Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Basilica of Our Lady of Gaudalupe

I'll say it right off the bat, I'm not a friend of "modern" church architecture. For millennia our Catholic ancestors, far poorer than we, built magnificent churches to house the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in a manner worthy of His great majesty. They saw their church as a true domus Dei - house of God - in the tradition of the Jerusalem Temple, which wasn't primarily a meeting place for God's people, but the unique place of God's Presence on this Earth. Faith in the Eucharist, in the literal physical Presence of Christ in a Catholic Church took this understanding to a whole new level. Christ was just as physically present in the tabernacle as He was when he walked the streets of Judea in the first century. This called for, no demanded, a proper structure - indeed Christ was to be given the best "house" in town. Our Catholic forefathers truly could understand the sentiment of King David when he said, “Look, I am living in a palace made of cedar wood, but the Ark of God is in a tent!” (2 Sam 7:2)

Unfortunately, in these latter days, many Catholic architects and building committees have almost entirely lost this sense of the church being a literal dwelling for the Most High. Instead of seeing the church as a domus Dei, they see the church as a domus populi Dei - a house of the people of God. With a weak faith in the truth of the miracle of transubstantiation (i.e. the Eucharist is Christ, not bread and wine), they opted to build community centers rather than fitting homes to house a mystery as great as the Mass. Dr. Peter Kreeft, in his book Jesus Shock, explains how the Eucharist, and only the Eucharist can explain the the existence of the great cathedrals of Europe:
They were technological miracles, far ahead of their time, like the American moon rockets of the sixties. In fact, they were very much like moon rockets: heavy matter taught to fly like angels... What in the world can explain these miracles? Nothing in the world. That's what makes them miracles. Christ alone explains those cathedrals. Stonemasons did not build them; faith built them. His Real Presence built them, and His Real Presence was worshiped in them. They built to house not man worshipping, but Christ worshipped. (59-60)
 Many Catholics today have lost this sense. They've focused almost exclusively on the horizontal dimension of worship to the near exclusion of the vertical dimension. In layman's terms, many today think only of the "welcoming faith community" and not of the transcend and all-holy Creator of the Universe when they gather to build a church. This can be no better described than by viewing the most sacred church in all of the Americas, the church built to commemorate the appearance of Our Lady to Juan Diego and the people of Mexico in Guadalupe.

Our forefathers built this mighty cathedral to do this...

Expiatory Temple to Christ the King - 1709

When its foundation shifted and it was no longer safe to use, we built this...

Basilica and Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe - 1976

We might be more practical, have more money, and stronger building materials, but we also are less dedicated, have less love, and weaker faith than those who came before us and converted a pagan American continent to Christ.

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