Minimalism and Brutalism

I have written a few times to reflect the fear of quite a few of us that we should see a return of the worst of the 1970’s and brutal bad taste. This is an example in Austria which is often touted around the traditionalist blogs.

minimalist-church

Here’s a couple of interesting articles:

Fr Cantalamessa proposed on Good Friday that our problem is the residue of past ceremonials and other debris, and that our pressing need is to return to simplicity and linearity by knocking down partitions, staircases, rooms and closets so that we can reach out existentially. I don’t want to be unfair: it is true that sometimes habits need to be changed and there are non-essentials that can be dispensed with if necessary. What I object to is the idea that this is our main problem today. To keep at an existential level, I would put it like this: the parish Church is a room in everybody’s house. If we go knocking things down and clearing them out to create a brutal, minimalist space, we take away something from the poor – both the materially poor and the spiritually poor. At a deeper level, that statue of the Sacred Heart or that image of the Divine Mercy or the Infant of Prague may be a great comfort to the sheep among whom we live. The sacramentals which so much enrich the daily life of the faithful, the blessings, the processions, the waving of hankies to say goodbye to Our Lady Immaculate, the scapulars, medals and holy pictures, relics and indulgences, give skin and breath to the faith of the people.

Let us not brush them away in yet another era of plain concrete machines for assembling in. We priests can discuss among ourselves some of the more enthusiastic practices but we should never be so proud as to deprive the people of the love and devotion which they wish to show for the Lord though the five senses. We might think that we are ushering in a brave new world of simplicity through ever-so-tastefully understated polyester, that the people will hear the “Good News” when we drone an endless Liturgy of the Word through a microphone with enthusiastic references to the sitz im leben of modern man, and that somehow this will solve the problems of the woefully inadequate catechesis we have presided over.

Let’s keep the staircases, rooms and closets, and find in every nook and cranny the different sheep with different smells and different needs, and serve them in this glorious edifice which is the Catholic Church with all its beautiful accretions sanctified by the work of the saints through the ages. This great, fascinating, and inspiring building, the Catholic Church, is our home. Sometimes we need to clear out some junk. But whenever we do so, we are sure to find something that was loved of old, something we have forgotten, something that will bring a sparkle to the eyes of the young who do not yet know that it is presently unfashionable. Who knows? It may be the way that they come to be anointed with the oil of gladness and hear the “Good News.”

I somehow don’t think Pope Francis will condone spending huge amounts of money on converting beautiful churches into minimalist and brutalist churches. Enough of it still happened under the pontificate of Benedict XVI. They’ll do it where they can afford it in affluent Austria, where, frankly I don’t understand why those progressives even bother going to church rather than sleeping in on a Sunday morning.

This problem above all concerns those who have money. Those of us who make do with limited resources can often do something imaginative. That is what I believe is the Church of the future, returning to common sense, inventiveness and initiative. Then we might get somewhere.

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