Wednesday, June 28, 2017


In most pre-20th century, Western cities the most impressive building in town is a church built within a century or two of the city's founding for Catholic worship. This is not just true in Rome or New York, but even in modestly sized towns like Salisbury in England, which today boasts a population no larger than it did in medieval times. For all the poverty of past times, the pennies of the poor collectively contributed to impressive and lasting structures which seemed as constant as the God they were built to worship.

Houses were not all that different. Republican and Imperial Roman homes as well as homes from the medieval period onward were built to last for several generations and form the corpus of an ordinary family's inheritance, which would fall to the next paterfamilias in line. Not every house was Blenheim Palace, or even the Breakers, but ordinary families developed their properties for posterity and added to it with every generation.

Then came the Industrial Revolution, and the Middle Class was willed into being. Increased disposable income combined with mechanized manufacturing processes to create affordable facsimiles to traditional goods. Tailors began to disappear in favor of ill-fitted, machine-made suits; the vibrant, coach-built automobiles were replaced by standard body, standard color vehicles; the Old Fashion somehow acquired a cherry and Bourbon; and the unique, organic outlook on church architecture was supplanted by a cookie-cutter pattern: big altar wit the big six, Mary and Joseph altars on either side, and a plaster statue of the Sacred Heart.

Gone were the vast, empty churches to be furnished by guilds, sodalities, generous donors, and the pennies of the future poor. In were churches built for immediate satisfaction. It was not unlike today's McMansions, which create the most recent global recession, in that it provides immediate satisfaction instead of prolonged enjoyment by means of fakery. That's right, fakery. Just as a proper mansion (or peasant home, for that matter) has had numerous bricks re-pointed, wings added, copper and slate roofing, and changes perceptible from generation to generation, a proper church is an organic and living structure. A McMansion, on the other hand, looks like a mansion in that is has spires, pillars, colonnade, and cooper roofing, but on the inside it is replete with the most modern amenities, crummy furniture, and structural work intended to last no more than 20 or 30 years. It is a fleeting pleasure for those who want it and can afford it, not unlike our churches.

The McChurch model has changed considerably since the end of World War II. Mary and Joseph altars have given way to the only noticeable decor, the oversized Crucifix (or sometimes Resurrexifix). The Sacred Heart plaster statue has made room for Eucharistic adoration chapels, often with monstrous monstrances built into brutalistic tabernacles. Perhaps in an alcove, near the "Reconciliation Room", is an out of place oriental icon of the Theotokos. It is quite generic, ready-made, and unusable for an artistically inclined or growing community (unless the community wishes to grow by razing the existing structure for a new McChurch every generation).

By contrast, what a sermon it would be for the McMansion generation to build a proper, vertically-minded church with room for a Marian chapel one day. How about a real baptistry, with eight walls, separated from the nave or sanctuary, and encased in depictions of the Baptism in the Jordan or the Baptism of Saint Augustine? Or perhaps even a modest versus Deum altar against a reredros showing the important events of the patron saint of the church? Even one well-executed addition each generation speaks volumes more to the pagan and to the un-catechized Catholic than a thousand McChurches.

Better yet, proper churches tend to roll over from generation to generation and are not viewed as disposable assets. Even Salisbury Cathedral, built for medieval Catholic worship and now beholden to Anglicanism for over four centuries, without a Mass since the reign of Queen Mary Tudor, preaches a better sermon on the Catholic faith than this or this.


  1. ABS is all for your suggestions.

    Outside of the colorful Icon rich sanctuary of the local Melkite Church, most gathering spaces around here come with huge screens on either side of the common kitchen (well, that is what it is for the presider is the modern Maitre d' at this communal meal) where the words of some crummy song can be flashed upon it.

    ABS is old enough to remember the "follow the bouncing ball" cartoons and he thinks that ought be added for our entertainment in these Shadow Shacks (Shadows, like the Church at this point, have no substance).

    And, yet, even with wholly water founts inside Shadow Shacks with gigantic screens amidst a retarded Liturgy - Lil' Licit Liturgy is intentionally retarded - Jesus Christ still comes to we wee Christian Catholics and, thus, ABS goes to these Shacks daily

  2. This is the church where I went to, back in Oxnard, CA, built in 1904:

    Is it an early example of "McChurch" or a partial one? It certainly has the obligatory Mary and Joseph side altars and kitsch statues. AND by the big 6, do you mean Jesus on the cross with Mary and John, Sts. Peter and Paul, and the patron of the church?

  3. Rootless churches for a rootless people.

    Well - perhaps that is not entirely fair. But I do think that the phenomenon we're talking about is in no small part a product of those circumstances - in America, and to some degree in the settler dominions. Immigration of Catholic peoples from Europe on a vast scale required rapid construction of infrastructure. They would typically start with the school, and then move on to the church. It had to be built quickly. It was a booming business for architects, even mediocre ones. Cookie cutter models became almost inevitable.

    Of course there are noteworthy exceptions, often hidden in unexpected places. The recent series by you on the painted churches of central Texas seems a case in point.

  4. Give me a "McChurch" over any Novus Ordo office space any day of the week.
    The Novus Ordo parish I grew up with had all the charisma and decor of a corporate office cubicle.

  5. Er, no, we don't live in Rome, we don't need baptisteries. Just gothic fonts with tower covers.

  6. Er, no, we don't live in Rome, we don't need baptisteries. Just gothic fonts with tower covers.