not look like a church but for the empty cross on the wall. I also think of a priest from my hometown who wanted to move the altar to the middle of the procession aisle, despite how bad that would look. And trust me, if this man isn’t a liberal, no one is. The linking concept behind bare naked churches and altar-in-the-middle-at-all-costs? Making a church look like not a church.
Now I’d agree with you that it sounds to me the priest was trying to save a buck at home depot by buying orange paint and crates. That’s pragmatism at work. But isn’t the impetus liberal at heart? He didn’t want the chapel to look like a traditional chapel. You’ve rightly decried conservative pragmatism so many times (unpaid musicians, cheap statuary), isn’t it time to at least point out that liberals can be penny-pinchers just as well?
Maybe it depends on the kind of liberal.
I do know some social gospel Christians who think spending $$ on liturgy is a waste. We should have Mass in living rooms and donate the money spent on liturgy to the poor. At my current parish, there’s a parishioner who pretty much feels that way about me and other staff members: it should all be about outreach.
I also knew a wise pastor who after renovation didn’t want to rush into statuary. He urged the architect to provide for devotional alcoves, but wanted to wait to see where the parish’s spirituality expressed itself.
When I went back to visit one alcove had the Holy Family, the other is used to store wedding kneelers.
As for liberal liturgists, I know my colleagues, the ones who tend to go to theology seminars, who work on diocesan events, and chum around in professional circles. Maybe I’ve known one or two of Edvard Sovik’s brand of neo-iconoclasm. We might emphasize quality in the altar, font, and other core appointments over devotional images. I guess I don’t know any liberal liturgist who would be an either-or type on that score.
They might think nothing is better than something really yucky.
I remember Environment and Art Letter under Gabe Huck and David Philippart at LTP last decade. Their work and the work they wrote about and promoted was progressive; no doubt.
But liberal penny-pinchers … do they pinch pennies because they’re liberal or because they’re cheapskates?
Both – because they are cheapskates who use their social justice vision ideologically to rationalize and feel righteous. (this is not unique to liberals, but common to most ideologues.)
Todd said: But liberal penny-pinchers … do they pinch pennies because they’re liberal or because they’re cheapskates?
Liam said: Both – because they are cheapskates who use their social justice vision ideologically to rationalize and feel righteous. (this is not unique to liberals, but common to most ideologues.)
Liam, “Both” doesn’t make sense, given that you say that it’s ideologues who use their ideology to justify being cheap. They don’t do it because they’re liberal. In other words, your first sentence and your parenthetical sentence contradict each other.
Fair points all, Todd. Might I ask: what would you hold up as “progressive” liturgical art (outside of music) aside from the social-justice or neo-iconoclast trends you mentioned? I’m not hugely critical of non-traditional art and architecture so long as it retains traditional function, so I’m curious what you’d hold as a good example of modern liturgical art.
The caricature is that they sit in the back pew, drop a George Washington or two in the Sunday basket, and look for ways to criticize every parish endeavor without lifting a finger to get truly involved.
The reality is when they try and get involved, they discover that positions on the finance committee (and every other committee) is populated by people who have had a member of their family in the seat since the church was built.
And you think the problem is clericalism?