It’s all there in the Scriptures. The Book of Exodus records how God instructed Moses and the Israelite people to build a tabernacle–a traveling tent which was the dwelling place for God. It was not simply a dusty old tent. In the panels of the walls of the outer court were the figures of angels embroidered in rich colors with gold and silver and purple threads. Ornamentation was everywhere. The furniture was the gold laver, gold candlesticks, the altar of incense covered in gold, the high altar, the table of the shewbread, and all this before the great Holy of Holies.
Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem was a splendid and permanent version of the old tabernacle. With rich carvings and the finest craftsmanship it was truly a temple for God to dwell in.
For millennia the Christian temples followed the same basic three fold plan– a court for the people (the nave) superseded by the holy place (the sanctuary) with the final focus being the Holy of Holies or the tabernacle itself. The churches, whether they were built in a Byzantine, Romanesque or Gothic style were still designed to be temples. They were primarily the house of God and only secondarily the meeting place of the people.
After Vatican II that all changed. Catholics forgot their ancient tradition–if they ever did understand it to start with. They commissioned architects to build large meeting halls for fellowship.
Perhaps on this day when we celebrate one of the great churches of our faith, we can also celebrate and aim to re-learn the art and grandeur of building beautiful temples instead of just throwing up a cheap meeting hall.
Catholic temples are not only beautiful dwelling places for God, but they are to point forward to the beauty of the heavenly Jerusalem–the city of God. Finally, they are to be beautiful temples to the Almighty as reminders that each one of us, by virtue of our baptism, are temples of the Holy Spirit. We too are meant to be beautiful witnesses to the indwelling presence of God.
If this is true, then perhaps there is some sort of mystical or symbolic link between the churches in which we worship and our behavior as Catholics. Perhaps one of the reasons so many American Catholics are dull, uninspired and unimaginative is because they worship in buildings that are dull, uninspired and unimaginative. They say dressing well makes you feel better, and that if you smile you will be happier.
Maybe if we worshipped in beautiful temples of the Holy Spirit we would become beautiful temples of the Holy Spirit.