Over at America, Fr. Dennis McNally, SJ, painter, sculptor and professor of fine arts at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, reflects on two experiences of liturgy in the Cathedral Church of Notre Dame in Paris, one in 1978 and one in 1991. “Is Paris Worth a Mass?” he asks, and if so, what sort of mass — in what sort of space?
McNally focuses on furnishings and the action that goes on around them. There is a certain ambiguity in his thoughts that I appreciate: his aesthetic can’t quite be pinned down; it is spacious and gracious, traditional and progressive, though it clearly has boundaries. His concern, so far as I can tell, is that place, space and action work together to serve the liturgy.
As an Episcopalian reader, Fr. McNally’s concerns resonate with me. Episcopalians have a rich architectural heritage in the US (as do our Anglican sisters and brothers in the UK and other parts of the globe), yet we struggle with what to do and how to do it in the spaces we have. In short, Fr. McNally’s insights have a wider applicability than their immediate context.
Anyone who can invoke the “Romanesque Revival Cathedral of St. Joseph in Sioux Falls, S.D., and the modernist Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles” in the same breath is, I think, someone worth the attention. (You might also want to check out some Fr. McNally’s own artwork and other writings.)