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When we left off, just after the new Missal went into effect, we were speaking about suggestions for further change in Mass behavior (homilies, music, greetings).

Then there are the churches -- the structures -- themselves. Since Vatican II -- not necessarily because of it, but since -- there has been what can only be described as wholesale destruction in many parishes.

In a misguided effort to be modern (this at a time of abstract architecture, and art), and perhaps to look more like churches that were Protestant (back then, the dominant religious force, though no longer), church after church -- hundreds of them, perhaps thousands (in the U.S. there are about 19,000 parishes) -- were sterilized.

Instead of simply relocating the altar and removing the rail (which perhaps should one day be replaced), statues dedicated to saints -- key among them, the Blessed Mother -- were relegated to anterooms, basements, even the trash (or stored in now-unused confessionals, which became broom closets). This went a long way to stripping Catholic churches of the special devotions and grace it has accumulated over the course of two millennia.

Let's face facts: empty churches -- churches with few or even no large pictures or statues -- simply lack feeling. And it has nothing to do with psychology: When a saint is represented, that saint is empowered to shed certain God-granted grace. It's legal territory.

Holy objects draw holiness.

Nothing draws vacancy.

Churches turned arid.

Pews emptied.

So we can start here: replace the statues. Adorn the churches. It can begin in a nuanced way, like the changes in the Missal. Bring back the quintessential Catholic aesthetic. It's not "old fashioned." It's a continuation of our history. For centuries after Muslims invaded Europe back in the Middle Ages, the Blessed Mother appeared in places where her image had been hidden from the invaders (often buried) and indicated that she wanted them unearthed. If she felt they were important, we should also. When God requested the Ark of the Covenant, He ordered it designed in lavish fashion. He is the Great Designer. We should follow suit. Meanwhile, replace artificially soft images of Christ with the Shroud of Turin, the representation He left.

Let's also reconsider the altar. Obviously, it would be a monumental task to revert back to the way it was during the Latin Rite. We're not necessarily calling for that (there may be advantages of the priest facing the congregants; it's something to further discuss); but why not build the area behind the altar back up into a holy array (as some older churches have kept: ). That area should not be bland. And in the center should be the tabernacle -- in every church, not just those who chose to do so.

Christ is the Power. He -- not a chair, or chairs, not the priest -- is the center of Mass. Put that tabernacle back where it belongs and spare no cost in making it resplendent. Make sure there is also a large Crucifix that is prominent -- perhaps pre-eminent. In many churches, it's hard to even find it. Let's remember that while Christ brings us joy, what brought us this joy, this salvation, was His sacrifice. We need to begin considering Mass as much the sacrifice of the Mass as "celebration" of it. The liturgy was formulated by the Last Supper -- a meal at which we were told to commemorate His Body and Blood, the latter soon to be shed during Crucifixion.

Make sure Holy Water fonts are obvious, and that the Stations are as special as a church can afford to make them. Remove drums, guitars, and cymbals from the church. They belong in the church hall, except for special occasions or for certain cultures (as in Africa, where they bring indeed a powerful feeling). Put a sign at each door in the vestibule that says, "Silence."

They are not insurmountable tasks.

Doing all of this would not even be that expensive. In the long run, it might pay for itself in increased Mass attendance. If money is needed for statues, request donations. In all likelihood, many will be willing to kick in.

When people seek out a church, they are looking for a surrounding that evokes holiness -- not an auditorium. There should be nothing casual about it.

Recently, the diocese in Orange County, California (Los Angeles area) made headlines when it purchased the famous Crystal Cathedral built by a TV prosperity minister, Reverend Robert Schuller. On the one hand, the move can be celebrated as a victory of Catholicism winning a church from the Protestants. It will be less to celebrate if that "cathedral -- currently as secular as a church can get [above right], save for those arenas used by mega-preachers -- is not turned truly Catholic. 

The trend for new cathedrals is not encouraging: there in California, two new ones, in Oakland (its glass-and-steel Cathedral of Christ the Light) and Los Angeles, have been widely criticized for overbearing modernity, as has a new basilica way across the Atlantic at Fatima, Portugal [right] of all places (which should be as traditional as it gets).

Once more, excuse our boldness. It is not written in a spirit of criticality. But it's time to regain what we have lost. We can. We must. When times get really tough, folks flock to what seems the holiest spot, and a mission of the Church is preparing for challenging times ahead.

[see also: Buying Crystal Cathedral: great deal or big gamble?, The debate at the Vatican and Alaska Catholics asked to embrace more changes]

[resources: Where is that in the Bible?]

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