Community and Transcendence

by Most Reverend Daniel Beuchlein, O.S.B., appearing in Volume 7

Before my appointment to Indianapolis I began the planning for the renovation of the Cathedral of the Diocese of Memphis, which is coming to completion as we speak. The renovation of the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis preceded my installation as Archbishop in 1992. Thus, my experience in these matters is based more broadly on the building of more than an ordinary number of new parish churches and also the renovation of numerous church buildings. I suggest two points for consideration related to this latter experience but which, I think, apply to cathedrals as well.

1) My primary concern is that we continue to seek a balance, perhaps a creative tension, in the sacred environment between lifting minds and hearts to God and encouraging a sense of community among the celebrant and worshipping assembly at Eucharist. It seems to me that in the last several decades we have worked hard to accommodate our church buildings to provide more effective worship by placing the major emphasis on community. I believe it is time to encourage greater consciousness of the transcendent element which is of the essence of Christian worship in the Catholic tradition. Our primary action as an assembled particular Church, especially at Eucharist, is worship of God.

It seems to me that upon entering our churches there should be an immediate sense of being present in sacred space, suggested especially by sacred art and certain devotional signs familiar in our tradition. The gathering assembly needs external, visual, and familiar sacred imagery—I am not simply speaking of art for art’s sake. Otherwise, as one commentator put it, without the aid of familiar external sacred signs, the assembly has to recreate itself constantly Visual sacred art and images are as important in our day as ever before. In previous eras of the Church, when a large number of people were not literate and when books were spare, visual art and imagery were essential for evangelization. I submit that for different reasons, people in our day are no less in need of visual help in being evangelized and in sensing an atmosphere for worship.

I also have a strong preference for the visibility of the presence of the reserved Blessed Sacrament from the main body of the church. I believe that the reserved Sacrament has a hallow-ing effect in our churches as compared to other facilities where we gather.

2) My second major point has to do with the quality of material used in the construction and renovation of our church buildings. It is a complex issue. Financial challenges and the dearth of craftsmen and artisans control much of our facility planning and the design and quality of our sacred furnishings. Simply put, resorting to dry-wall and other insubstantial or faux materials is rather prevalent. I worry that too soon our successors will face failing facilities.

As a final note: looking back at the numerous churches I have dedicated, blessed or consecrated, the pattern and shape seem more repetitive than necessary.

Thank you for your commitment to creating beautiful cathedrals and sacred houses of worship.