I would like to thank the parish volunteers and the trustees who moved the pews, chairs, and numerous other items from and back of the church this last week to prepare for the new tile floors, which will enhance the joyous splendor of our worship.
Given the occasion, it is very timely that Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a former Anglican priest who joined the Catholic Church, recently wrote an article for the National Catholic Register to answer the question, “Why do Catholics build beautiful churches?” As he notes, the Church highly values sacred architecture and even has four liturgical days set aside for the major basilicas in Rome. Fr. Longenecker begins by pointing out that a beautiful church shows our faith in the Incarnation.
God expressed His love for us by sending His divine Son in visible form, at the same time true God and true man. Likewise, we show our love for God by manifesting it in physical forms, in what we say and do and in the place where we join together to worship Him. A beautiful church is a witness to the world of our faith. As Fr. Longenecker points out, one can tell the values of a civilization by the most glorious buildings that it produces. Although he does not use these examples, one thinks of the Egyptians building pyramids reflecting their emphasis on the dead generations, and of the ancient Romans building temples, imperial structures and sports arenas, reflecting the importance of their religion, and of their veneration (at times worship) of the empire and the human body.
In the Middle Ages, cathedrals and castles were the largest buildings, reflecting the centrality of faith and the culture of military prowess. And in the modern world, shopping malls and office buildings have become the temples of consumerism and the emphasis on material advancement. With beautiful churches, each community shows forth the one glorious faith in its own unique way. And we not only witness to the faith, but in our hearts we can also be uplifted to a sense of the greater realms.
For, as Pope St. John Paul II pointed out in his letter to artists, all good art, music, literature, and architecture helps the good to take the form of the beautiful. While we can worship anywhere, the glory of the church building helps us sense in visible form the glory beyond our imagining that awaits us in everlasting life.