DHT, 8/2

On this anniversary of the dedication of our church, here’s this great bit by Bishop Baron, copied from here https://www.wordonfire.org/articles/contributors/the-sacramentality-of-buildings-fulton-sheen-on-sacred-architecture/:

Although largely known for his work as a preacher, as the host of the radio program The Catholic Hour, TV shows, many books, and extensive academic career, Venerable Fulton J. Sheen had a great love for Sacred Architecture. The crowning jewel of church architecture, for Sheen, was the Gothic tradition. In his life, Sheen had a great devotion to our Blessed Mother. This affection transferred over to one of his favorite churches: the Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

In his book, Thoughts For Daily Living originally written in 1956, Sheen discusses two important points regarding Sacred Architecture: 1) the philosophy behind architecture and 2) the sacramentality of architecture. He writes “Architecture is a reflection of a philosophy of life.” This short quote gets to the heart of all architecture, particularly church architecture.

Continuing, Sheen explains the view of the modern world and its effect on architecture: “The basic philosophy of the contemporary world is materialism, or the denial of the spirit. But if there is no world above that which can be seen, touched and scientifically analyzed, then there never can be ornamentation, for ornamentation is symbolism or the communication of the nonmaterial through the material. Ornamentation implies another world beyond this.” Sheen himself was not a liturgist nor an architect. He did not understand the nuances between ornamentation and decoration. His point, however, is clear for architects: one’s philosophy or way of thinking is the basis for architecture. If one is a classicist, their buildings will be in the classical tradition. If a modernist, then the buildings will be modern.

In the previous quote, Sheen is also hinting at the sacramentality of architecture. In These Are the Sacraments, Sheen writes that “A sacrament, in a very broad sense of the term, combines two elements: one visible, the other invisible-one that can be seen, or tasted, or touched, or heard; the other unseen to the eyes of the flesh. . . . A spoken word is a kind of sacrament, because there is something material or audible about it; there is something spiritual about it, namely, its meaning.” A sacrament, therefore, broadly understood is something physical that makes present some invisible spiritual reality.

Apply this sacramental principle to architecture, and it means that an office is meant to look like an office and a church to look like a church. What Sheen was witnessing in his own day, (as we are witnessing in our own) is that since the contemporary world is extremely materialistic, modern architecture is devoid of sacramentality. As an example, Sheen notes that the United Nations building and many other buildings on Park Avenue in New York City look like “illuminated cracker boxes, or elongated shoe boxes on stilts.”

While discussing the sacramentality of buildings, Sheen writes about the sacramentality of the church building, particularly the cathedral: “The world is a great sacrament and the cathedral is a still greater one. The cathedral synthesized everything: All kingdoms, the mineral, the vegetable, the animal, the human, and the angelic—all arts, all sciences, and all times – left their trace on it. All nature rebelled with Adam and all nature was redeemed in Christ. Hence Our Lord, when He sent out His Apostles to teach, did not say ‘Preach the Gospel to every man,’ but ‘Preach the Gospel to every creature.’ The architects of the cathedrals again took Him at His word and brought every creature into their structures; there are trees and flowers and birds and fishes.” Sheen is here writing on the cosmological aspect of church architecture. All the statues and mosaics of angels, saints, and nature represent the angels, saints, and nature that give praise to God in the heavenly Jerusalem. Once again, Sheen brings to the foreground the sacramental character of church architecture.

Not only does Sheen criticize modern architecture but he also explains why it looks the way it does: “The Ancient architecture was always using material things as signs of something spiritual. But today our architecture is flat, nothing but steel and glass, almost like a cracker box. Why? Well, because our architects have no spiritual message to convey.” Modernism says that there is no spiritual realm. No angels (or demons). The modernist makes the same mistake that Adam and Eve made in the Garden: he removes God and places himself in His stead.

Sheen writes that “When civilization was permeated with a happier philosophy; when things that were seen were regarded as signs and outward expressions of the things that were not seen, architecture was enhanced with a thousand decorations: a pelican feeding her young from her own veins symbolized the sacrifice of Christ; the lion breathing new life into her dead cubs represented the Resurrection; the fox peeking his head around the corner was a warning against the wiles of Satan.” Every church is meant to be a microcosm of the heavenly Jerusalem. It should be adorned as St. John describes it throughout the book of Revelation. When man disregards this philosophy of life, one ends up with centrums and “house churches”—buildings that reflect a modernist philosophy of life.

For Sheen, architecture, especially sacred architecture, speaks volumes to the human race. He believed that sacred architecture was even spoken of in the Gospels writing: “Our Lord on the on the occasion of His triumphant entrance into Jerusalem said that if men held their praise from Him, the very “stones would cry out”—which they did indeed in Gothic cathedrals. Now the stones are silent, for modern man believes there is no other world, no other destiny than that of the stone itself.”

It is said that all reform and renewal of the Church begins with an interior reform and renewal of the self and the individual. This is also true for Sacred Architecture. The solution to this problem is regaining that philosophy of life that says there is a God, a heaven, a hell, angels, demons, saints, etc. As Sheen says, “[w]hen Faith in the spiritual is lost, architecture has nothing to express or symbolize.” This philosophy is that of the Catholic Church. It should be taught not only at schools but especially in the home within the family. For Sheen, then, if one wishes to see the sacramental character of sacred architecture restored, this philosophy of life is the starting point for its renewal.

DHT, 8/1

The Devil does not bring sinners to Hell with their eyes open: he first blinds them with the malice of their own sins. He thus leads them to eternal perdition. Before we fall into sin, the enemy labours to blind us, that we may not see the evil we do, and the ruin we bring upon ourselves by offending God. After we commit sin, he seeks to make us dumb, that, through shame, we may conceal our guilt in confession.

St Alphonsus Liguori

DHT, 7/27

The Convert


After one moment when I bowed my head

And the whole world turned over and came upright,

And I came out where the old road shone white.

I walked the ways and heard what all men said,

Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,

Being not unlovable but strange and light;

Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite

But softly, as men smile about the dead

The sages have a hundred maps to give

That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,

They rattle reason out through many a sieve

That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:

And all these things are less than dust to me

Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

DHT, 7/25

After Pentecost, the 12 Apostles dispersed to preach the Gospel all over the world. St. James the Greater, on one of his apostolic journeys, preached in the Iberian Peninsula in modern-day Spain.

St. James was discouraged that the pagans of that land were not responding to the Gospel and converting to Christianity. He had only a handful of converts to show for his labors. In the face of what he thought was failure in his mission, he prayed with his disciples by the Ebro river in modern day Zaragoza.

To bring him consolation, while she was still alive and living in Jerusalem, Our Lady appeared to him and his disciples atop a pillar of jasper stone carried by angels, while holding a smaller wooden statue of herself holding the Christ Child. 40 AD

According to one account, Our Lady had previously promised St. James that she would come to his aid when he needed it the most. In fact, it was she who sent James into that region of the Roman Empire to tell the people of Hispania about her Son, Jesus. And then, in his most desolate hour, when he was considering leaving his mission field, she comes to his rescue.

The Mother of God told St. James not to worry, that the people to whom he preached would not only be converted, but they would one day have faith as strong as the pillar on which she stood.

She gave the pillar and the statue to St. James and asked that a church be built on the spot in her honor, using the two items for the altar.

"This place is to be my house, and this image and column shall be the title and altar of the temple that you shall build… and the people of this land will honor greatly my Son Jesus."

After asking for her church to be built, she gave another promise that, “It will stand from that moment until the end of time in order that God may work miracles and wonders through my intercession for all those who place themselves under my patronage.”

St. James built a small chapel as Our Lady requested, by the Ebro river in Zaragoza, Spain, the first known Marian shrine in history. It became known as Our Lady of the Pillar, or Nuestra Señora del Pilar. The chapel was replaced by larger churches over the centuries, the present stunning basilica being erected in the 17th century.

The statue and pillar have been preserved in the basilica just as they were given to St. James almost 2000 years ago The pillar is now covered in an embossed metal covering, but behind the altar a portion of the pillar is exposed for veneration.

In the same vision Our Lady also recalled St. James to Jerusalem, where he met his martyrdom in 44 AD. His remains were taken by his followers back to Compostela, Spain, where a chapel was built in his honor. The chapel was later replaced by the famous Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, the most visited Catholic pilgrimage destination outside of Rome and the Holy Land.

DHT, 7/24

Deacon Jack: When the disciples ask Jesus how to pray, he gives them a prayer. He doesn’t say, “get in the right position,” or “bring about this or that breathing pattern.” No, he gives them a prayer. A formula. Jesus still gives us prayers through his body the church: divine mercy chaplet, rosary, angelus, sacraments, etc. Challenge: bring into your life one of these prayers of the church. They are the best prayers, given by Christ himself!