Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Sacred Spaces

Elizabeth Scalia on A Mass Less Ordinary:

Stipulating that many will perceive a “get off my lawn” note to that—and I know this because I have been accused of not understanding that one aspect of the mass is to aid the church in “being community”—I don’t think my brother and I are particularly cranky people. We love the mass, and we are not looking for private, or impersonal worship; we get that mass is a communal endeavor. But an element of the extraordinary—of a hushed awakening to something great—has disappeared from our modern masses, and the hyperactivity that has replaced it can sometimes rub our nerves raw.

I think what my brother and I are missing is the sense of reverent anticipation that used to precede Sunday mass when, in the spare minutes before the processional, people used to kneel and collect themselves; they gathered their thoughts, remembered an intention, let go of what was frivolous and finally sighed a big, cleansing, quieting breath in preparation for the great prayer of the mass. If people spoke at all, they whispered; they were reverently aware of Christ present in the tabernacle and considerate of their neighbors at prayer.

Perhaps it is different where you worship, but in my parish—and I would count mine as one of the “quieter” and “more reverent” in our area—that sort of preparation is nearly impossible. The choir and musicians are noisily setting up, talking and laughing. The people in the pews—of all ages—are “being community” with such a boisterous disregard for time or place that a priest recently halted his robing to stride out from the sacristy and call, “excuse me! This is not a movie theater; it’s not Grand Central Station. Have a little consideration, please. There might actually be a couple of people here who are, you know...praying.”

One of the things that I've noticed when visiting old churches-both in the U.S. and overseas-is how people almost instinctively lower their voices or clam up completely when they enter one of these obviously sacred spaces. They may not be Catholic or even Christian, but they recognize that they are in a place that requires a certain level of reverence and respect. I wonder if one of the reasons that this sense of shared decorum seems to have been lost in many churches today is because the churches don't really look or feel like a place where something sacred is going on. The open, well-lit, and comforting aesthetics that you often find in the design of modern churches doesn’t exactly lend itself to creating a sense of solemnity. Just a thought.

Be sure to read the comments in Elizabeth Scalia’s post as well as they demonstrate that the topic of her piece is one of interest to many.