Wrecking Churches: Iconoclasm or Continuity?

There are few better illustrations of the clash between conservative values and progressive ideologies than the church architecture wars of the last fifty years. Although traditional architecture was dismissed by most Christian denominations, the conflict comes into focus most clearly within the Catholic Church.

The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s ushered in the most iconoclastic ideology since the Protestant revolution. Across the Western world, in a spirit of enthusiastic reform, Catholic churches were erected with no reference to the past. A new wave of ideologically driven priests teamed up with modernist architects to create round churches, fan-shaped mass centers, multi purpose worship spaces and utilitarian cement block boxes. In an attempt to imbue some sense of the sacred they plopped ill shaped spires on the roof, created sweeping towers topped with crosses or punched holes in the walls with abstract stained glass.

Not only did the sincere, but ignorant priests and architects build new churches that looked like teepees, stranded space ships, or ice cream cones that had fallen upside down, they made matters worse by “renovating” existing churches according to their progressive creed. Their iconoclasm was complete. They covered tiled or marble floors with cheap wall-to-wall carpet. They ripped out neo-Gothic altarpieces, removed statues of the saints, painted over murals, dumped relics in the trash, junked the candlesticks, votive candle stands and fine vestments. Everything was to be simple, bare and back to basics. Austerity was in. Posterity was out.

The “wreckovation” as conservatives refer to it, continued into the 1990s. The authorities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, for example, effected this simplification of the chapel of the Pontifical Josephinum Seminary in Ohio.

The revised design is actually one of the more tasteful solutions. In parish after parish the pastor simply ripped out the artwork and furniture—destroying the buildings that had served their Catholic community for generations. The wholesale destruction was an act of mindless vandalism that always accompanies progressive ideologies.

Progressive ideologies can always be spotted because their devotees destroy the past rather than renew it. By definition, revolutionaries revolve, they do not evolve. To create their brave new world they must destroy the old one. Their new age is fueled by rage and the smiling revolutionaries cannot create anything without destroying everything.

The changes in churches were never loved because they were derived in destruction. Like the Protestant revolution in sixteenth-century England, the innovations which were supposed to benefit the people were imposed on the people by clericalist ideologues who ironically believed they were “of the people.” Furthermore, the changes the progressives force on everyone are doomed to fail because they are a fashion, and all fashions will soon be unfashionable.

The imaginative conservative, on the other hand, does not fall for fashion, but neither does he preserve the past for its own sake. He understands that change happens. Renewal is constant and necessary. However, he sees the renovation as a refreshment of the past and a rejuvenation of what has been shown to be tried, true, and tested. The imaginative conservative brings the past forward into the present to create a foundation for the future, because he knows that which will truly last into the future is that which has already proven its durability in the past.

It is not a surprise therefore to find that the current round of church renovations are a return to tradition. Faithful pastors are now ripping up the cheap carpet, polishing the tiles floor, putting statues back and restoring sanctuaries in a sympathetic modern style that promotes reverence and aids worship without being a slavish copy of the past or a crude antiquarianism for its own sake.

New churches are also being built that are traditional in style, yet cognizant of the demands of modern worship. Michael Tamara writes here of the plans to build traditional churches in the Carolinas and elsewhere. My own parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville, South Carolina will be the location for a beautiful new church built in a Romanesque style.

This new church will feature a set of classic stained-glass windows salvaged from a church in Massachusetts, and will include new artwork by contemporary Catholic artists. Antique stations of the cross and statuary will be salvaged and restored while new furniture and fittings are designed and built in a spirit of continuity that rejuvenates the tradition.

The lessons are clear: Despite its calm demeanor and gentle approach, progressivism is founded on rage. The status quo is the culprit and the established order must be overthrown. The imaginative conservative, on the other hand, seeks to correct what is wrong not by revolution, but renewal. What is beautiful, good, and true from the past is restored to its original reason so that it might do good service in the present and into the future.

Editor’s note: This column first appeared December 14, 2014 on the Imaginative Conservative website and is reprinted with permission. Above are before and after images of the chapel at the Pontifical Josephinum Seminary in Ohio.

Rev. Dwight Longenecker


Rev. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is The Romance of Religion published by Thomas Nelson. Check out his website and blog at www.dwightlongenecker.com.

  • al d

    Excellant Father Longenecker, you are not afraid to speak out – and hit hard when needed- this is what our Bishops should be doing.. Saint Mary’s in Norwalk Ct. is the perfect example of what you have just writen Your book on Saint Benedict for Father’s is a classic and should be sold and shared in every Benedictine monasteries that have oblates. The Monastery I attend in Still River, has a Father/Son retreat every year-wish you could speak there.. God Bless.

  • Dick Prudlo

    A simple and clear statement that falls short. What else needs to be brought back from the ruthlessness of the post Vat II period? Let’s say it all: Buildings sure, Holy Water yep, statues of the Saints most certainly, should we include something else? For without that something else nothing will improve except our surroundings.

    • Vinny

      Don’t brand me but I’m not sure what you’re getting at, my guess is the actions and words (including homilies) of the priest himself. That is, the conduct of the Mass. I will say though that improving the surroundings is an important part of improving the worship.

      • Dick Prudlo

        The missing element is the Sacrifice of the Mass, and Vinny I would never brand you.

  • Vinny

    “In parish after parish the pastor simply ripped out the artwork and furniture—destroying the buildings that had served their Catholic community for generations.” Sounds familiar since at the same time – in city after city the politicians (voters really) ripped-out the morality and responsibility – destroying the society that had served America for generations.

  • St JD George

    Thanks Father. I used to frequently criss-cross through Greenville on I-85 but not any more. It does make me sad to see, but on the scale of things that bother me I can’t rate too high there is a triage of souls need saving. However, our churches are like hospitals and I do believe that our house of worship should be something that inspires a sense of beauty and awe, not just a functional building. Knowing budgets to be what they are I understand grim realities, however, all the more reason to value the treasures we do have and fight to preserve them where it’s possible. When I read about an old church in Buffalo being converted to a Mosque my heart about broke, especially destroying all the stone crosses that adorned the outside and I can only imagine what took place on the inside.

  • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

    The “renovation” of the churches generally followed the destruction of the liturgy. In the vast majority of churches, wrecking the Mass came first. The horrific interior of many (most?) Catholic churches today simply reflects what takes place in those “worship spaces.” This is why the reintroduction of the Traditional Latin Mass is either limited to churches that escaped the wrecking ball, or is always accompanied by a “reverse” transformation of the altar space. It simply has to become more Catholic. This is another proof that the Novus Ordo was nothing like a “continuation” or “development” of the liturgy, but was a revolution.

    • St JD George

      My son essentially makes these points to me as well, and I guess I am slowly coming to understand … or appreciate. The church we attend is 100+ years old and is beautiful architecturally with elegant stain glassed windows hand crafted in Germany. The inside is simple but still fairly awe inspiring. We do not have a TLM (Spanish yes) and the Tabernacle is off to the side which drives him crazy. That and music selection of our choir director.

      • Guest

        I agree!! The fact that I sometimes have to hunt for the Tabernacle makes me crazy!!

      • Martha

        Are you sure you’re not from MN? Sounds just like my home parish, which I have jettisoned, even though I live very near, for a 30 minute drive to a TLM at a neighboring parish. Our local church is still very beautiful, but looks like cr@p when compared to pictures of it from 1950. At least they couldn’t (or didn’t!) rip out the stained glass windows, and the Romanesque arches had to stay.

        • St JD George

          That’s one (of a few) state I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting except the airport, and the airport is quite large, but I am in the MW so not too far away. We like the priest which is one of the reasons we joined this parish. He’s 67 says and threatens to retire at 70 in 3 years so I don’t know what it will be like after then, plus we are preparing now for the eventuality of becoming a parish district. Seems odd being in a semi-urban setting, but such is the reality of the day. When my son comes back to visit he usually pushes us out of our routine to go downtown. In addition to a TLM, we also have the pleasure of having the only continuous German Mass in the country – not that my German is that good anymore.

    • fredx2

      You are hereby sentenced to spend 15 minutes in “The Gathering Space”

      • St JD George

        Is that the space where the elevator music is played?

      • Like ice picks in the ears.

    • Guest

      I have just started to read “The Reform of the Roman Liturgy” by Monsignor Klaus Gambler. One thing in the first few chapters that sticks out is that over time the Popes made changes to the Propers such as adding Feast Days for Saints or when Pope Pius XII made changes to the Holy Week Masses none of which caused great consternation. Changes were made gradually over time. The one part that was unchanged was the Ordinary of the Mass. The Novus Ordo was nothing short of a revolution and as such the Holy Mass was placed in the guillotine. We are all still suffering from the shock of this revolution.

    • craig

      There’s not such a bright line difference at 1970. I’ll agree the worst architecture came after the Paul VI missal changed the rubrics, but there were a lot of abstract, iconoclastic boxes built in the 1950s and 1960s too.

      • The Church was already morphing back in the 30’s and 40’s under the flowering of social gospel theology.

        The bankrupt promise of modernity to fix broken man through technology and ingenuity was fueling Protestant and Catholic theologians (think EPCOT of Disney World in religious categories.)

        Naturally you see the beginnings of the loss of sacred architecture by the 50’s, as the evil clutches of modernism were already choking the Western Church for 50 years prior to Vatican II.

        • St Donatus

          Yes, this wreckovation of the Church started even in the late 1800s and this is what Pope Pius X was fighting. It helped bring about communism, the roaring 20s, WWI, WWII, and many other evils. Sadly, the world has a great effect on the Church but if the Church stood tall against this ‘new is always better’ attitude, I think the world would be a better place.

          My priest, a very holy man, feels that the old Mass was much richer in graces to the faithful and this is why so many who have the ‘new mass’ just drift away. First they take on worldly attitudes (60% of Catholics support Gay marriage for instance), then they learn that all faiths are saved, combine worldly relativistic attitudes, the Fr Barrons attitude that 98% of mankind goes to heaven, and a pleasure seeking me first modern mind and you have a lapsed Catholic. Obviously there are many causes of the problems in the Church but they all seem to center around the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ nonsense that had nothing to do with what Vatican II actually said. We can talk about milktoast boring homilies, poor spiritual direction, uninspiring churches, lack of an emphasis on prayer and fasting, the removal of mandatory fasting, and on and on. Where will it end. I fear a crisis in the future, as Pope Benedict said, a MUCH smaller Church, but it will force the Bishops to recognize they have been ignoring the Holy Spirit and listening to the Gods of the World ‘Science’ and ‘Pleasure’.

          • Atilla The Possum

            Right on!

    • ColdStanding

      The sacred dogmas were attacked first.

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    It seems that all that splendor and beauty were distracting us from the worship – of ourselves.

    • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

      Best comment I have ever read on the necessity for ugliness in the new liturgy.

    • fredx2

      If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands!

      • Vinny

        Hold hands and shake hands. Maybe dance.

    • guest

      Great comment. It does seem to be all about feel good craziness. I never realized this until now. Thank you!

    • Glenn M. Ricketts

      Yes. Our minds were far too focused on God.

    • Razor sharp wit, sir.

    • Neihan

      To be perfectly honest I think this is spot on. If one is committed to worshiping the self then it’s very distracting to be surrounded by depictions of Saints, let alone the crucified Lord, and still maintain the illusion that the self is worthy of worship.

      When we’re ugly and we want to worship ourselves then what makes more sense than destroying beauty? If we’re sinful and we want to worship ourselves then what makes more sense than hiding the crucified Lord? If we want to maintain the illusion that we’re the greatest generation who has ever lived, and that history has been progressing towards this the greatest moment (because it’s ours) then what makes more sense than annihilating anything which reminds us of our betters in the past?

      Modern iconoclasm is absolutely hateful and despicable. The old iconoclasts at least were doing what they did in a laudable, though terribly misguided, attempt to better honor God. It seems to me at least that the modern iconoclasts did it in a wholly despicable attempt to better honor themselves.

      • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

        The stark-modern church is eminently ‘respectable’ in the most sickening way. It is an homage to the Middlebrow. It is to Art what Will Durant is to History. It is self-congratulatory in a queer way. To use a quote by Ampere, “After glory, respectability is a mean thing.”

    • Athelstane

      Best post of the thread.

  • Keith Cameron

    If you have to ask yourself if you’re in a Church or a Gymnasium, you’re in a Gymnasium.

    • fredx2

      The Klingon Empire prefers worshipping in a gymnasium.

      • St JD George

        Much easier to multi-purpose and someday eliminate this purpose.

      • Keith Cameron

        I suppose I wouldn’t mind that were I a Klingon. I’m not, I’m a Catholic.

      • treecie

        The Klingon Empire? The Klingons are traditional and fierce! They would scoff at the jokers who turn their churches into gyms and cafeterias and consider that they were without honor!

    • My dear wife grew up around traditional architecture in Boston, so after she became a Christian I began showing her the “new and improved” worship spaces. She was gobsmacked and said to me, “I would never know those are real churches.”

  • Guest

    Thank you Father Longnecker. The past several years I have had the opportunity to travel for work. I cannot tell you how uninspiring many Catholic Churches are today. The wall to wall carpet and the absolute absence of the Tabernacle or Holy Water at the door in some cases is beyond belief. The spaces are not inspiring and do not lend themselves to prayer. These same spaces are now doubling as meeting spaces for large groups (not always Catholic), concerts and other events not related to the Worship of God. The Tabernacle has often been relocated to a space so small it can only be described as a closet (if you can find it-sometimes I have to ask). There seems to be a total lack of Reverence as well for the Real Presence of Jesus on the Altar, Just because there is a table at the front does not generate reverence. I am very relieved to see that Communion Rails are being replaced and the High Altars are returning in some places. It gives me hope for the future.

    • Athelstane

      There seems to be a total lack of Reverence as well for the Real Presence of Jesus on the Altar.

      You can tell what people worship by what they revere – what they pay attention to.

      And on current evidence in some communities, it is hard to escape the conclusion that what is being worshiped is themselves. It’s immanentism.

  • publiusnj

    The author is incorrect in saying that the innovations of the 16th C Protestant Revolution in England were imposed by “clericalist ideologues.” In fact, the first thefts from the monasteries were accomplished by the King and his very secular henchmen Thomas Cromwell and Lord Russell, among others. Then when Henry died off, his successor, the very secular Regency Council that controlled the boy King Edward VI, used a more radical and iconoclastic Protestantism to justify looting the parish churches of England. The chief Regent, Edward’s uncle the Duke of Somerset grabbed some of the chantries/cloisters of St. Paul’s Cathedral to complete his very secular near palace, Somerset House. Iconoclastic ideology was involved perhaps but certainly NOT “clericalist.” After a respite during Mary Tudor’s rule, which actually saw some of the monastic properties go back to the Church, Elizabeth completed the looting of the churches by sacking all but one of the bishops and putting in her own tools.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      In Scotland, the Reformation was largely a popular movement, especially in the towns.

      There was no dissollution of the monasteries, as their revenues had been in the hands of titulars, clerical and lay, for a hundred years and their few members were mostly non-resident, drawing pensions from the endowment. These revenues included the teind of 662 of the 924 parishes; the monasteries were the nominal rectors of them, the actual duties been done by a stipendary or “vicar.”

      It was John Knox’s preaching at St Andrews in 1559 that began the wave of iconoclasm that swept the country, spreading quickly to Perth and Dundee.

      A rare mediaeval survival is the mercat cross of Banff


      The Regent, Mary of Guise, who was dying, was unable to prevent it. Her two brothers, the Cardinal of Lorraine and the Cardinal of Guise led the Catholic League in France that triumphed over the Huguenots there and she had long fought the Reformation in Scotland.

      • publiusnj

        Scotland was not England and didn’t become an English property for another half century or (by some measures) another century and a half, so I don’t think this is even relevant.

        • Michael Paterson-Seymour

          It is surely relevant to point out that the Puritan iconoclasm was not something imposed from above, but was a spontaneous movement among Christian populations, not only in Scotland, but in the Netherlands and parts of Switzerland.

          • publiusnj

            We were talking about England. English Iconoclasm, which dates from 1548, was NOT popularly inspired but was rather a ploy by the boy king’s regents as I have noted.

          • John Albertson

            How does your contention reconcile with the thesis of Eamon Duffy in “The Stripping of the Altars” that the iconoclasm was imposed on the majority of the people?

            • Michael Paterson-Seymour

              By the simple fact that, in Scotland, the Calvinist Reformation was a popular (and successful) movement, strenuously opposed by a Catholic Regent (Mary of Guise) and a Catholic monarch, Mary, Queen of Scots; by the fact that, in the Spanish Netherlands, it was a popular religious and national movement against the Spanish Crown; that in Geneva, a free republic, it was freely and enthusiastically adopted.
              To argue that, because it was unpopular in England and Ireland, it was unpopular everywhere is plainly false.

  • mad2002mad

    Why all the crepe?? No one is saying we can’t have older style churches. I like the new Churches, the 3/4 circle with rising floor makes viewing the altar much easier. We don’t need old statues to remind us of holiness; I was in a Church in Jersey that just opened the newer 3/4 wheel style sans statues; however, in short order the older pastor put up the reclaimed statues from the old church and they looked out of place. I was raised in pre-Vatican II Church and was an altar boy so I’m well versed in the Latin mass–actually enjoyed serving mass especially funerals because we got to skip religion class with that old boring Baltimore catechism. However, I much prefer the new mass and the new liturgy. However, I will admit we went overboard with the guitar mass; apologies to all traditionalists. At the time, “we thought it was a good idea!” However, I do not approve of “clown masses” if these really did happen. Just hope this was made up.

    • Glenn M. Ricketts

      Not clown Masses in my experience, just flat, insipid Masses that sound as they’d been scripted from inter-office shorthand, and music that seems to assume that everyone is a preschooler, clergy who can’t resist the temptation to improvise off-script. Altogether, it fulfills my Sunday obligation, but leaves me quite empty and repeating Ex Opere Operato as I depart. It can’t be surprising that a majority of Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence. Often, it’s never been taught to them, and nothing in the contemporary liturgy or church architecture points to it.

      • mad2002mad

        Hi Folks:
        Appreciate your replies and views of the situation; it’s a pleasant change of pace from people just trying to shout down one another. Didn’t mean to imply that I don’t think there’s a place for sacred art or stained glass windows. My long-time companion likes the older churches and she’s Lutheran; even prefers the Latin mass and Gregorian Chant to “modern” music. Just meant some older statues don’t seem to fit with newer Church interior architecture. Even though I was an altar boy, and got all the lines in the old mass, I like the more communal feeling of the new mass; it’s a feeling of belonging to something bigger than myself. Joining in a “common union” to worship with fellow believers. To me, the Church is a big enough tent to accomodate various styles of worship and should offer parishes that option. Glenn, thanks for the info on clown masses; I would hope there were no such atrocities.I may not be the best Catholic in America; however, I do believe in a modicum of decorum during worship.

        • Glenn M. Ricketts

          Thanks for your comments as well, hope you’ll stick with us.

          Interestingly, it’ s the “communal” feeling that – for me, at least – is particularly lacking in the OF. It varies so much from one parish to another, or even among the Masses at the same parish, that it’s often impossible to connect to anything larger, beyond the immediate congregation and their sense of themselves. Mass in Latin, which I’m able to attend only every 4-5 years or so, does indeed seem communal and universal, because of its invariability and the manner in which it brings people together from very different places, languages and life circumstances. But that’s my experience, I certainly don’t mean to denigrate yours.

          • mad2002mad

            Hi Glenn:
            Thanks again, and yes, I will stay with the blog because i like to learn things from a different perspective. Sorry to hear that you can’t find a Latin mass more often. Here in PA we have a few parishes where it is available at least once a month. My companion has been bugging me that we attend some time. All the best as we walk this journey together!
            Mike D.

            • Glenn M. Ricketts

              That’s good to know, Mike, welcome aboard. Together is the only way to do it.

          • “Mass in Latin, which I’m able to attend only every 4-5 years or so … ”

            Oh dear, you are a strong soul. Exploring the RC Church now, and Latin Mass is the only way I can do so. Otherwise, I’ve been ruined by Anglican ritual and the old Prayer Book — it’s the only worship that makes sense to me in English.

            • Glenn M. Ricketts

              Several reasons, one of which is the vehement, often bitter hostility of so many priests to anything Latin, and I do mean ANYTHING. You’d think I was asking for something evil. Interesting line of inquiry for some future psychologist at some point, wouldn’t you think? Oh for an Anglican use parish! There’s living proof that there can be exquisite beauty in English, but beauty is precisely what seems to infuriate the 70-yer old bishops who still push for acoustic gee-tars and “youth” Masses. The EF seems to be catching on big time with many college students especially on non-Catholic campuses, but the diocesan liturgical bureaucracy where I am seems to think that Latin is dangerous to one’s immortal soul.

              Another reason is that I am a church musician of sorts, and since I’m willing to serve as organist at the early Mass, my Schola Cantorum is actually allowed to perform some music that I think is fitting. At the moment, I have a particularly good, orthodox pastor who needs all of the help he can get, and I feel obliged. I’m also an RCIA instructor, and I try to do that right if I can.

              I and everyone here will certainly keep you in our prayers as you continue your journey. But do keep that phrase Ex Opera Operato in mind. I especially like the old Anglican prayer book’s formulation of it: “Of the unworthiness of ministers which hindereth not the effects of sacraments.”

              • Beautiful reply. Blessings on your ministry and your fellow parishioners.

        • Marianne

          Actually there are clown masses and other sorts of liturgical abuse still going on. I didn’t believe it until I Googled “liturgical abuse” and watched some YouTube videos. This past Sunday there was a Super Bowl Mass in Marysville, WA. The church was made into a shrine to the Seahawks. A crucified Christ is suspended in between two huge green X’s and the “liturgical colors” were team colors.
          Of course, this is the way of the world. No one took into consideration that there could be some Patriots fans in the parish. And God must not have approved this blasphemy, because the Seahawks lost.
          I guess I’m old fashioned because I’ve never seen a connection between football and Mass, other than Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame.
          Actually, I am old fashioned, no guessing. Clown masses and dancing, and even holding hands make me sort of sick.

    • craig

      Part of the purpose of iconography is to call to memory the ‘cloud of witnesses’ attending the heavenly liturgy described in Revelation. It also reinforces that the Catholic faith is not something invented by the congregants or even by the Church of the present generation, but is a ‘communion of saints’ stretching across time and space. Take all that way, and the congregants are more inclined to see the Mass as merely “this thing we do together every week”.

      • Athelstane

        Well said, Craig – sacred art always keeps present to mind the Communion of Saints.

    • Athelstane

      We don’t need old statues to remind us of holiness

      With all due respect, what we don’t need is iconoclasm, formally anathematized by an ecumenical council. The Church employs sacred art to foster the faith, because it understands well that we are sensory beings. Think of all the great sacred art that the Church has fostered over 2,000 years – that art was made for a reason.

      However, I will admit we went overboard with the guitar mass; apologies to all traditionalists.

      For my part, I readily accept the apology.

    • “I like the new Churches … ”

      I was certain everything following that sentence would be an appeal to utility and not fitting aesthetics.

      The fact is, the new churches (new meaning “modern” – you can have newly built period revival edifices) are architecturally depressing.

      Ideas have consequences on everything: liturgy, architecture, education, politics, music, literature …

    • hombre111

      Clown Masses are part of urban legend. One or two might have happened somewhere, but every orthodox Catholic worth his incense swears he was there.

      • Clown masses are just part of the legendary canon of liturgical revisionism. The stupid dramas, silly talks, gaudy banners, female saturation of the chancel by wanna-be lay clergy, nauseating hymnody and its substandard accompaniments, and of course the horrid structural iconoclasm that makes the city of Dis seem only marginally unattractive –

        If clown masses require clowns to run the show, I’d say the vast majority of Catholics here in the West have been regular spectators of the post-Vatican II three ring circus.

        • hombre111

          Hmm. Can’t be talking about the Masses I celebrate, which the people describe as prayerful and inspiring. Obviously it has been a long time since you attended Mass. There are nine parishes within a hundred mile circle here, and none of them have dramas, silly talks, or gaudy banners. They do have female lectors and Communion ministers. And the music? Depends on the parish. But after fifty years as a priest, the worst parish with its modern music does not reach the level of pathos reached by those poor choirs of old trying to sing Gregorian chant.

          If you had been attending Mass, you would realize that the current problem is all those priests who can barely speak English, preaching sermons that are incomprehensible to the hard of hearing. The older folks put up with it, but the younger people leave in droves. The pastor in this parish has a strong Hispanic accent and does his best, but there it is. The Saturday 5:00 Mass I celebrate is the best attended of all the English Masses.

          But basically, your plaint is an Anglo thing, as your name implies. The Hispanics who fill the two Masses here wall to wall would not understand what you are talking about. There, the priest shines, and the music with its guitars and Latin beat inspires the heavens.

          • Liturgical abuses flood hispanic churches as much as Anglo churches. Having lived in South Florida I’ve seen my share of Hispanic catholic congregations, and they too are a hot mess of feel good religion.

            So self control and a sense of the holy is an Anglo thing? I guess the Eastern liturgies are also an Anglo thing?

            Here’s an alternative narrative for you: modernism infects Latin American churches as much as anybody.

            • Athelstane

              Having lived in South Florida I’ve seen my share of Hispanic catholic congregations…

              Having also lived in South Florida recently, I second your observation wholeheartedly. And sadly.

              • hombre111

                So said the guy who stood on the edge of the swimming pool, unable to swim and unable to imagine why all those people there were having so much fun.

                • Athelstane


                  Based on what I have seen, it looks like more and more of the fun is being had in storefront Hispanic Pentecostal churches. We can’t compete with the real thing.

                  • hombre111

                    True enough. The Pentecostal churches have been able to win away many Hispanics, in part because of the emotion and in part because there just aren’t enough priests to minister to them. But I think it is also partly due to the dreary nature of the Latin Rite. In part, it is also the emphasis on the last days. Lots of Hispanics become Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. When the Latin Rite was handed down through the centuries, “said” in front of people who mostly could not read, and its inadequacies were not so evident. Now, translated into a language we all understand, it needs a serious reworking. The optional Eucharistic Prayers do a somewhat better job.

                    As I celebrate, I try to bring the people into a sense of prayer. I never use the first Eucharistic Prayer, but I have heard it prayed very well on EWTN. Still, it is not the most inspiring moment of the week. I have to think about what is going on at a deeper level: our participation in the passion and death of Jesus. The words do not really lead to this.

            • hombre111

              Nobody has ever been able to define modernism. Took a vow against it when I was ordained, and then I watched the Vatican Council bless much of what I had sworn against. And if the pope united around all the bishops of the world is not an affair of the Holy Spirit, I don’t know what is. 🙂

              Self control? Read the psalms about dancing and singing. Dour is not a sense of the holy. The average Hispanic has a more profound sense of the presence of God in the midst of life than the average job consumed Gringo. Too bad you don’t speak Spanish. You could have joined the celebration and been nourished on a whole new level.

              And religion is supposed to make you feel good. The scriptures talk about joy. Augustine talked about celebrations of Mass where the great Amen sounded like a thunderclap!

              • “Nobody has ever been able to define modernism”-

                You mean like pornography? You just know it when you see it.

                But if you’re philosophically challenged on this and *really* unsure of what it is, I recommend reading most anything by C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Hillaire Belloc, Christopher Dawson, and…oh! who am I kidding?

                You said, after “I was ordained…I watched the Vatican Council bless much of what I had sworn against.” And therein is the problem, no? Which also tells me you know the difference. And if the Vatican Council *truly blessed* modernity, you have to know it can’t be an infallible or dogmatic council since the Holy Spirit can never inspire contradiction or heresy. And wasn’t modernity papally declared to be heresy? (If I believed in Papal Infallibility, I would hang my hat on that declaration as being an infallible statement). So either V2 got it wrong or your interpretation of the intent of V2 is wrong: either way, it’s wrong.

                But since you’ve owned up to adhering to that which “nobody has been able to define” (which is simply untrue — I mean, any scholar will tell you ancient Gnosticism is hard to nail down, but you do know its essential character and what makes it so poisonous among its pluriform expressions), I would only say you are part of the problem of popular religion. Your sincerity or joy do not vindicate the philosophy. It has to be true.

              • Neihan

                “Nobody has ever been able to define modernism.”

                Might be a good idea to read Pascendi Dominici Gregis written by Pope Pious X in 1907.

                “And religion is supposed to make you feel good.”

                According to the gospels of Oprah or Joel Osteen, maybe. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thought this sort of nonsense prior to the modern obsession with themselves and the state of their emotions. People who primarily think of themselves as consumers who are receiving a product may agree with you. Those who, like nearly everyone before them, believe that religion is how one binds oneself to God will probably not.

                • Excellent reply.

                • hombre111

                  Pascendi was built on fear and the inability to respond to the challenges of the Enlightenment and the modern era. An in house version of the Galileo affair which crushed intellectual life in te Church for generations. One of its highlights was the rejection of modern biblical studies. The oath was in Latin, of course, and we studied it before we read it. Pope Pius had already written an encyclical accepting the principles of modern biblical criticism. The Vatican Council was still going on, but the documents on the liturgy, the Constitution of the Church, the Word of God, and others had emerged. It was obvious we were beating a dead horse. But rules is rules is rules. Taking the oath was a sine qua non for ordination, even if it smelled like old fish.

                  Yes, religion is supposed to make you feel great. If not, why the enthusiasm and rejoicing and praising in the upper room on Pentecost. Or why Gaudete? Or Jubilate? And in the Office today, Paul in his Thessalonians talks about Joy in the Holy Spirit.

                  • Neihan

                    Shocking. A dissenting priest only keeps his word when it suits him, and gives it even when he has no intention of keeping it; words are merely mouth noises to get him what he wants. Then tells us all that it’s really the fault of others, as though he was forced to swear the oath and as though an honest man wouldn’t have refused.

                    “You do the works of your father…You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and he stood not in the truth; because truth is not in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof.”

                    “Yes, religion is supposed to make you feel great. If not, why the enthusiasm and rejoicing and praising in the upper room on Pentecost. Or why Gaudete? Or Jubilate? And in the Office today, Paul in his Thessalonians talks about Joy in the Holy Spirit.”

                    Because of the witness of the Holy Ghost, the Incarnation, the work of God, and Christian joy.

                    Religion is not supposed to make you feel great, that is not its purpose. If one experiences the emotion of happiness that is well and good, but it is an added gift and not the intended end. Just as joy is an effect of charity; a fruit but not its purpose.

                    Or else are you, like Mr. Osteen, going to be a “miserable comfortable” and tell us that if one is not “feeling great” or “happy” then one is failing in one’s religion? Or then tell us that those things which don’t “make us feel great” or “happy” are things which should be ejected from religion? What is the purpose of your dissimulation?

                    • hombre111

                      Who was the old atheist who said, “I would believe in redemption if Christians looked more redeemed?” Pope Francis with his ready smile has convinced more people than Pope John Paul with his stern glance.

                    • Neihan

                      If they were “convinced” they would convert. Of course, the obstinate heretics – especially perfidious priests – delight in him, believing him to justify their deceitfulness. Those outside the Church delight in him, because they believe him to be changing the Church to suit them and their convictions.

                      Has he inspired you to repent of your oath breaking? Or your heresies? Has he turned the “Non serviam!” on your lips to “Mater et Magistra!”? Or do you merely feel comfortably confirmed in your sins and errors?

                  • Glenn M. Ricketts

                    But Father, isn’t Christianity bound to be troubling to all of us sinners? One can feel good after some contrition, but getting there is usually painful, and there’s really no other way, is there?

                    • hombre111

                      Amen, lad. Preach it. But our first discovery of God is not in our intellect, but in the world of our feelings. Didn’t they call it the “Good News?” We go from there.

                    • Glenn M. Ricketts

                      Well yes, but I don’t think it necessarily commends certain varieties of canned hoopla that occur during Mass, do you?

                    • hombre111

                      Not sure what you mean. Our music tries to follow the liturgical seasons, choosing from a selection of choices. As the old retired guy, I don’t have to deal with this, but the pastor and the new choir director have had some discussions. So far, the music seems quite reverent and inspiring. My worst times are when I celebrate daily Mass and the people present choose from a hymnal made up mostly of traditional hymns with which I am not familiar. I let them pick the music because I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. But sometimes, I wait for the thunderbolt from heaven to shut us to heck up.

                    • Glenn M. Ricketts

                      I mean that you seem to tie certain specific liturgical practices to rather general notions of “the Good News.” I don’t think it follows, was my point.

                    • hombre111

                      The heart of the Mass is the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We come to the foot of the Cross, stand with Mary, and receive the life of the Risen Christ. This conviction is what has enabled me to celebrate Mass joyfully and prayerfully for fifty years. Sometimes, it brings me to tears. If ever there was a time to tear down the heavens with shouting and joy, it is after the Consecration.

                    • Glenn M. Ricketts

                      Well, I think silent awe is what seems most appropriate for me, and it’s often hard to find that these days. Too often I’ve encountered well-meaning, but highly distracting clerical improvisations that impede that appropriate sense of awe and mystery which is especially characteristic of the EF.

                    • It’s good whether or not somebody believes it.

                  • Glenn M. Ricketts

                    Father, I agree with your point about Pascendi’s unfortunate stifling of the Church’s intellectual life – although many great intellects such as von Balthsar de Lubac, Maritain or John LaFarge emerged from that period nevertheless. But for all of its heavy-handedness, I also think that Pascendi was prophetic and chillingly accurate about the repressive attitudes that can emerge among like-minded intellectuals, as the current phenomenon of political correctness on college campuses illustrates, to an extent that makes Pascendi look liberal. I’m struck by how the encyclical’s arguments mirror the work of a Augustin Cochin, a secular French historian also writing in the first decade of the 20th century. Cochin, whose life was tragically cut short in the trenches during WWI, was struggling to understand the mentality of the Jacobins and the peculiarly dogmatic and repressive intellectual life of pre-revolutionary France from which they had arisen. To a remarkable extent, Pascendi notes similar tendencies among the Modernists, whose heirs currently dominate and tyrannize both secular and religious campuses. If you’re looking for narrow-mindedness, you won’t have any trouble finding it there. One and a half, no two, cheers for Pascendi.

                    • hombre111

                      DeLubac et alii worked under a dark shadow, and Maritain was crippled by the obligation to stay within the boundaries of neo-Scholasticism, which had become the only acceptable philosophy. Balthasar came along later in the story and benefited from the sudden freedom granted Catholic thinkers. We were allowed to study only neo-Scholasticism and were not really taught how to think critically. When I began to ask a philosophy grounded in the idea of an unchangeable substance to face up to the idea of evolution, I realized I was suddenly on my own.

                      I would not try to defend some of the intellectual threads you describe. My problem is calling so many things “modernist.”

                      The Enlightenment’s woeful effects are still with us because of its individualism, its scientism, and its turn to the subject which brought truth-seeking away from reality and into the musings of the isolated philosopher at his desk, dialoguing only with himself. Descartes began it, of course, and Kant was the highpoint. Some modern Catholic theologians accepted Kant in an uncritical way, including Rahner. But Balthasar also seems to operate within the parameters of dualism. Both men surely have their greatness, however. I read Balthasar yet, including, every Lent, his great poetic meditation on Christ and his suffering and death.

                    • Glenn M. Ricketts

                      You should have a look at Tom Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, with regard to evolution. And see what kind of hell he caught, as an atheist and philosopher of science, for questioning that dogma.

                    • hombre111

                      I just finished reading Behe’s “On the Edge of Evolution.” Fascinating. He makes the point, correctly, I think, about a single origin, a continuity through the development of species. I don’t think a person with faith would have any trouble with that. The problem comes with chance and natural selection as the explanation of everything that excludes any notion that could conclude to God. Behe destroys that idea. I had the pleasure of watching him at work, once. He took on the biology faculties of two state universities and they could not get the best of him. He is an expert on molecular biology and DNA, and so he could rebut them point for point. His book is an interesting read.

                    • Glenn M. Ricketts

                      I don’t have a problem with evolution from my faith perspective since Catholics have long acknowledged that God can work through secondary processes. I do see some major conceptual and empirical difficulties of the sort that Nagel discusses in his book and others have attempted examine, only to run up against the Darwinian dogmatism of Stephen Hawkins and the Darwinist establishment. Their purpose, however, is theological, not scientific, since they very much want to belief that evolution closes the door, finally and irrefutably, on the possibility that God exists. There’s noting “scientific” about that position,and it impedes serious scientific testing of Darwin’s ideas. It does, however, explain the cult-like devotion of his followers such as Dawkins. No fundamentalist clings as tenaciously to the Bible as he does to his reductionist view of Darwin.

                    • hombre111

                      Agreed. That is why Behe’s books are so important. The problem with chance driven natural selection is the lack of data. Darwin proposed natural selection driven by chance before scientists had developed good microscopes and, finally, the electron microscope. This is the point in “Darwin’s Black Box.” As a molecular biologist, Behe is aware of the incredible complex nano machines inside a cell,made up of molecules. He argues that this complexity cannot be accounted for by natural selection. Creative design is a reasonable alternative. This stirred up a huge war among the Darwinians.

                      In “The Edge of Evolution,” he faces the problem of the data needed to back up natural selection, explaining what changes in the genes are necessary for evolutionary change. This is a fascinating read. Through examination of the malaria parasite, E-coli, and the inside of the cell, he reaches numbers to the fortieth power, and comes to the conclusion that even a three billion year-old earth does not offer enough time for the kind of changes Darwin assumed in natural selection. He does this, not as a philosopher or a theologian, but as a scientist who has crunched enormous numbers and discounts the possibility of such changes. Based on data and mathematics, he says the only reasonable conclusion is creative design.

          • Athelstane

            The solution to poorly sung Gregorian chant is not getting rid of chant, but singing it better. You don’t need a PhD in music to do good plainchant.

            Instead, we get the ongoing tyranny of saccharine OCP/GIA hymnody in 90% of parishes, dominated by the Haugan/Haas/Joncas oeuvre. We can do better. Far better.

            P.S. Those parishes complaining about foreign priests and their linguistic limitations had better have been producing their share of vocations over the last two generations. If you aren’t producing priests, you really have no right to complain if the ordinary is forced to assign you a pastor from Gabon, or cluster your parish with two others.

            • hombre111

              Good reply, noble sir. One quibble: Gregorian chant really is hard to sing. I know, because I spent eight years in the seminary trying to sing it well. It does take some expertise the Holy Spirit does not bestow on your ordinary choir member who shows up to practice half an hour before Mass.

              • Anglican plainchant is reverent and glorious and accessible. The real problem isn’t inherent in the chants, it’s the impatience of the times built into modernity.

                • hombre111

                  Hmm. You might be making a good point. Any place I can hear such a thing? Yesterday, I celebrated Mass with a really well trained choir, which sang the modern music so despised by some on this site. It was glorious. I get the feeling that some of the criticism is based on experience with bad choirs, or is the result of some kind of snobby elitism. When the Liturgy began to be celebrated in the vernacular, Gregorian Chant, no matter how magnificent, was finished. Can English, without those magnificent vowel sounds offered by Latin, really lend itself to chant? Occasionally, I drive to a Benedictine monastery and hear their approach as they sing the psalms, which is pretty good.

                  • “[T]he modern music so despised by some…”
                    Just in case you’ve missed it, I don’t think *anyone* is arguing contemporary composition is inherently inferior, by virtue of its newness, to the magnificent canon of sacred music we’ve inherited here in the West. What I’m arguing is that the character of sacred music has radically changed the past century because of a newly adopted philosophy that affects aesthetical judgment. If you think the arts are untouched by philosophy and theology then we’re at an impasse.

                    “I get the feeling that some of the criticism is based on experience with bad choirs-”
                    My criticism against poorly done music, whether objectively good or objectively base, still stands. It’s just doubly bad when the poor choirs sing poor music poorly composed. At least there’s something redeeming about an attempt to do objectively good sacred music, if for anything the positive culture of worship it creates by addressing the sickness of our times.

                    “…or is the result of some kind of snobby elitism.”
                    If it’s “snobby elitism” to prefer the objectively best things over against the objectively baser things, then I think we’re working with two radically different definitions. Please tell me you’re not a fan of Jack Pollock’s art. Distaste for forms unworthy of the dignity of man is far from snobbery. It’s actually love for my fellow man I relentlessly undress the superficial and empty philosophy that undermines his excellence. Snobs aren’t typically in the business of seeing all men as inherently glorious creatures who are worth the time and effort to be made better against those forces which seek to demean him.

                    • Glenn M. Ricketts

                      There’s some very good 20th century sacred music, such as the compositions by Alan Hovhaness or Ralph Vaughn Williams attest, to name but two examples. But they aren’t sung very much either, because, while they may be contemporary with VII -style music, they are in a different universe aesthetically, and weren’t trying to be “with it” or, God help us, “relevant.”

                    • Agreed, and let’s not forget the compositions of Camille Saint-Saëns.


                    • Glenn M. Ricketts

                      Right, that’s a real gem.

                    • hombre111

                      You lose me as soon as you use the word “objective.” Subjectivity and objectivity are entwined. And as the old Latin phrase put it long ago, there is no arguing about taste.

                    • Sorry, I understand why somebody like you would say that given your precommitments.

                      You’re beyond help you if you can’t tell which these is objectively better art (*here’s a hint, the toilet corresponds to defecating):

              • Chris in Maryland

                Not a convincing testimony.

                Gregorian Chant is not hard to sing, which indicates you may actually be unfamiliar with Gregorian chant, and are just posturing.

                Having been taught to sing chant (among other things) when I was 7 by a nun/music director in NY, we little tykes were quite able to do so, even though we were little children who didn’t read music.

                There is a great deal of Gregorian chant that is quite simple to sing, because, like many musical genres, much of it is written to be simple to sing (i.e., for the average person). Chant is almost always in the middle ranges of the human voice (heart tones), and requires no “counting” in terms of meter, as it has no meter.

                Yes – there are many chant pieces that have “too many notes” (the King’s complaint against Mozart) – and these are reserved for trained singers in “Schola.” But that’s just like any other music form – some is easier, some is harder, and some is really hard.

                That’s all there is to it.

                • hombre111

                  I studied with the Benedictines for four years, then spent six years with the Sulpicians. Gregorian Chant was our stock in trade, several times a week for ten years.

                  Modern people try to sing Gregorian Chant in 4/4 time, with syncopation. It is a mess. We do several versions of the Kyrie and Agnus Dei once in a while, usually during Lent. Once past that point, it is too difficult for ordinary people.

          • bonaventure

            While you blame it all on immigrant priests with a thick accent, the real reason that youth are leaving the Church are liberal priests like you who offer nothing more than the very destructiveness that the youth are, precisely, trying to escape.

      • bonaventure

        A “screetching guitar Mass” is a clown Mass.

        A “liturgical dancing Mass” is a clown Mass.

        A “lay people doing all liturgical functions Mass” is a clown Mass.

        An “all female-filled sanctuary at Mass” is a clown Mass.

        A “holding hands & singing kumbaya like songs” is a clown Mass.

        A “priest preaching ‘compassion’ for sin” is a clown Mass.

        A “Father Lavender celebrating Mass” is a clown Mass.

        A “Sister Butch reading the Gospel Mass” is a clown Mass.

        A “Catholic Relief Services asking for money for Planned Parenthood during the homily Mass” is a clown Mass.

        A “LGBTQAWXYZ Alpahbet Soup People Mass” is a clown Mass.

        An “Affirmative action Mass” is a clown Mass.

        A “God is Mother-and-Father Mass” is a clown Mass.


      • Glenn M. Ricketts

        Never saw a clown Mass, father, but I’ve certainly seen enough clowning at Mass over the years.

        • hombre111

          Heh. Pretty good. 🙂

      • mad2002mad

        Thanks hombre. Sorta thought it was one of those stories that became embelished over the years.

      • Marianne

        Google “liturgical abuse” and see for yourself. Red noses, rainbow colored fright wigs, mimes, it’s all there.

        • hombre111

          Maybe true, some time, somewhere. But itoday? In your average parish? Especially with John Paul priests and international priests now running things? The screwballs may have had their day, but that was long, long ago. Give me a break.

      • Marianne

        Liturgical abuse still goes on. There are clown masses happening now and yes, they are rare, but they should be nonexistent. They are more common at retreat houses and universities than typical parishes. I wish they were urban legends, but they are not.
        However, I think the applause after the homily, the hand holding and the out of control sign of peace are liturgical abuse, but I watched a clown mass on YouTube from Steubenville, and the Seahawks liturgy was February 1, 2015.
        I seem to have stumbled into a male only thread and am not being taken seriously.

        • hombre111

          I think the most serious liturgical abuses being currently foisted upon us are the numerous international priests who speak with such a strong accent that the Liturgy of the Word is a waste of time. A friend of mine in Douglas, AZ, not too far from me, says that there are three African priests in the parish. The sermon is incomprehensible. The pastor, already there 12 years, has received another 6 year appointment. Most of the parish is Hispanic. My friend, who speaks fluent Spanish, tells me the problem is even worse when this priest tries to speak Spanish. I was a priest in South America, and I made huge efforts to speak the language well. These guys don’t seem to care. This is a problem that makes hand-holding into something trivial. In my diocese, at least one third of the priests are also international priests, and their language problems are just as severe. At age 76, I have gone back to work in this parish, celebrating the English Mass, so that the people can understand what is being said.

    • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

      If the saints look ‘out of place’. Duh.

    • bonaventure

      However, I will admit we went overboard with the guitar mass

      Actually, that was part of the plan. You’re just too gullible to understand.

  • hombre111

    Can’t help but agree. There were atrocities of the worst kind in every diocese, beautiful works of art and treasures of the past tossed away like garbage. The statues and stations in my humble boyhood parish played a great role in fostering my sens of God and his saints, and the beginnings of my sense of vocation to the priesthood.

    • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

      I simply do not believe this. I have attended the Latin Mass all over Europe and America in churches that are “long and narrow,” and dark and Romanesque to boot. I have NEVER seen people dozing or ducking out early. Praying silently, yes. Of course, in today’s “coercive happy participation,” prayer itself is considered a “cop out.” Only clapping, laughing, shaking hands and singing crappy Jesuit tunes is considered “active participation.”

      • hombre111

        By your picture you belong to a self-selected group of people who were not there when there really were Latin Masses in every Catholic parish. And yes, as soon as communion began, so did the exodus. My favorite memory: the old monsignor who pastored the parish is giving out communion at the altar rail. “Stop where you are!” he thunders as he stares down the aisle. Several guilty wretches heading for the door are standing there with one foot in the air, including my little brother.

        • accelerator

          People leave Norvus Ordo masses early all the time. It s not a rite problem, it is a mindset problem.

          • Glenn M. Ricketts

            That is, when they actually show up for OF Masses.

      • Älter und weiser

        Fastest way for me to vacate a church is to be surrounded by a bunch of self-indulged happy-clappy Catholics singing “I’m ok – you’re ok” hymns. But then, they don’t want me there either.

    • ColdStanding

      The numbers are still way down. It just looks like more because there is no place else to go. Nor can one indulge in a consolatory notion of these people in attendance being a more committed, purer, and what-have-you congregation. Devotional practice, both in the home and in Church, has all but disappeared. Those that remain applaud the demise of the devotions.

      Why wouldn’t they? They are the one’s that took the deal. They have accepted a diminished faith.

      How painful those words, “diminished faith” are to me.

      • hombre111

        These words may describe your part of the Catholic world, but they do not describe mine, where the people have to deal with their own struggles and the challenges of the majority Protestants all around them.

        • ColdStanding

          How is there life different from mine? There is nothing new under the sun. I’ve been around for a sizable chunk of the revolution. I’ve examined quite closely the wreckage. I’ve seen the inconvenient used as an excuse to chuck out the bad. I’ve seen, been, and know many who have tried their best to make due with what little they have. Do you think I’m some sort of bon vivant with nothing to do all day but make comments on Crisis mag?

          I really do make an effort to understand your point of view. However, I was to have received the Catholic tradition and faith. It was not given to me. I’ve had to go out and get it. Most times, you come off as one of the fellas that should have been handing it on, but elected for some strange reason not to.

          Perhaps I really don’t know what you are doing. I get that. You seem to bear some of the marks of a Catholic, but critical ones are missing. Effaced perhaps. I’m not sure that I bear all of them either. Yes, truly being a member of the Mystical Body of Christ is a big deal to me.

          • hombre111

            One of the things that bothers me about some of those who post on Crisis is their lack of curiosity. I received the standard seminary education via Latin manuals which quoted St. Thomas, but none of us ever read him. None of this “learning” prepared us to understand the Vatican Council. Many of my confreres became very good at golf. I studied scripture and theology. I realized the inadequacies of substance/accident neo-scholasticism and abandoned any philosophy based on dualism. Unchangeable substance thinking cannot account for evolution. The essentialist fallacy so common in neo-scholasticism is an intellectual dead end which twisted the conclusions of Humanae Vitae.

            I think Humanae Vitae was the turning point for me. I operate out of the triadic perception and approach of some American philosophers, which takes shared conversation very seriously. For a while, I followed phenomenology, dear to Pope John Paul, and appreciated his explorations into personalism, which appears in Theology of the Body. But, authoritarian to his core and unable to really dialogue with the people he was teaching, he carried the dualistic shackles of neo-scholasticism to his grave.

            • Glenn M. Ricketts

              Where exactly do you wish to see such curiosity directed, Father? I don’t see you point here. Curiosity about Humanae Vitae would in the first place necessitate reading it,which isn’t widely done by many who reject it.

              • hombre111

                Read other points of view. Try to appreciate the seed of truth in what they are saying. Try to sense where the world of thought, science, and religion are taking us today. Humanae Vitae fails most people because it is not convincing. Pope Paul himself seemed to have sensed this because, in the end, his final appeal is to the authority of the Magisterium. Do this because we, the wiser ones (also, incidentally, the ones who are not married) say so. Unfortunately, after Bacon, an argument from authority is the weakest argument you can make.

                • Glenn M. Ricketts

                  Actually, HV has been the “other point of view” in my own experience – no one, but no one, especially clergy, made the least attempt to explain or defend it, although I’ve also heard quite a few easy-going or contemptuous dismissals of it. The clergy simply bailed out, and most of them haven’t yet stopped running. As an RCIA instructor, I actually shocked and angered some people who asked me to confirm their impression that pre-marital co-habitation was no longer sinful. Their question, not my imposition on authority – “yes” was all it took to really upset them.. You can imagine, then, what it’s like to defend HV, whose arguments have been so tragically vindicated by subsequent experience. The point is, I’ve gotten here as a result as a direct result of my “curiosity,” since those in authority defaulted early on.

                  • hombre111

                    When HV came out, priests got together with their bishops to decide what to teach the people. I think we all felt like the guys who put huge burdens on other people’s backs, burdens that cost us nothing. Instinctively, we understood that we did not really have credibility on the matter, because we were laying down the law for married people whose experience we did not share. In general, priests and bishops decided to do what the Canadian bishops suggested: Explain the Church’s position, ask people to pray about it, and follow their own conscience.

                    That was one of the ironies of HV. Before, Catholics were like children asking the pope for permission to do something. When he said no, people suddenly realized that they were the ones in charge of their lives. In other words, they began to behave like adults.

                    For most of us, it seemed obvious that accepting NFP as somehow God’s solution was a scam. Either birth control is wrong or it isn’t. The conclusion that every act of intercourse had to be open to life logically meant that people who were too old should stop having sex. And then came the discovery that this one to one openness, taken for granted since Aristotle, does not exist. It is a matter instead of statistical probability.

                    I grew up in a family where one more child would be more than my parents could take, morally and emotionally.

                    • Glenn M. Ricketts

                      But then you’ve affirmed my point: the clergy were not commanding married lay people to obey, obey obey, as I said. In fact, they often took the lead in telling lay people to disregard the Pope’s antiquated advice, etc. etc. Unfortunately, there is a powerful case to be made on behalf of HV, but it’s not the one that Catholics will hear from any pulpit. No one “explained the Church’s position,” they simply denigrated or disregarded it. Too bad, because the encyclical was truly a “contradiction” as we Catholics like to note, a moment of prophecy and grace.

                    • hombre111

                      No priest with a right conscience could command his people to obey, obey, obey. Even Pope Paul in his own encyclical did not do this. In the second part of HV, he gently urged couples still practicing birth control to pray and try to understand the Church’s position. AND he told them to continue going to confession and Communion! The pertinent words, under #25: “Let married couples…face up to the efforts needed, supported by faith and hope…Let them implore divine assistance by persevering prayer…Let them draw grace…from…the Eucharist. And if sin should still keep its hold over them, let them…have recourse with humble perseverance to the mercy of God, which is richly bestowed int he sacrament of Penance.” An important conclusion to be drawn from these words is this: Since he tells contracepting couples to continue to go to Communion and Penance, their “sin” is a veniel sin at worst. If it were a mortal sin, Communion and Penance would be out of the question.

                      I have learned that it is a lose/lose position to preach on this subject from the pulpit. People will hear what they hear, not what you say.

                      I just read the encyclical again, and again, I stopped with a shock at words which destroy the integrity of the whole thing. The Pope writes: “Could not one admit that the procreative finality pertains to conjugal life considered as a whole rather than to its single acts?” The pope’s answer is no. He reduces the whole thing to biology, calling it a teaching founded on natural law. He goes on to say it is “illuminated by divine revelation,” and then in a footnote offers a single quote taken out context!

                      In its essence, HV turns out to be an argument from authority. But as I have said time and again, in the modern world, an argument from authority is the weakest of all arguments. As I have also said, time and again, an argument from natural law has all the strengths and weaknesses of any rational argument. The argument can fall in the face of new facts, better logic, or a more adequate perspective.

                    • Glenn M. Ricketts

                      But father, my point was to take issue with what you seemed to be saying, that the clergy were acting as enforcers. Instead, they made no attempt even to explain, much less enforce HV, and often led the laity away from it. i at least have never seen anything remotely resembling such clericalism. Increasingly, many priests have similarly avoided the Church’s other moral teaching with regard to sexuality, marriage, etc. Unfortunately, instead of “acting like adults,” the behavior of many laymen has more closely resembled adolescents who think that they are off the leash and free of responsibility.

                      What I find especially prophetic in HV is its grim and very accurate predictions of the consequences that the “contraceptive mentality” was likely to spawn, if sex were to be wholly separated from procreation. The college/young adult “hook-up” scene and the ubiquitous availability if pornography bear graphic witness to that debasement, to say nothing of the horrific population control measures imposed by governments such as China, with the admiration of many “progressive” westerners who see them as humanitarian. At the time HV was published – after a long and strategically very costly delay – the book of the hour was Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, with its absolutist declarations of imminent demographic catatrophe and the need for emergency, almost totalitarian, policies to halt population growth. Today, Ehrlich’s book is laughable, and the forecast of HV has been vindicated. As I said previously, I believe it was a moment of grace, an impression that becomes ever clearer and compellingas we survey the landscape since 1968.

    • bonaventure

      Your post is an excellent reminder on how insidious liberalism could be. For while you claim openness to beauty and tradition, the fact is that you reject the Christian faith totally.

      I would rather worship in a cheap plaster and Gyprock apartment with a non-apostate priest and faithful Christians, than suffer your apostasies in the most beautiful and traditional-looking church building.

      Having said that, you wouldn’t put up with a really beautfiul church building for long, because real beauty gradually brings people back to God, and the fullness of His truth. Which in the long run defeats your purposes.

      • hombre111

        This judgmental, disrespectful post, does not earn an answer.

        • bonaventure

          Yet you couldn’t resist with a no-less judgmental, throw-off, answer.
          So un-pastoral like.
          Heal yourself, pastor.

      • You underestimate man’s wickedness.

        Western heretics like to re-purpose old, beautiful things to give a sense of authenticity to their ancient lie. Liberalism is truly a disease of the mind, a cognitive dissonance at its core.

        That said, the remnant who will not bow the knee to Baal will finally melt under the beauty and sermons emanating from the walls, columns, windows, doors, pews, archways, icons, and statues of such a sacred space, simple or intricate. “The rocks will cry out,” even when the clergy’s throats are as open sepulchres.

    • accelerator

      I do not like churches in the round. It is hard to focus because you are busy looking all over at people. Also, when the altar is in the center of the room it can have no real backdrop. Just my three cents. As for a third of the church emptying out before the priest could finish distributing Communion, that means people are viewing the Church as a sacramental filling station. The solution to that is not herding them into a”We Are Family” huddle. Maybe try pew announcements and signage that says “This is a Sacred Ceremon. We ask that you refrain from leaving the service early but instead wait until the entire Mass has been completed. Thank you.”

  • steve5656546346

    Excellent article about an incomprehensible period.

  • The council never called for the renewal of buildings or of architecture, but a certain spirit did…

    • Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

      And that ‘spirit’ has a name. B L Zeebub.

      • I stumbled on this gem of an excerpt from the legendary William F. Buckley about the wonderful “spirit of Vatican II”:

        “As a Catholic, I have abandoned hope for the liturgy, which, in the typical American church, is as ugly and as maladroit as if it had been composed by Robert Ingersoll and H.L. Menchen for the purpose of driving people away.

        Incidentally, the modern liturgists are doing a remarkably good job, attendance at Catholic Mass on Sunday having dropped sharply in the 10 years since a few well-meaning cretins got hold of the power to vernacularize the Mass, and the money to scour the earth in search of the most unmusical men and women to preside over the translation.

        The next liturgical ceremony conducted primarily for my benefit, since I have no plans to be beatified or remarried, will be my own funeral; and it is a source of great consolation to me that, at my funeral, I shall be quite dead, and will not need to listen to the accepted replacement for the noble old Latin liturgy. Meanwhile, I am practicing Yoga, so that, at church on Sundays, I can develop the power to tune out everything I hear, while attempting, athwart the general calisthenics, to commune with my Maker, and ask Him first to forgive me my own sins, and implore him, second, not to forgive the people who ruined the Mass.”


  • John Albertson

    Recent studies claim that in the Henrician Tudor period, Thomas Cronwell despoiled 95% of all ecclesiastical art in England. – Today, without comment, ugly new churches and badly renovated old churches should have a plaque listing the bishop, pastor and architect responsible. It is curious that so many bishops seem aesthetically blank. Perhaps as sad as the detritus of the 1960′ and 1970’s are the “postmodern” structures of more recent vintage which are neither here nor there, and totally banal. By the way, the new archbishop of Chicago was head of the Josephinum when its chapel was wrecked.

    • Correct you are. But this aesthetic sickness is traceable 50 years prior that. The utopian states spawned equally dead architecture.

    • Glenn M. Ricketts

      The information about the “renovators” probably is posted in the manner that you suggest, since they are usually very proud of their work. See for example the placard extolling Rembert Weakland in the Milwaukee Cathedral “renewed” under his auspices.

  • Athelstane

    In what might be regarded as a classical conciliar textual juxtaposition, there’s only one brief passage discussing sacred art and architecture in the entirety of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican II dogmatic constitution on the liturgy:

    125. The practice of placing sacred images in churches so that they may be venerated by the faithful is to be maintained. Nevertheless their number should be moderate and their relative positions should reflect right order. For otherwise they may create confusion among the Christian people and foster devotion of doubtful orthodoxy.

    Obviously the last two sentences were taken by many clergy and liturgical art consultants to mean not “noble simplicity” but “industrial austerity.” The result: ancient altars jackhammered out, altar rails destroyed, statues smashed, art whitewashed (as you can see at the Josephinum above). New churches designed to look like airport terminals and modern art galleries. And the first sentence largely ignored.

    The tendency of some (American) parishes, especially with neo-gothic churches, to indulge a little in chock-a-block crowding of plaster statuary and gauzy art to a point that might be called kitsch was not unknown, and probably motivated some of the votes for this section. But given the choice between Victorian kitsch and white-washed sepulchres unidentifiable as Catholic churches that have been inflicted on the faithful for the last five decades, I’d take the kitsch.

    • Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

      Oh, my giddy aunt! What IS supposed to be in that picture? An igloo? With the emphasis on the last three letters of the word igloo…

  • John O’Neill

    I am a very traditional Catholic and agree with most of what Father Longenecker has written. My experience of growing up in an immigrant culture in Philadelphia and having beautiful parish churches, my own was a Romanesque although on a miniature level church which has now been torn down because of lack of parishioners has made me aware of what we have lost. I have traveled and lived in Europe and am familiar with the beautiful cathedrals there; I have had the wonderful experience of having been to Saint Peter’s in Rome at least twice. I well know the beauty of traditional churches as well as the exquisite beauty of Mozart’s AVE VERUM or Faure’s IN PARADISUM; however I now live in a rural area of Amish country in Pennsylvania; my parish is small we are in the real minority in the area. The church is fairly new having been built about fifteen years ago; it is not very attractive with its boxlike structure and lack of extravagant art work. However, what I have learned is that we must also put the character of the parishioner into our evaluation of a church. My fellow parish members are very devout and dedicated to the rosary , adoration and the pro life movement. Our pastor came up through the novus ordo church but he is a very pious priest, he is also devoted to the rosary and is zealous in his visiting and comforting the sick and in our country parish which takes in about five hundred square miles and that is no mean feat for anyone ministering to the needs of others.. His homilies come from the heart of the Scripture readings of the day’s mass sans any references to politics, sports, recent tv shows etc. He is a very dedicated priest and is trusted by all of his parishoners. There is a tremendous amount of work in the parish helping the poor and sick. We are living the life of the Church in our deeds. It has made me see that as important as beauty and dogma are in our church; the essence is living the words of Jesus, “to love God with our whole heart and soul and our neighbors as ourselves”.

  • AsherLev

    I suppose just assenting
    to the teachings of the Magisterium is meant to put me in the so-called
    ‘conservative’ camp, but while I concur with the critique of a post-conciliar
    iconoclasm that vandalised a great deal of the Church’s architectural
    inheritance, I nevertheless disagree with the article’s Scrutonian aesthetic
    conclusions. When you talk of the ‘new churches that looked like teepees,
    stranded space ships, or ice cream cones that had fallen upside down’, I can’t
    help but think your giving mocking descriptions of works such as Sir Frederick
    Gibberd’s Liverpool Metropolitan

    Xenakis’ Sainte Marie de La Tourette and Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut, all three of which, like Mattisse’s Chapel of the Rosary, could be equally be critiqued
    for the use of ‘abstract stained glass’. These are works, though, that do transcend ‘fashion’; not through a pastiche neo-classicism, but through designs
    of integrity that are in dialogue with tradition as opposed to mere imitation
    of it. Xenakis’ windows in La Tourette, for
    example, make use mathematical harmonic systems that positively pulse with
    classical congruity, whilst Corbusier’s ascetic designs for the building’s sanctuary are thoroughly Cistercian in aesthetic and he derived the proportions from the 11th Century Church of Santa
    in Cosmedin (the shared patron saint is no coincidence)… oh, but wait… it’s
    concrete… let’s knock it down and build this quaint travesty.

    • “Through a pastiche neo-classicism, but through designs of integrity that are in dialogue with tradition as opposed to mere imitation of it.”

      It’s a dismissive statement, but before you easily dole it out imperiously against “mere imitation” (as if there’s something unauthentic or unartful about that), let’s first find out the nature of the dialogue in a given structure. That an architect borrows and re-interprets in itself is nothing inherently praiseworthy or blameworthy, any more than adding before unseen flourishes to design are themselves neither bad nor good. We have to ask whether the sacred space, in true beauty, elevates, conforms, and stretches the imagination to Objective Reality; or does it diminish, debase, cool and stunt the theology that is to be believed, preached, and practiced. The interplay is fantastic.

      It is true that breathtaking structures in themselves do not guarantee the worshipers and their leaders will conform their catechesis to the explicit theology locked in stone and wood; but it *does* stand as a perpetual monument against anthropocentric worship. The interesting thing is, when a worshiping community re-aligns itself to traditional ideals, their bland or inhumane worship space tends to bend toward authentic beauty.

      For my money, Scrutonian idealism is the saner route.

    • Chris in Maryland

      One might reply in the same tone you have chosen – that the 1st six images of “contemporary church” architecture are cold, ugly and inhuman…representing a quaint infatuation with the late 20th century…a church for cyborgs.

    • craig

      I know of no pre-WWII Cistercian abbey even half as austere as Le Corbusier’s prison aesthetic. Just do a Google image search for “Cistercian architecture” and one for “La Tourette” and compare — the former’s images include pillars and capitals, pediments, arched windows, and so forth. These are replaced in Le Corbusier’s parody by featureless raw concrete, pillbox gunnery slits, and forced asymmetry. When the Church reduces the elements associated with worship of God to featureless abstractions, it tends to result in man’s adopting an increasingly impersonal and abstract conception of God. Might help explain why La Tourette has only 11 monks left, according to their own web site.

    • Fargo106

      I’ll take the “quant travesty” over all the rest. I see no travesty whatsoever… I see a church that looks like a church. C’mon, this is not difficult and requires no degree in architecture to understand…. we’re making much harder than it has to be. For starters, if you can’t tell it’s a church from the outside, it’s a bad design, period.

  • Susan

    The destruction of Traditions is pure Marxism. The removal of the most beautiful Latin Mass which was said in the early years of the Church and the most elevating music—was destroyed by the Marxists/Progressives/Freemasons—and it should not have been allowed by Vatican II. But the mafia took over the Vatican Bank and had popes killed….so what else didn’t the Marxists infiltrate and destroy?

    To use languages that aren’t “dead” lend themselves to “evolution”—which is not conducive to Truth which originated 2000 years ago. Truth does not evolve..

    Controlling Words and Language is what Marxists do to flip Good and Evil (abortion= pro-choice)—to evolve perceptions of the masses and normalize evil.

    Catholic Theology is antithetical to Collective and Marxist ideology from the very start—and to embrace that evil ideology which is dehumanizing (godless) (like Liberation Theology) was to evict Christ from the Catholic Church.

    Marxism is godless—there is no such thing as a Marxist/Socialist Catholic….it is an oxymoron as much as “homosexual” marriage. The Catholic Church has got to promote Truth always and not blur it for the children. Today’s schools ditched Truth for PC (pure Marxism). The Truth is never compromised. You don’t have “altar girls” to emasculate males and confuse boys. Roles are essential to the nature of males and females. Hierarchy is evident in all animals or chaos ensues.

  • Patrick Studer

    New Churches for a new religion. It only makes sense.

  • clintoncps

    “New churches are also being built that are traditional in style, yet cognizant of the demands of modern worship.”

    Dear Fr. Dwight,

    First, thank you for your faithful service to the Lord and for responding to the awesome vocation to be a priest of our Lord Jesus Christ! Your article is timely and quite accurate in its assessment of the damage done by modernism in Catholic Church architecture and artwork.

    However, I find your comment noted above to be confusing. What exactly are “the demands of modern worship”? The very iconoclasts and revolutionaries you criticize in your article have used the same phrase — “the demands of modern worship” — to justify their destruction and rejection of the beauty, profundity, and glory of our Catholic Church heritage; why then do you use such a phrase yourself?

    I am left with the impression that, in order not to seem too extreme, you are moderating the impact of your championing of traditional Catholic architecture and artwork by offering a dash of respectful regard to modernism. But, as you yourself have articulated as the very premise of your article, modernism has succeeded in dismantling the Church building as an instrument of evangelization and catechesis, and as the Vision of Heaven that we enter and participate in whenever we serve at the Holy Sacrifice of God for man. How does the spirit behind such devastation merit respectful regard? Why is it necessary to make some gesture of recognition to the never-to-be-clearly-defined “demands of modern worship”? What is it about being “modern” that could possibly be of the least interest to the God who gives his life for us or to our Heavenly Family?

    In Christ and the Holy Family,


    • craig

      Good catch — the phrase itself allows one to be led in any direction. If I had to speculate, it refers to all the trappings which people now expect of worship — air conditioning, central heat, comfortable seats, bright lights, amplification, and good sight lines. Problem is, all these characteristics are consumerist at heart, as if the requirements for a church were no different than for a secular performance hall. For worship, we might actually be better off going even farther back, bringing back the iconostasis, getting rid of the pews, and using lots of beeswax candles as the Orthodox do.

  • Another great new build is the brand new Newman Center church at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. It’s a great thing when your masses and Bible studies/community meetings are so full that you need to build a bigger church on a college campus.


  • Scott W.

    My wife nailed it for me. The 60’s wreckovations were part of a well-intentioned, but wildly misguided ecumenicism. So when they saw a crucifix front and center, they thought this too much of a hard teaching that the Mass is primarily a sacrifice; so let’s remove it and leave it empty or put in some abstract art or at most, use a resurrected/ascending Lord (known pejoratively as the “touchdown Jesus”).

    When they saw a high altar with a tabernacle front and center, again too much sacrifice, not enough inoffensive “community meal”, so off to a repurposed broom closet with Our Lord.

    When they saw a church designed in a tradition transept, sorry, too hierarchical. Let’s make it egalitarian and in the round.

    And on and on. The good news is that this false ecumenicism is all but dead. The non-Catholic denominations that we were trying to curry liturgical and architectural favor with have capitulated to Political Correctness. They’ve gone down a road we cannot follow, so we might as well recover what was lost.

  • I like the semantic twist the author makes between “revolution” which requires the destruction of the past and “evolution” which embraces and improves upon the past. I’m going to start calling myself and “evolutionary”.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Ugliness is the mark of the progressive, which destroys all in its wake, and in its path…because progressivism is about power…and power is narcissistic…and abhors beauty.

  • John Albertson

    This vandalism was not peculiar to the Church. It was symptomatic of the “chronological arrogance” (to use a term osf C.S.Lewis) which permeated all of culture in the mid-twentieth century. This of all the historic buildings wreckovated or demolished. Corbusier after WW I wanted to replace the great buildings of Paris with something looking like Brazilia. As Vatican II was taking place, the magnificent Pennsylvania Station in New York was replaced with the present horror which everyone loathes. Whenever barbarians invaded, it was the boast of the Catholic Church to protect the great arts, but in the modern age the Church, eager to be “up to date” opened the gates to the Vandals.

  • FreemenRtrue

    we have a beautiful 100+ year old church (National Historic Register) in Southwest Virginia.
    It has a grand marble altar and we still have the Tabernacle front and center. Some people think it was built to be a Cathedral. Most of the singing is led by the talented choir in the loft, only occasionally does the director Hollywood it by having soloes or duets from the altar(cringe). Guests to our parish often remark how beautiful our liturgy is. Thanks to our Monsignor, our Mass is truly a parish prayer in homage to the Eucharistic Sacrifice. When we have a solo from the choir loft of Ave Maria it will nearly bring tears to your eyes. A beautiful Church is a parish prayer lifted up to God in works of art, and glass and stone, our steeples hold two crosses up to the sky, saying to God the Father that we remember. That beautiful Church is an enduring prayer from that generation of over 100 years ago, a prayer that we cherish and nurture and repeat, a prayer that we protect and preserve for future children of God. Don’t come late to our Mass unless you want to stand.

  • Joe

    This is a wonderful article. I recall when the parish that I grew up in decided to renovate it’s church building, a building that is nearly 100 years old, they decided to restore it almost to how it was originally. Murals were restored on the ceiling, statuary cleaned, the high altar and tabernacle kept as a center focal point, some had feared that it would be ripped out but we didn’t treat our Lord like that. The church is waking up to what is true!