What’s the deal with Church architecture? A response

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An old photo taken during the construction of the Church of the Incarnation shows the church as it began to take shape. Photo courtesy of UD Archives.

You’ve probably seen them all around the University of Dallas — from bathroom stalls to library tables, to Gorman bulletin boards — the circulating flyer series titled “Zeal for Your House,” which outline a meticulously thorough explanation of the doctrinal significance of liturgical architecture.

Like many of you, I have no idea where these articles came from, who is writing them, or how they keep mysteriously appearing alongside the Stall Street Journal, sprouting up like mushrooms overnight. However, it’s easy to see the motivation of the writer or writers, and it is in this respect that I cannot help feeling a certain amount of disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree with the posters’ thesis about the importance of liturgical architecture. I would give anything to be back in Rome, where there’s a Baroque church on nearly every street corner, and simply entering one fills your entire being with awe. Our places of worship should savor the transcendent, with temporal beauty serving as a reminder of God’s eternal beauty and man’s artistic creations pointing toward our Creator. Most important, as the posters insist, our churches should be visible reminders of the greatest mystery of the faith: the Incarnation. The Word became flesh and thus redeemed the material world, and so our liturgical architecture should reflect this sanctification of matter, one that ultimately finds its fulfillment in the Eucharist.

Yet as the word “Incarnation” pops up again and again throughout the articles, I can’t help but feel uneasy about this whole liturgical architecture bathroom stall crusade. It’s difficult not to see it as a repeated jab against our place of worship here on campus, the Church of the Incarnation. Every time the article references the importance of architectural beauty the discussion seems to degrade itself, becoming less of a rational discourse and more of a passive aggressive rant about the orthodoxy of our own campus.

Another disclaimer: I have a complicated relationship with the Church of the Incarnation. From an objective point of view, I have to admit that aesthetically-speaking, it’s ugly. It painfully lacks liturgical art, and its cavernous structure and dim colors seem to draw the soul back down to earth rather than launching it into a blissful state of anticipated transcendence.

At the same time, this is our church, and we can find in it a share of beauty — the light streaming through the windows onto the altar during the consecration, the windows fogging up from cold and rain, sequestering the sacred space from the bustling campus outside, the Eucharistic Chapel in perpetual adoration, never at a loss for students to adore the Incarnate Christ, even though we know we ourselves are never without homework to do or papers to write. Sure, the Church of the Incarnation doesn’t quite meet the standards of classical architecture, but then again, neither does UD’s campus. Yet I think it’s safe to say that many of us find beauty in this little patch of heaven in Irving, Texas nonetheless.

This leads me back to the posters. While they might claim to inspire fruitful conversation amongst the UD community, their antagonism seems to kill any such goal, breeding hostility instead. With its constant and less-than-subtle jabs, the discussion threatens to turn into the sort of interminable, hostile and, ultimately, pointless debate that sophists love and philosophers despise. Yet what makes conversations such as these most aggravating is that they attempt to rabble rouse and split hairs among those who fundamentally agree, creating tension where consensus already exists. And for what purpose?

Given the difficult state of the Church today, we cannot afford to waste our time with frivolous debates like these. Liturgical architecture is important, but there are greater issues at the moment that require our attention. As UD students, we are representatives of the only Catholic university in North Texas and one of the finest Catholic institutions of higher learning in the nation. We shouldn’t waste our time arguing about the nitty-gritty details of matters about which we fundamentally agree. Given our unique position, we should be uniting and joining arms in the face of the immense corruption threatening the Church, fulfilling our vocation as young Catholic intellectuals to be the salt of the earth and light of the world.

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