Tuesday, July 31, 2007

St. James Cathedral

Somehow, in passing conversation with a non-Catholic friend, the architecture of our local Bremerton parish (Our Lady Star of the Sea, pictured below) came up. My friend had attended a wedding there once upon a time some ten years ago. But he never forgot what he described as, "One of the most beautiful churches in this area."

To be sure, Our Lady Star of the Sea, is a nice parish. But on the whole, there is nothing particularly remarkable about its elegant, yet simple, structure. So I asked my non-Catholic friend if he had ever been to the St. James Cathedral in downtown Seattle. He said no, and I told him he really should, if he was impressed with Star.

But all of this got me to wondering: What did our cathedral look like prior to its "renovation?"

I have no recollection of there ever being a renovation; but I'd be willing to wager my right leg the altar now sitting in the center of the nave is not to be found in the original blueprints.

Curious, I poked around on the Internet.

Here is a photo taken in 1907:

Notice the beautiful baldacchino, altar rail, and statues of Mary and Joseph (presumably on left and right, respectively).

All of which is no more.

Below is another picture; this one from 1929, still long before Vatican II, the "spirit" of which Modernists would soon use as their carte blanche commission to usher in the jackhammers and usher out the high altar.

And no cathedral would be complete without a side altar...

...side-baldacchino and all.

Contrast these pictures of yester-year with the new look:

Where the high altar used to be, the choir now sits.

In the words of architect Stephen Lee,
"The 1994 renovation and renewal began with an awareness that older church interiors were typically ill-suited to the reformed rites of Vatican II, which call for a change in the focus of liturgical action, to the gathered assembly."

I guess it never occurred to Lee that when a religion focuses liturgical action (i.e. worship) on the people, little room is left for God. Then again, maybe that's giving Lee (& friends) too much credit. Perhaps they were not so naive at all.

Contrast the thoughts of the cathedral's re-designer with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy:

"The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is locked into itself...As one of the fathers of Vatican II's Constitution on the Liturgy, J.A. Jungmann, put it, it was much more a question of priest and people facing in the same direction, knowing that together they were in a procession toward the Lord. They did not lock themselves into a circle, they did not gaze at one another, but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us...."


I'll take the design of 1907 over that of 2007 any day.


Andrew St.Hilaire said...

Very nice. Although, I think you've neglected to mention one very pressing detail:

How, in the 1907 design, are the those gathered for the worshiping service, supposed to hold hands in a circle according to the spirit of the council? Huh????

BabyGhost said...

Wow...so pretty...

lover of old churches said...

Oh, friend, you break my heart!

Kevin said...

Honestly, while I dont have anything against the old design, i kinda like the new ring desgins a lot of new churches have-it does allow people to get to know each other better, and seems to promote more of a sense of community

Tom & Carrie Herring said...

I understand the need for community, Kevin. I really do.

But the primary focus of Catholic Worship during the Mass is the sacrifice of Christ at the altar.

We believe that every time a priest says Mass, the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ is made present.

He isn't crucified "again." The one sacrifice that took place on Calvary Hill 2,000 years ago is "re-presented" or "made present" at the words of consecration.

This is a profound mystery, and I know I'm not doing it hardly any justice with this brief explanation. But my point is to help you understand that the primary purpose of going to church on Sunday for a Catholic is *not* fellowship with each other (by which I mean meeting other people and sharing a few laughs).

The primary purpose is to receive Our Lord's body, blood, soul and divinity into our own bodies in Holy Communion.

It is in receiving Him -- in that moment of intimate union -- that we reach the greatest degree of "communion" with one another.

So the focus of the liturgy (or worship) is not on us. It's not on our neighbor. The focus is on God, present at the altar.

So it makes sense then, for Catholics to look not at each other in a circle "closed in on itself," but to look together at Jesus Christ who leads us to heaven.

Hope that helps.