La la land Cathedral

Earlier this week I attended Mass in the new Our Lady of the Angels cathedral in Los Angeles. I said in a blog post that I was surprised to find that I like the building. Perhaps I should clarify by saying that I was surprised that I didn’t totally hate the building. I didn’t want it blown up. I didn’t want to say ugly things like, “Gee, this is a cathedral! I thought it was a parking garage!” and other snarky comments.

Let’s accentuate the positive. What did I like about the cathedral? I liked the inside better than the outside. I liked the tapestries. The vast open space inside the nave of the cathedral was awesome. The subtle, sand-like colors directed the eye to the altar. The organ was good (although they used it to play hokey praise and worship music) The cathedral plaza was a nice place to gather and the bells were good.

So what was not so good? First of all, there is a basic incongruity in a building being nice on the inside and awful on the outside. Surely a sacred building works as in integrated whole in which the beauty of the exterior frames the beauty of the interior. That the exterior is ugly and the interior beautiful presents us with a basic disconnect which jars and irritates. Furthermore, doesn’t a church which is repellent on the outside but beautiful on the inside declare to the world, “We don’t much care about you and what you think. This is all about us and what we do inside of church.”

So what should the exterior of a church be and do? A church is a witness to the world. A church building preaches. It declares the gospel. Built in beautiful natural materials, it stands forever and represents a faith that is beautiful, natural and everlasting. The carvings and artwork, the lofty arches and graceful lines of the church exterior extol the beauty, permanence and grace of the faith we proclaim. A beautiful church exterior proclaims the beauty and truth of our faith. An ugly church declares that we Catholics don’t think such things as beauty matter.

The modern architect will tell us that ‘form follows function.’ If the function is merely to provide seating place for everyone to hear God’s word, then our separated brethren, with their steel warehouses with a steeple on top are less hypocritical than we are. We say we believe in the brutal creed that ‘form follows function’ yet we go on to spend millions creating concrete barns with minimalist artwork and amateurish images–thus wasting money and showing that we really didn’t believe in ‘form follows function’ after all.

Even if this were true we have to ask what the function of a church really is. The unknown architect of Glastonbury Abbey in England said, “I want to create a church so beautiful that it will draw even the hardest heart to prayer.” In other words, one of the functions of a church is to lift the heart to prayer. It is to inspire with beauty, the heart that longs for beauty. Indeed, the medieval churches in England are vast, lofty and totally inspiring. Historians tell us that many of the huge churches in little towns and villages could never have been filled each week with the population of the place. They were built in a time when utilitarianism was not heard of, and if it were ever spoken it would have been recognized as a heresy.

Since one of the functions of a church is to inspire the hardest heart to prayer, then those who follow the dictum that ‘form follows function’ have not only failed, they have failed to even begin to understand what a church is for. Furthermore, their clerical masters who have squandered the money of the faithful on brutal travesties of churches reveal that not only do they not know anything about the tradition of sacred architecture, but they also don’t know very much about the meaning and purpose of worship.

It was not surprising to find in LA Cathedral that the worship was AmChurch in style. The music was hokey, Sunday School ‘me and Jesus’ music. Have they no concept of the great tradition of cathedral church music? Evidently not, or if they did they consider it ‘inaccessible’ or ‘not in touch with the people.’ This patronizing attitude was evident in the style of the main celebrant who said the Mass (rather than singing it) in a vocal style I can only call ‘Captain Kangaroo’. “The Lord be with You!” was said in modulated tones forcing out a mock enthusiasm like some kindergarten teacher. “Now boys and girls, today we’re going to have a story about a bunny rabbit!”

Absent was any idea that the worship itself should also inspire the hardest heart to prayer. Gone was the tradition that cathedral worship especially should be lofty, noble, worthy and true. Missing was any concept that the Mass should itself be celebrated with reverence, grandeur, magnificence and splendor. The perpetrators of this AmChurch style would argue that such things are ‘out of touch’ and ‘not appreciated by ordinary people.’ Nonsense. This is a false humility which is a twisted kind of pride.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    "Perhaps I should clarify by saying that I was surprised that I didn't totally hate the building. I didn't want it blown up.'the main celebrant who said the Mass (rather than singing it) in a vocal style I can only call 'Captain Kangaroo'."hahahahaha love it!!!It looks a bit like a swiss sauna, at first glance.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13266202341737255491 Alyson

    This is certainly NOT a spiritually inviting piece of architecture….. from the outside. I would not be interested in entering at all.An interesting post.

  • http://lydiapurpuraria.wordpress.com/ lydiacubbedge

    I like the Captain Kangaroo reference!I think that the LA Cathedral is pretty darn ugly on the outside (never been inside), but, it would be awfully hard to build a gothic style structure that is up to the earthquake code. There's got to be a way of doing modern and beautiful.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15571554907399914529 Joseph D’Hippolito

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15571554907399914529 Joseph D’Hippolito

    Father, one note about "praise and worship" music.Due to circumstances beyond my control (which are too personal to get into here), I have been worshipping occasionally in a non-Catholic charismatic church. It looks very much like a "steel warehouse" and "praise and worship" music predominates. But you know something? I don't really care. Why? Because the congregation's worship is sincere and intense. Their focus is on God, not on their surroundings. Some of the "praise and worship" music even moved me to tears.Father, the Temple in Jerusalem also was a beautiful building. But God allowed it to be destroyed twice. Our focus should not be on aesthetic considerations but on the God Who made all aesthetics.When we develop a superior attitude about aesthetic taste — which, after all, is fundamentally personal — we risk committing a kind of idolatry.Think about that. Think about it seriously.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01210899232931814200 Equus nom Veritas

    "Surely a sacred building works as in integrated whole in which the beauty of the exterior frames the beauty of the interior. That the exterior is ugly and the interior beautiful presents us with a basic disconnect which jars and irritates. Furthermore, doesn't a church which is repellent on the outside but beautiful on the inside declare to the world, 'We don't much care about you and what you think. This is all about us and what we do inside of church.'"This actually made me think of something which Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy about the difference between Catholics and Buddhists. What he said there is that while the Buddhist is essentially looking inwards to his self (well, not himself…), the Catholic essentially looks out, both to God and to other men. A Church which is beautiful only on the inside practically promotes the Buddhist view in this way. It also suggests a sense of "being Catholic is just what we do in the Church-in private–and not what we do in the world–in public." Sure, a Cathedral which is grand on the inside is important, but this should be married to grandness, to beauty on the outside as well. We should begin to focus more intensely on the transcendent before we enter the church, not after we are seated in the pew, and should be reminded to live our faith and drawn to prayer even when we are outside of the church building itself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16182342596109816881 David Hartline

    Joseph if you are the same Joseph D'Hippilito that I am thinking of, we argree on many things. However, this does not appear to be one of them. I generally approve of whatever style of Mass one wants to attend. However, I think we have to appreciate the history of the sacred and the rubrics that followed. The problem is when we let the Mass be about us and what we like, instead of the historical sacred. You spoke of idolatry. How can something that comes in line with that of the sacred (handed down) not be sacred and somehow idolatrous? This is more idolatrous than some sort of non denominational-I make it up as a go along style of worship? Really? You mentioned the temple being destroyed. Do you remember the only time when Jesus was angry enough to use physical violence? Yes, when the rubrics of the temple were not followed. Our modern Christian world (both liberal Catholic & Protestant) needs to get over itself and get over to Christ. It really is about Him and what He said, and not what makes us feel good. Otherwise, we would follow ourselves, instead of Christ. Our world needs a dose of humility.Joseph, you are a good man whom I respect. This is not an attack on you, but a mentality that says we will deal with God on our own terms, instead of His. There is a great danger in that. Take care my friend!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02255768515424127925 J2

    Yes! That building is just plain UGLY…however the beautiful tapestries of the Saints…are an exception.http://www.olacathedral.org/cathedral/art/tapestries.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07186450541592652214 Sheep 1

    I love this blog. I love the directness, the humor, the plain and simple common sense, combined with an appreciation of the symbolic and poetic.I love the way it always makes me think.Thank you for continuing to find the time to write here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06349146033236890779 Giovanni A. Cattaneo

    Style of Mass?Father need any traditionalist say anymore than to quote that to make his or her point?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02431495483736996164 RMT

    Padre–you just touched on a subject near and dear to my heart. As a current graduate student of architecture, I completely agree about the disconnect between the interior and exterior architecture. There are ways to make a church that is a united whole, and to make it beautiful, even in the modern language of building expression–it just isn't done generally… When a church building is oriented the right way and has the proper elements–especially the imagery to show that it is a Catholic church–then even a concrete building can be a beautiful church.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 anthony

    yer…man opus dei does do good workpadre has been well 're-programmed' since his Anglican days of yorepuke… call me snarky

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 anthony

    yer…'rmt' which to my mind means rocky mountain time def not to be confused with rocky mountain way…makes a good point…is the 'altar' facing the East in this carbuncle?is that too much to asK?perhaps 'alyson' is the padre's wife…thank God for good old fashioned British empiricism…you tell him Alyson… what a monstrositydon't let them snow you about the good old USA…we will get India back don't you worry..

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 anthony

    what is this 'Amchurch' biz anyhow?is that like Amtrakincredibly expensive, well past it's sell by date, and totally inefficient?just wondering…I honestly don't know… I hardly ever watch television or sit glued to EWTN so I am in the dark on this one…Pray for me St. Seraphim of Sarov… deliver us from the Evil of Novus Order Masses and 'invasions of |Aliens' as is quite rightly noted in the Russian Vigil service…We cannot find any copies of Fr. Amorth's books and ergo Bobo and I are not sure if aliens can be fibnished off with simple silver pins or if holy water will work, or if we need to stoke a pile of faggots (see Tom Brown's you pc whiners) or what…help us good Padre…you are our only hope…(well, Princess Leia would do better… in a pinch)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16699227938165106710 Little Black Sambo

    Was the architect inspired by the sawmill in "Twin Peaks"?

  • http://romishgraffiti.wordpress.com/ romishgraffiti

    On the music thing: as a CCD instructor at a former parish before moving cross country, I gave the green light to a Life Teen program. I ended up being in charge of the praise band for the Life Nites that occured right after the Saturday mass. I had little knowledge of the kind of music to play at the thing, so I basically asked the kids to give me cd's and a nice big list of the music they wanted and put together a set list. I got an email from one of the girls complaining that many of the tunes were "CCM" rather than "praise music" and since the Life Nite was about worship, it should be mostly praise music. It didn't occur to me at the time, but red alarm bells should have gone off in my head because basically what she was advocating was replacement liturgy. That is, the sacrifice of the Mass we just did ten minutes ago was insufficient; or it is an attitude of, "Well, we did worship the usual way as a sop to the old folks, now we get to do it the fun way."I don't doubt anyone's sincerity or intensity, but the fact is that this is the thouroughly worldly religion of sentimentalism, and it is like a black hole gobbling up everything around it.

  • http://hauntingsacristy.wordpress.com/ hauntingsacristy

    There are minimalist churches and then there are churches done with simplicity. Minimalist churches throw around loads of money for something that looks like a cross between a box and a warehouse. Churches done with simplicity take less money to create a beautiful place of worship without gaudiness or artifice but with lovely architecture and art all designed to draw the eye to the tabernacle and the crucifix. Simplicity comes off as real whereas minimalism comes off as forced, like the LA cathedral.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02327763839418228519 RC

    Come to think of it, some of the separated brethren's steel warehouses are more beautiful than our modernist-architecture churches. Maybe some of our pastors should just go ahead and do likewise.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02327763839418228519 RC

    Come to think of it, some of the separated brethren's steel warehouses are more beautiful than our modernist-architecture churches. Maybe some of our pastors should just go ahead and do likewise.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09745844560524461840 Johanna Lamb =)

    I was living in Los Angeles as both the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Cathedral were being built. I remember even the newspaper editorials commenting that of the two buildings it's the Disney Hall that inspires awe in the passerby while the Cathedral is "dull" and rises out of the freeway it borders.I haven't been inside the Cathedral since completion but the Disney Hall is proof that you can have modern architecture that inspires the viewer both on the outside and the inside.I guess it's pretty clear what the city values.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08031465320721586310 Jackie

    Furthermore, doesn't a church which is repellent on the outside but beautiful on the inside declare to the world, "We don't much care about you and what you think. This is all about us and what we do inside of church."What's inside is more important; its analogous to 'we are the church' , does Mother Theresa give that message ? Mother Theresa was not the most beautiful person in the world but it seemed that she was a beautiful person on the inside . It's what's in the heart that matters and the Heart and power of the Church is the Holy Spirit . Why does the Church need to be a physical building? Doesn't the bible talk about church being the body of Christ ? What about 'the kingdom is within you ' ?

  • http://romishgraffiti.wordpress.com/ romishgraffiti

    While what goes on in a church is more important, it doesn't follow that what the outside looks like isn't important at all. When churches look no different than office buildings, it is a kind of sacrilege through trivialization. Saying effectively to the world, "We don't take this stuff seriously, why should you?"While a building isn't strictly necessary for the Church to exist, proclaim the Gospel and administer the sacraments, they still serve a vital need. That the Church is an actual thing and not just a quasi-Protestant proposition that you keep between the ears alone.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15571554907399914529 Joseph D’Hippolito

    David Hartline, thanks so much for your kind comments and your respect. Let me address some of your points.1. How can something that comes in line with that of the sacred (handed down) not be sacred and somehow idolatrous? This is more idolatrous than some sort of non denominational-I make it up as a go along style of worship? Really?The idolatry isn't in the style but in the reaction to the style. Too many Christians dismiss other Christians solely because of their tastes in worship and music, while setting up their own tastes as "gospel." This is true regardless of whether the tastes are liturgical or non-liturgical in worship, traditional or ueber-modern in architecture, or classical or contemporary in music.Yes, bad taste is bad taste, regardless of the setting. But making more of a fuss than necessary over things that essentially are questions of personal taste is, as you put is so eloquently, "dealing with God on our own terms, instead of His."David, we would agree that the Psalms are some of the most beautiful inspired literature. But don't forget that they were originally set to music. If we could travel back in time to David's royal court, I doubt if the music used resembled anything like Gregorian chant, polyphony, Baroque or Rock. It might be possible that the music would not match our "personal taste." Does that, as a result, disqualify the Psalms as worship?I think disagreements about worship and music (as long as we're not talking about absurd extremes) are the kinds of things that St. Paul would classify under "eating meat sacrificed to idols." That is, good people and faithful Christians can respect divergent opinions without throwing anathemas at each other.2. The problem is when we let the Mass be about us and what we like, instead of the historical sacredExcellent point and quite true. For the life of me, I can't understand what people see in "clown Masses." Why would a priest want to don clown make-up to celebrate Mass? Doesn't that insult his dignity as a man, let alone as a priest? Yet that's one of the absurd extremes I'm talking about. Having worsworshipeda charismatic, non-Catholic church, I can't tell you how many times I've heard references to Jesus as King or as the worthy Lamb in worship music. That's certainly not a focus on self. Some Christians believe that visual aids (for lack of a better term for statues and icons) enhance worship; some believe that they detract from focusing on the divine. Both opinions, as long as God and Christ are the focus, deserve respect.3. Do you remember the only time when Jesus was angry enough to use physical violence? Yes, when the rubrics of the temple were not followed.I cannot disagree more. Jesus was angry not at the disregard of Temple rubrics but at the exploitation of the devout. The Temple authorities had nice rackets going regarding sacrifices and monetary exchange. Many priests declared legitimate animal sacrifices "blemished," thus forcing the devout to buy new animals (and the authorities would take their cut). Exchanging foreign currency for Temple shekels was another rip-off. Those were the first-century versions of TV preachers endlessly begging for money, or the medieval Church selling indulgences.Thanks again for your comments and interest. I hope to hear from you again. Abundant blessings to you!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15571554907399914529 Joseph D’Hippolito

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12858120820470784593 Anneg

    Joseph & Jackie, You may want to refer to this http://gkupsidedown.blogspot.com/2010/09/reverence-rubrics-and-self.html from our marvelous Fr Blogger for specifics.Don't confuse "feeling moved" as we use the term with the movement of God. Our culture loves to do that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16182342596109816881 David Hartline

    Joseph, good to hear from you. Perhaps, the major area of disagreement would be the last problem with regard to the Temple example. I still believe Jesus became angry because the rubrics werent' followed. The rubrics would also include those making profits on what should be reserved for God. (I do like your indulgence and tele evangelist example by the way.) I think the one thing we the faithful often lose sight of concerned those whom Jesus chastised. He told all those in earshot to do everything the Jewish authorities told them to do, but just avoid their hypocrisy and show boating. Again, I think this example Jesus used (concerning those who gave large amounts to the poor, only to have it announced with much fanfare) is part of this self glorification style of worship that is all too familiar in many churches. My God it even occurs at funerals. How many times have we heard eulogies after Mass turn into something that sounds like a celebrity roast, or worse yet the person eulogizing makes it about them and not the deceased. It is even worse in Protestant churches. I can't tell you how many times a Protestant pastor has told me that the whole practice leaves him embarrassed for anyone who has no faith and thinks this is standard practice. Again, good to hear from you. Take care.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03580856325657683194 Maureen

    On more reason NOT to move to LA.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11175397536223133278 Rita

    I agree with Jackie. I also imagine that the people from the archdiocese who were involved in building the cathedral would have gladly told you of different architectural aspects that had significance to matters of faith and glorifying God. Perhaps you should have asked them before casting harsh judgement. Who are you to assume that you are "ever-knowing" in the decisions and matters that went into it's building, and moreover in the matters of the parish?!I hardly think that your comments about the liturgy are stated in a way that is helpful to anyone on this earth, and I doubt they were rooted in love for your neighbor. They are incredibly offensive to that entire parish, including the celebrant and the lay people who give their time, talent, and heart to the parish and worship. I am amazed that a Catholic priest would be so bold and haughty as to condemn others for having a different "vocal style" than your own. Aren't you just full of yourself!Shame on you for your arrogance, and your willingness to perpetuate that attitude to your flock through this blog! Matthew 23:12

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00193824591144487151 Hermannn

    Comments on the comments:- Anthony, have you been smoking incense again?- Rita, a word on "praise and worship music": I wholly concur with the good Padre here, love for my (or your) neighbour notwithstanding. As far as I am concerned, you can keep that sort of music, preferably out of my earshot. It is nothing to do with aesthetics or a sense of superiority on my part, but simply a matter of keeping my breakfast down. I love my neighbour well enough to spare him that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06349146033236890779 Giovanni A. Cattaneo

    Love of God comes before love of neighbor if I remember correctly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09322135500288738561 Bender

    With the new archbishop coming in, and with the archdiocese having paid out mega-bucks in settling abuse cases, how long before they decide to sell this building and establish some other, more beautiful, church as the cathedral?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    yupRita's got you there mate. Full stop.Slam dunk. Chant em and weep.Penance pour toi: Pray to St. RitaPatroness of lost causes.hey, Hermann u-boater:yup, good chinky-chionky incensemakes the sacraments go down like a treat.we will get India back- they voted for a return to the Crown in 1948 and were scurriously denied the priviledge.vote again – UK is multi-ethnic nowfact.(unlike some EEC countries we might mention…)


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