The church I now attend was built in 1991. Its basic modern design offers straight lines and little color. The pews are set to encourage parishioners to take notice of those around them as the Body of Christ. Generally, all pews face the altar, the center of the Eucharistic celebration, some straight on, and some at angles, making it easy to look at fellow worshipers across the room. This contrasts with ornate churches that were common back when I was a child. Those elaborate churches, decorated with high columns, statues and colorfully painted depictions of faith, evoked a sense of mystery. Some say this has been lost over the years. Architecture plays a big role in the way we worship. I claim to prefer the plain design. Somehow experiencing Christ in simplicity is better for me at this time.
Recently, I went to Mass out of town, at an older and more ornate church. Upon entering the sanctuary, I was struck by all the “stuff” – almost too distracting, too much to take in all at once: high ceilings, balconies, tall marble columns, chandeliers, statues and paintings on the ceiling.
When the small choir began to sing, however, the echoing acoustics were marvelous, engraving a spiritual moment in my heart. As I knelt down during Mass, prayers were lifted high, high up – good thing that the ceiling was so high! The holiness of encountering Christ was fitting to this reverent place, surrounded by scenes of past heroes in faith.
So, which is better? A simple, less distracting sanctuary, or an ornate one, with haunting acoustics and art? There are times we need the simplicity, and as was evident on the Sunday which surprised me, times needed to be surrounded by beautiful architecture, artwork, and haunting acoustics. Both are seasonally beneficial during our lifetimes.
Which is it for you today?