Counter-Reformation 2000

The Renovation Manipulation:  The Church Counter-Renovation Handbook

by Michael S. Rose, Cincinnati, Ohio:
2000 Aquinas Publishing Ltd., 161 pages, $12.95
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Taking to heart the final words of the current Code of Canon Law, that “the salvation of souls, which in the Church must always be the supreme law,” the recent book by Michael S. Rose gives clarity and advice to the troubled soul experiencing a church renovation project. The Renovation Manipulation: The Church Counter-Renovation Handbook attempts, in the words of its author, to “give the average lay Catholic a clear understanding of the renovation process and ultimately the knowledge necessary to bring about honesty and integrity in the renovation of existing churches as well as in the construction of new ones” (p.6). Succinct, accessible, and rich in Church documentation, The Renovation Manipulation will be a useful resource to all parties involved in the process of church renovating.

St. Joseph's Church, Scotia, New York, after renovation. Photo: Michael Rose

In the years following the Second Vatican Council, Rose explains, many liturgists and architects manipulated more than just the renovation process, interpreting the principles of reform and subsequent documents according to pre-conceived visions of sacred architecture. The first of Rose’s chapters shows, rather convincingly, how much of the direction of modern church architecture has its roots in the theories of Lutheran architect Edward A. Sövik. Citing Sövik’s book Architecture for Worship, Rose illustrates how Sovik’s theories later came to be expressed in the 1978 document of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship. Sövik says: “Down through the centuries church buildings have not been consistently seen as exclusively places of worship. Church buildings have been multi-purpose buildings, houses for people, used for a variety of public and secular activities that nourish the human and ‘secular’ life” (Sövik, p. 19; cited in Rose, p. 11). Accordingly, this “meeting place for the people” (Sövik, p. 68) should have portable chairs rather than pews; a separate room for eucharistic adoration; few religious images; and an altar “table” surrounded by the congregation. Familiar suggestions today, to be sure.

After this brief history Rose familiarizes the reader with what to expect “when the church renovators come to your parish.” The main facilitator of the renovation project is the Liturgical Design Consultant, or LDC. The LDC, in conjunction with other professional liturgists, serves to implement the renovation project. But beware: “While appearing to give architectural advice, the design consultant’s real function is to manipulate parishioners into accepting controversial changes to their church building and into believing that their own input…is being taken into consideration in the renovation of their church” (p.23). To this end the LDC incorporates a manipulative strategy called the Delphi Technique, wherein a “consensus” is reached by creating factions among the people in the parish and then, under the direction of the LDC, propelling his or her own plan to the top: a “divide and conquer” strategy. Rose even goes so far as to dissect the “anatomy of the process”: hiring the design consultant, introducing the idea of “restoring” the parish to its original condition (which is, in fact, “renovation”), planning educational sessions where novel interpretations of Magisterial documents are presented, selecting a small likeminded committee to carry out the renovation, and finally the implementation of the plan itself.

How does one avoid falling prey to such a design? Rose spends the remainder of the book arming the “guy in the pew” with the pertinent information. He gives a list of resources that the LDC will most likely recommend to parishioners, answers some of the most commonly heard suggestions put forth by manipulative consultants, and provides the appropriate excerpts from Church documents and a comprehensive list of the documents that should be used when responding to suspected dubious claims.

Although speculative and cynical at times, The Renovation Manipulation provides an articulate defense for “traditional” church architecture, a position not often heard today. The handbook (and it truly is a handbook) gives expression to many of the sentiments that disappointed parishioners have often felt but have been unable to express or defend. A work rooted in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) of the Second Vatican Council, as well as documents appearing before and after the Council, this book can help the current debate in liturgical architecture. What the handbook lacks, though, is a clearly-defined theology of “the Church” in all her dimensions (hierarchic, apostolic, pilgrim, etc.) and the worship of this Church. Only with a clearly stated ecclesiology as a base can sacred architecture, in whatever style, reflect the true nature and liturgy of the Church. Only then can such arguments concerning “traditional” versus “modern” architecture, pews versus chairs, or apse reservation versus a separate chapel for Eucharistic reservation be resolved, since liturgical legislation is at times unclear or altogether silent.

The Holy Father, in Tertio Millennio Adveniente (n.36), called for “[a]n examination of conscience [concerning] the reception given to the Council.” At the end of this examination, held from February 25th to the 28th of this year at the Vatican, the Pope said: “Certainly, [the Council’s teaching] requires ever deeper understanding…the genuine intention of the Council Fathers must not be lost: indeed, it must be recovered by overcoming biased and partial interpretations which have prevented the newness of the Council’s Magisterium from being expressed as well as possible.” The Renovation Manipulation, while certainly having a vantage-point of its own, does offer an intelligent and well-documented interpretation of the “genuine intention of the Council Fathers” and should be considered seriously by any involved in this particular dimension of the Catholic spiritual life.