Architectural Integrity: A Harmonious Language of Beauty

It is known to all that we have great hopes of some practical and liturgical refurbishments to our church building. I am hoping to write a few brief articles in our newsletter that will help us understand the substantive argument for this proposed work in the near future. Architectural integrity cannot be substantiated when an absence of an architecturally harmonious consistent language of the building and the language of ornamentation of Sacred Art. These must be harmonious.

We must reflect on the importance of what we read in Opera Artis’ Preamble where we are reminded that “many people have made unwarranted changes in places of worship under the pretext of carrying out the reform of the liturgy and have thus caused the disfigurement or loss of priceless works of art.” It has been admitted by many architects and liturgical scholars that indeed many of our present church buildings suffer from a neo-iconoclasm of the 1970’s. As Duncan Stroik reminds us in his reprint of

As Duncan Stroik reminds us in his reprint of Operosam Decoramque Reconstructionen: On the Preservation of the Church’s Patrimony, “each building has qualities of spatial configuration, orientation, and architectural language that must be respected and maintained.” The criteria in looking at Sacred Art has several qualities that must be measured when considering restorations, refurbishments and all ornamentations of the sacred.

First would be the respect of the existing architecture of the church which is the preservation of the Church’s patrimony. This should flow into what is commonly referred to as an aesthetic harmony with the present architectural language of the building so that it is difficult to tell what is new. This is not met with numerous artistic works in some of the liturgical design in our parish church. This is due to what could be understood as a forfeiture of the harmony of the architectural language and decorum. What we are looking for in all Sacred Art is that what is going to be used as replacements or additions is of a higher quality to that which presently exists, both in its design, materials and aesthetic artistic language and made consistent with the architectural language of the church building. Our appeal is seeking to better promote the living tradition of the Catholic Church as the material symbol of the faith handed down to us that gives wit-ness to the continuity of the devotional tradition of our forbearers.

Beauty is that which reveals the true nature of the liturgy most clearly and this is why we have sacraments from our Lord. We don’t modernise them to make them fit into something that they were never intended to be. They lose their purpose when we do that and their integritas (integrity) and claritas (brightness). Beauty and sacramentality are sisters and they make present the reality of the sacramental thing itself. Liturgical Art and Beauty are meant for this purpose and nothing less.

The liturgy itself is composed of this and sacred buildings and decorum must also remain the very things that comprise God’s divine education of salvation. What we are seeking in our “creative retrieval” of the architect J.J. Scoles is neither an antiquarian restorationism nor a discontinuity of the architectural integrity of the building. In fact, some ornamentation in their present form divorces the devotion in the art and architecture from its architectural and devotional source creating a vacuum of popular piety. Our aim is to restore the piety and devotional life of the faithful.

The desire to bring back the beauty of Gothic ornamentation, a beauty that incarnates and makes a living present reality of God’s transcendence and immanence, will be the raison d’être behind what is placed within the walls that will ultimately correspond to the outside structure of the building. The statues and shrines placed here will be in line with the Gothic vision that created statuary with ‘faces full of beauty, gentleness and intelligence, Gothic sculpture shrines that reveals a happy and serene religious sense, glad to show a heartfelt filial devotion to the Mother of God, smiling and motherly, but mainly portrayed as the Queen of Heaven and earth, powerful and merciful.’

The desired refurbishment holistically in this manner will allow us the theological and artistic hopes of moving beyond the functional to the pedagogical, which was a central tenet of Gothic architecture and ornamentation.

In doing so, we will begin to experience more of what the original architect set out to communicate, which was the Church on earth as it is in heaven. What we do not wish to communicate is a building that is cold and unable to move the faithful to upward prayer and worship.

The Vatican II document, Sacrosanctum Concilium supports this argument when they exhorted the Church that “The art of our own days, coming from every race and region, shall also be given free scope in the Church, provided that it adorns the sacred buildings and holy rites with due reverence and honour; thereby it is enabled to contribute its own voice to that wonderful chorus of praise in honour of the Catholic faith sung by great men in times gone by.”

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