Signs of Hope: Catholic Hippies Getting Defensive and “Fussy” with New, Beautiful Parish Renovations

If you’re looking for a laugh, check out an article in the National “Catholic” Reporter (not to be confused with faithful Register) remarking on the opinion of Michael DeSanctis, a church building “consultant” and theology teacher. The entire article basically reads like that of a cornered, rabid raccoon. There is a stench of defensiveness because these holdovers haunting the turrets of the failed (and erroneously implemented) “reforms” of the Second Vatican Council are watching their utopia of a beige, frozen-in-the-1960s, kumbaya Catholicism slowly dissolve only 50 years later.

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Isn’t this where everyone pictures getting married?

Michael states that a major problem in the Catholic Church today is parishes “re-renovating” churches into making them actually look like Catholic churches again. Many of these dinosaurs–who came of age during the enlightened sexual revolution–cringe at the joyful, passionate, and polite undoing of their “renovations” of the 60’s and 70’s which really was just destruction: the removal of intricate altar rails, the painting over of sacred art, the removal of stained glass depicting saints, the carpeting over of marble or parquet floors, the removal of baptismal fonts, and much more. Read an abbreviated version below with my emphases and comments:

New clericalism is imposing old ways on modern church architecture

Church architecture has become a frontline of the liturgy wars as Catholic churches undergo re-renovations.

Restoration-minded pastors, most who came of age well after Vatican II, are ordering the changes. Gone are what they sometimes disparage as “Pizza Hut” churches. The goal is to restore tradition. They impose altar rails, the placement of the Blessed Sacrament near the altar, and use expensive marble on the floor to seal off the sanctuary area as a polished and exclusive arena for clerical liturgical action. Sometimes the choir gets relegated to a back loft, providing disembodied sound. In other parishes, circular seating arrangements are abandoned in favor of long rows of pews.

Those misguided pastors, if only they came of age during V2, then they would know the damage they are causing! I like how they are “imposing” the placement tabernacles near the altar. Isn’t Rome require the tabernacle be close to the altar (if not centered under the crucifix where it should be)? Why is this so controversial? I also laugh at him saying the choir gets “relegated” to the back loft. It’s actually called the “choir loft”, you know, where the choir is supposed to be. And the “disembodied” sound should sound disembodied quite literally, it should remind us of angels singing.

“Architecture is how we express our liturgy,” DeSanctis recently told NCR in a phone interview, noting that the generation of post-Vatican II priests routinely came out of the sanctuary to interact with their parishioners during liturgy. They built churches with a focus on circular design, to bring the congregation closer together, as well lowered the altar to bring the priest closer to the congregation.

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Everyone is a priest and Father is just one of us!

First off, again, I am pretty certain that, according to GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal), priests are not supposed to “interact” with the congregation outside of distributing the Eucharist. What does he want these priests to do exactly? What exactly does he assume the purpose of Mass is?

But that has changed with the emergence of many younger clergy, schooled in seminary with the thought of Pope Benedict, who re-emphasized clerical distinctions. Across the country, DeSanctis has noticed how many pastors are redesigning the suburban churches built in the 1960s and ’70s with a focus on priestly action.

It’s pretty obvious the disdain for young, faithful Catholics, isn’t it? Sorry that nearly all the Millennials who engaged in the Church right now care about beauty, liturgy, and “distinctions” between clergy and laity. One of the biggest problems of the past 50 years has been the erosion of these distinctions. Many priests came to understand their holy vocation as just another day job (contributing to many behaving very badly) which devastated the number of men interested in the priesthood. It’s not about “priestly action”, it’s about offering the Mass for the congregation, something they can’t do.

In his article, DeSanctis offers a defense for the much-maligned modernist suburban church, with its focus on nurturing community. He begins with St. Jude the Apostle Church in Erie, a product of postwar Catholicism. It is a modernist structure with a distinctive summit cross, built to be “a place of worship completely at home in the modern world.” St. Jude’s, he notes, fit into the modern suburban American landscape, and that was its strength…

However, that model has changed. St. Jude’s has undergone a re-renovation in recent years.

Elaborate candles now serve as boundaries to mark off the sanctuary from the pews. The altar area has now been transformed by marble, visually setting itself off. The new architecture, intended to recapture traditional elements, has a “look at me” clerical mindset, writes DeSanctis.

The sanctuary and pews (nave) are indeed very distinct places and it should be obvious. The altar should be noticeable since that is where the sacrifice of the Mass takes place. And “traditional elements” do not exist for their own glory. The goal of soaring ceilings of artwork and masonry is to direct our gaze towards heaven and the glory of God. It is also to help us see beauty in the world, beyond the mundane and temporal imagery of carpeting, abstract stained glass, and solid-green polyester vestments.

He notes that such changes are examples of “fussy territoriality” expressed through physical changes made by “a wave of priests intent on undoing the achievements of their immediate predecessors, a generation or two of men animated by the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.”

Church architecture needs to bring clergy and laity together, notes DeSanctis

Hmmm, who exactly is acting fussy here? And, again, mentioning those awful young priests. Can’t all priests just be old? Can we stop ordaining new priests all together? Their passion for Catholicism is really just messing everything up! The whole problem with this mindset is they are so concerned by their human achievement rather than serving Mother Church. This is why we have visible musicians performing at Mass, priests packing sermons with laugh lines and clapping after Mass. The whole problem is that our worship has been of ourselves; the priest too often looks at the congregation and praises them while the congregation looks back at the priest and laughs or claps. It’s circular entertainment rather than vertical worship.


Quite a funny article because you can smell the defensiveness which means things are going in the right direction. In 500 years, I expect the years between 1960-2030 to be just an odd historical blip on our 2,000+ year timeline. ☩

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NCR’s Tiresome Idea for Renewing Parishes

While I typically avoid National Catholic Reporter for obvious reasons, I came across their article titled Parish Renewal Groups Teach Lessons from Megachurches. Interested by how a catholic website would openly advocate for the adoption of protestant/non-denominational/new-age megachurch practices, I decided to click.

The article pretty much suggests what most crusty progressives yearning for fleeting cultural acceptance have been saying since the 70’s, that we should ‘modernize’ Catholic parishes musically, architecturally, and liturgically. While this half-century-old message has been heard and tried many times, it still manages to elicit cringes and eye rolls when someone who genuinely thinks this idea is somehow novel or in any way appropriate for the Roman Catholic Church/Kingdom of God/Holy Sacrifice of Mass.

Below I’ll give the article the ‘TSP Cliffs Notes’ treatment:

I [suggest] that Catholic pastors take a look at what was happening with evangelical megachurches. Inspired by the Willow Creek congregation outside Chicago, evangelicals were tapping into the power of good old-fashioned American business marketing, finding out what people wanted in a church and delivering it to them.

He is correct that megachurches tap into business marketing and are good that that. That said, while megachurches may follow certain business practices and try to “deliver” to people “what they want” that is not the mission of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Roman Catholic Church as founded by Jesus Christ. The writer’s suggestion shows a lack of understanding of the Kingdom of God because the Church does not exist to give people what they want, it exists to give people what they need (as a loving Mother) and save souls in the process. Obviously it’s a twofer if the will of an individual also wants what the Catholic Church offers, but that is simply a secondary pleasantry. The point is the Church exists to form souls, not the other way around.

Willow Creek, an independent congregation, was established in the 1970s, free from denominational constraints, via a process of intensive surveys of what people in the growing exurbs were seeking in a church. Willow Creek became famous for its non-churchy look, welcoming small communities and contemporary music. A visit there researching the book indicated that Wednesday night gatherings, held in a shopping mall-like food court, were as important to the congregation as Sunday morning worship.

Ah, there’s that whiff of religious pluralism you knew was coming; Catholicism is simply one of many denominations, right? And the denominational labels are constraints to what people really want from their church. We need modern, round-edged buildings, and songs that reflect persuasions of pop culture to remain relevant to young people! <sarcasm/> It’s as if thousands of Catholic parishes haven’t already tried this following the “reform” in the 70’s. You show me a Catholic parish with a ‘modern’ feel, and I’ll show you empty pews with few Millennials.

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Catholic pastors are beginning to pay attention thanks in part to a growing number of businesses and nonprofits intended to assist them in a time when many baptized Catholics have stopped going to church.

Sure, misguided Catholic pastors who are also decreasing in number.

RENEW (group dedicated to make churches more attractive) preceded Willow Creek and is based largely on Vatican II theology. It grew out of renewal movements popular with Catholics in the 1970s… Catholic parishes can no longer wait for people to come to the pews. There has to be a concerted effort to bring them in.

Ah, so this effort to protestantize the Catholic Church is rooted in the ‘spirit’ of Vatican II. Again, this all so predictable. Let me get this straight, this is based on efforts out of the 70’s–over 45 years ago–and even though the attempts to “reform” the Church that took place in the 70’s are widely argued to be the catalyst for the most destructive era for the Church in its 2000 year history with empty pews, confusion, and scandal, we are to continue forging this failed path. You have to almost feel bad for the people who keep thinking these efforts will somehow work all of a sudden.

The critique Willow Creek faced in the evangelical world can apply here as well: is this Catholic lite, an effort to make hard truths easier…And extensive studies of the Willow Creek megachurch model indicates that these groups, much like Catholic parishes, have difficulties holding on to their people, with high attrition rates after five years.

As we have already seen with parishes that have tried to implement this modernist, pop-culture environment and it indeed is Catholic lite, if even to be considered Catholic. And, from what we have witnessed, they often don’t seek to make “hard truths easier”, but skit these truths all together if not openly preach the opposite! However I’m happy the author made the point that these megachurches have poor retention rates. They may have lots of young people but their interest is fleeting, inherent of anything that is not rooted in something objective or eternal, especially when it’s rooted in American popular culture.

It’s often repeated that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome…this definition I’d like to submit to people like Peter Feuerherd who wrote this piece. Why do they think that doubling–no–quadrupling down on this effort born out of the era of freelove and relativity to throw Catholic Tradition, beauty, and understanding out the window will somehow result in anything other than the repulsion of disciples, disinterest in the priesthood, and more.

I’ll end by quoting Rachel Lu writing about the reaction of aging snooty left-wing Catholics now becoming irrelevant that the base of Catholicsm is moving back towards sacred beauty and orthodoxy:

Liberal theologians see this too, which is why they feel unsettled…They sense that they are now the ones haunting the turrets of outdated, reactionary Catholicism. Their “springtime of Vatican II” has yielded confusion, empty pews, and horrific scandals. Their “courageous” protest of Humanae Vitae has led countless souls astray, but far from being retracted, the document is still very much in force, with its predictions fully vindicated by modern culture.The old guard of liberal champions is aging, while the Church’s young enthusiasts are too often admirers of St. John Paul II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or even (gasp!) the Latin Mass.

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Seminarians following evening Vespers

So Why Do People Hold Their Hands Out During ‘Our Father’?

The Answer: Because everyone else is.

Well, probably.

For cryin’ out loud

Catholics who attend attend most Novus Ordo Masses are no doubt aware that there’s a lot of hand holding and reaching out going on now during the Lord’s Prayer. Since there is no prescribed posture set by the Holy See or in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) by our bishops during the Pater Noster, it makes one wonder how the outreaching and hand holding has become seemingly mandatory during this part of Mass in many congregations.

I have read about people saying that parishioners down the pew will approach them expecting them to hold the stranger’s hand. Sometimes, in fear of appearing rude, they reluctantly give in. If there is no one around to hold hands with, people will open their arms, bend their elbows and face their palms upwards while they pray just like the priest. This posture is called ‘Orans’ (Latin for “praying). My favorite part, whether they are hand-holding or in the Orans posture, people hold their hands up juuuust a bit higher during the doxology: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory…”. So how the heck did this all start? Surely someone, somewhere instructed us all to do this during Mass, right? Nope.

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Catholics who have been going to Mass for the past few decades probably don’t remember this happening as much in the 90’s and earlier. I know that it was new to me when I returned to Mass. At first I just assumed I never noticed it before because I didn’t pay as close attention when I was younger…so I played along. Then, as I started looking into the reason for this, I slowly realized the truth. No one can say why this happened. It likely happened because of a couple factors.

Much thanks to the blurring of the line between clergy and laity following the Second Vatican Council, when everyone felt they had to act like a priest, I’m sure someone at some point wanted to mimic the Orans posture of the priest. When a couple people did it next to each other, it seemed natural for them to hold hands. When people saw people in the pew in front of them doing this, they became self-conscious of their posture. Scared of being labeled “that family that doesn’t know what they are doing at Mass”, they started holding hands without any discussion as to why they started doing this. Does this sound about right?

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Either in the Orans position or saying “ohhh, we got a bad ass here…”

The fact remains; the Orans posture is reserved for the priest during Mass and, historically, associated with someone in a priestly office. In fact, deacons are forbidden to even use the posture during Mass. So it seems weird that we are taking it upon ourselves to engage in a prayer poster that only the priest is allowed to do at the altar. That would be like us laying prostrate in prayer because priests are doing it during an ordination Mass or Good Friday service.

This all being said, the practice isn’t banned. If people want the warm and fuzzies by holding hands during what should be the most solemn of prayers, taught to us directly by Jesus Christ, go ahead.

Just don’t feel rude if you opt to shut your eyes and clasp your hands when some happy stranger walks up to you expecting a hand hold. You are not forced to engage in any posturing during this part of the liturgy. We should be focused on the Christ in the tabernacle rather than ourselves. The Sign of Peace is a much more appropriate time to lend a hand to your neighbor (even though some people can turn that into a whole fiasco too, complete with peace signs and kiss-blowing 20 pews away).

If you are concerned with the level of sentimentalism in your congregation, mention to your priest that you feel uncomfortable when people expect you to hold hands–chances are he will completely understand since this was never something that the laity was instructed to do! ☩

What are your thoughts on this?

For more reading, check out what Catholic Answers has to say about it.

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10 Elements of Liturgical Revival

The Paulus Institute invited Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan to give a speech in Washington, DC last February. The bishop’s entire speech can be read about and heard at One Peter 5 but below you will find his ten points of “Liturgical Renewal” for the parishes that may have stripped their altars and liturgies of beauty and reverence.

Bishop Schneider | One Peter 5
Bishop Schneider | One Peter 5

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