Vatican II Churches — 50 Years later

The sanctuary of the church in which I grew up – St. Elizabeth in Hanau-Kesselstadt, Germany – was dedicated in 1964, at the height of Vatican II.  The church building was a new construction, and – in line with its time – essentially a huge block of cement.  Upon entering the sanctuary, one faced a vast space empty of decorations, with a free-standing altar and a huge modern crucifix hanging from the ceiling.  Two wide open side chapels, to the right and left of the sanctuary, held a smallish statue each of St. Elizabeth and of Mary, the Mother of God, with the Christ child.  And that was it, in terms of visuals.  We had a parish priest who was dedicated to the principles of the Liturgical Movement.  Our newly-built church was full not only for the Sunday Masses but also many liturgies in between.

This summer, I revisited my childhood parish, for a Sunday morning Mass.  What I saw surprised me and encapsulated for me the changes in the ecclesial landscape 50 years after Vatican II, at least in Europe.  Although I attended the one Sunday morning Mass, the sanctuary was sparsely populated; the priest who presided was from Hong Kong.  More startling for me were the colors that had been added to the bare cement walls of the sanctuary behind the altar and in the side chapels:  graceful lines of read, orange, yellow, and a touch of green. I had to smile – in 1964, the bare cement had seemed so eloquent, so different from the clutter traditionally found in catholic churches.  By 2013, the barrenness of the sanctuary must have spoken to the worshipers of emptiness instead.  So someone added colors.  More surprising still was a large statue that had been put up next to the tabernacle.  It was a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (an icon for what the Liturgical Movement had regarded with keen misgivings).

What had happened in my parish church?  The answer, in many ways, is simple: 50 years happened. And what seemed quite prophetic in 1964 might speak very differently today.  However we position ourselves vis-à-vis the changes in the sanctuary space though, the one undisputable fact is that people no longer flock to St. Elizabeth on Sunday mornings; and I think the church built in 1964 is sad — even if someone gave it more color.




  1. Maybe I’m missing your point, are you suggesting that it is because it is a Vatican II type church? or because it is an ugly church?

    Attendance is down in all churches in Europe, both Vatican II “types” such as your parish church and more traditional looking churches such as the Frauenkirche (full name Dom zu Unserer Lieben Frau, “Cathedral of Our Dear Lady”) in Munich, former seat of B16 when he was Archbishop.

    Unfortunately, as you state: “…the one undisputable fact is that people no longer flock to St. Elizabeth on Sunday mornings”,
    ….and they don’t flock to B16’s former Frauenkirche either.

    1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #1:
      I don’t think Teresa is making an ideological point at all. She’s simply reflecting on how what is new and exciting in one era eventually becomes tired and is replaced by the sensibility of another era. And I take her final point to be that neither the concrete modernity of her old parish church nor sprucing it up with a bit of paint has done much to prevent the erosion of faith.

    2. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #1:

      ….and they don’t flock to B16′s former Frauenkirche either.

      Perhaps not.

      But given that BXVI has not been the ordinary based at the Frauenkirche – which was, it should be noted, extensively renovated with a more modernist aesthetic in the years before he became Archbishop of Munich and Freising – since the Carter Administration (give or take a year), I think we’re still all to seek as to why the practice of Catholic faith has collapsed in these two places.

      I think yours is an unfortunately defensive response. While I obviously don’t share the enthusiasm for progressive post-Vatican II projects, I also don’t think that affirming the brutalist aesthetic of St. Elizabeth in Hanau-Kesselstadt is necessary to uphold them. Nor is the necessary antidote rococo or gothic gaudiness.

  2. This post reminds me of a story from my high school days — The Catholic high school seminary I attended in the late 1960s was built in the early days of Vatican II. The day before the Constitution on the Liturgy was promulgated, the big main altar was cemented into the back wall of the chapel. Within six months they tore it out and relocated it in conformity with the “toward the people ” orientation for the presider. What a difference a day makes!

  3. Teresa Berger said:

    “However we position ourselves vis-à-vis the changes in the sanctuary space though, the one undisputable fact is that people no longer flock to St. Elizabeth on Sunday mornings.”

    And there’s NO connection whatsoever, of course, between Vatican II and the empty pews at St. Elizabeth…

  4. I admire Teresa for her refusal to try to score easy ideological points here — and also her refusal to avoid mentioning realities that would allow others to score easy ideological points that she would not be comfortable with. As her post makes clear, reality is far more complicated.

    Do people no longer flock to St. Elizabeth’s church because of Vatican II? Because of the sparse style of the building? Or is Vatican II and the style of St. Elizabeth’s the reason there are still ANY people still coming there at all on Sunday mornings in this secular age? Neither conclusion is obvious and the truth is surely more complicated than either.

    1. @Barry Hudock – comment #5:
      Thank you, Barry; you too read me right. I do try to refuse easy ideological explanations for the changes. And the truth of what happened IS more complex than I described. For example, the parish now has a quite appealing presence online; the website makes me think that St. Elisabeth has both a dedicated priest and a core community of faithful members who continue to keep that church alive.

  5. Ah, Father Cekada has dropped in to make a sarcastic comment about Vatican II. Padre, you should know very well that all kinds of influences are involved in the decline in church attendance over the past 50 years. I was in my 20’s then and am now over 70. I wonder if VII caused my old age?

  6. Yes, we all know that all of the world’s problems today were caused by Vatican II — the economic crisis, global climate change, continental drift, etc. can all be traced directly back to it.

    And, of course, that the pews in many churches have been emptying out over the past 35 years has NOTHING to do with the efforts to dismantle or ignore the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council. Oh, no. JP II and B XVI just had all of that happen on their watch but it wasn’t the result of anything THEY did.

  7. All sarcasm aside, Mr. Feehily, it likely has not caused your old age, but it has likely aged you a great deal.

    I don’t recall such a precipitous drop in attendance before VII as since. But perhaps the speed of the defections is less a product of VII than it is a sign of modern times. It took 15 centuries to lose steam in Latin, 50 years with the vernacular. But faith in all traditional bodies, secular and religious, has been lost during these same 50 years.

    Now I watch battles over the likes of “Graciously Grant” and “Cup” versus “Chalice”, and ‘What do we do with our hands during the Our Father?”. (How ironic that our church-sponsored AA group is known as “Calix”.) Was this internecine warfare the intent of VII or merely a horrible by-product? Are there not ever-so-slightly more important things that we should consider for our Church?

    Ms. Berger has made a cogent observation that could likely be made in many, perhaps most, Catholic churches today. Putting the altar rails back won’t fix it, and neither will knee-jerk reactivism.

    Any suggestions what will?

    To paraphrase Jefferson, “Indeed I fear for my Church, when I reflect that God is just.”

    1. @Sean Keeler – comment #8:
      Sean asks: Any suggestions what will?

      For starters,
      when we become relevant and when people want to be part of the Church.
      We already have 1.2 billion members but only about a 30% attendance We now have one generation of Catholics who are not attending at all.
      So what do we do?
      1. Bully pulpit. We have a pope who is just firing up. He can make catholicism attractive again if he and its a big if, can position the church in a good light and correct past abuses with grand public gestures. If he jettisons most of the curial princes next month he will be in the news for months. If he cuts bishop Finn loose another big plus etc. It has to be big and he has to speak the truth. That’s the only way it trickles down so everyone is aware of it.
      2 We already have 1.2 billion in place. If the church makes great strides against past problems, speaks the truth then those 1.2 billion become recruiters. In less than a decade we can be on the upswing
      3. Counter secularism. Their greatest strength? Our own ignorance. We need to be a strong presence in the court of public opinion. Secularists paint us as an ignorant lot but yet how many here can tell me who is the father of the Big Bang theory? How many craters on the moon are named after Jesuits (sorry Deacon Fritz, you have to recuse yourself from this one). Who possesses the largest telescope on earth? The largest scientific collection of meteorites on earth? Who is president of the pontifical academy of sciences? Who can tell me how many catholic hospitals there are in the US? Around the world? Who is the second largest provider of healthcare worldwide? And on and on…..We are not an ignorant lot but rather we lead the way but how many people know that? Unless we are our own best advocate the secularists win.
      Just my opinion and just scratching the surface.

    2. @Sean Keeler – comment #8:
      “you don’t recall such a precipitous drop……” Actually, facts and data show that the drop off was in place in Europe well before the start of VII.
      15 centuries of latin vs. 50 years of vernacular …..simplistic statement that ignores all kinds of nuance, facts, etc.
      Your comments reflect a narrow North American/European only viewpoint….what about the growth of the church in South America, Africa, Asia since VII (even with recent evangelical impact); what about the impact of Humanae Vitae; no mention of the reactive JPII and Benedict leadership models and appointment of *orthodox* bishops, what about the historical fact that, on average, it takes the church roughly 50 years to begin to absorb and implement recent conciliar reforms, etc.

      “Most catholic churches……” – again, a broad, sweeping over reach that doesn’t have much documentation….opinion only.

      Why we have a commenter on PTB who repeatedly ignores or makes excuses for the fact that his parish (with newly implemented EF) has lost anywhere from 30-40% of their mass attendees over the last ten years (excuse is economic downturn) altho the other two parishes in this town have had almost no loss of attendees at liturgies.(and deal with the same economic context). This commenter also repeatedly posts on church architecture and those few churches which have renovated to re-install the 1950s look….this involves searching the internet and traddie blogs for just the right pictures to post – as if this is going on in hundreds or thousands of churches.

      But will agree – altar rails won’t fix this, nor will SP, nor will knee jerk reactivism (talking about SP, etc.)/ nor will LA and the new missal. Refer to Dale’s observations.

      And then, we have Cekada again:

      “Obviously, the exact opposite happened, and the story of St. Elizabeth church has been repeated again and again worldwide. Vatican II’s reforms were in the realm of religion and were, merely in terms of the DISASTER…”

      No, there is no *obviously* about it……and, no, VII was not a DISASTER except in your narrow mind and opinion. What about Africa, South America, Asia.

      Here is a link to the Vincentian religious community in Nigeria – all after VII.

      This article contains facts; not opinion; no spin; no broad sweeping generalizations based upon some alternate universe.

      1. @Bill deHaas – comment #14:
        Mr. deHaas –
        Thank you for your reply. It’s correct that my assessments are based on North American/European factoids; those are the only places I’ve lived, and I’ve not seen any statistics about precipitous drops in the late fifties and early sixties, aside from certain post-WW2 realities in Europe. I’d appreciate your sources for facts and data.

        CARA stats begin in 1965, and reflect the steepest drops post-VII, such as in total priests beginning in 1995, ordinations in 1975/1985. The >50% reduction in seminarians between 1965 and 1985 is clearly post-VII. Because of it? Likely impossible to tell. (

        Perhaps it would be worth comparing Catholicism with living standards in various regions of the world. When we feel hopeless and somebody offers hope, that’s great, i.e., the bump in attendance post-9/11. When we’re doing fine, not such a big deal. That might explain the significant rise in Catholicism in some places in the world. On the other hand, inroads are being made against Catholicism, particularly in South America thus far, by Protestant groups preaching ‘God wants you wealthy’ theology.

        One request will be that if you quote me, you quote the complete statement. You challenged a statement that I did not make, to wit, “Most Catholic churches…”. What I said was, “…many, if not most, Catholic churches…” I stand by that statement.

      2. @Sean Keeler – comment #30:

        Sean Keeler, and others: I’m not sure why we have to keep reminding people of this, but Humanae Vitae, 1968, is one of the most significant factors in the numbers game. It hugely accelerated a decline that had already begun.

        Whenever I encounter people who want to put lots of symbols, often inappropriate, into “bare, stark” churches, I usually want to say to them “Please use your creative imagination. Don’t rely on someone else’s artefacts.” An empty concrete wall is not necessarily negative. It can be full of potential. It can also enable you to see the lines of the building more clearly. I would always advocate extreme caution in adding to a concept which is inviting you to imagine what could be on the canvas but not actually paint it in case you spoiled the whole.

      3. @Paul Inwood – comment #33:
        Humanae Vitae, of course. And Paul Ehrlich and The Population Bomb. Norman Borlaug and dwarf wheat. Vietnam. Haight Ashbury. People’s Park. Laugh-In. The list goes on. It was one helluva time.

        It is all of these concomitant factors that leads me to question whether VII was THE dominant factor in the status of today’s Church. The concept of autocracy and regency was on the wane. People demanded more individual rights.

        Churches became physical targets of reform, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, sometimes for the sake of change. St. Bric-a-brac can be just as unpleasant as St. Nihilist. Or just as thought-provoking.

        But is all of this doing anything to keep the members of the Mystical Body? To draw back those who left? To encourage new followers of Christ? I’ve not seen it do so.

      4. @Sean Keeler – comment #30:
        Sorry, Sean, missed your reply until now.

        The problem with statistics is that regional and national differences probably impact attendance rates the most – not an arbitrary divider such as pre and post VII. Don’t think there were any *precipitous drops in the US prior to 1965.

        CARA data – as you cite, it starts in 1965 so is not a good measurement. Here is an article by Andrew Greeley that provides some insights:

        Other comments:
        – keep in mind that US priest vocations from 1945-1965 were a spike; an anomaly – such large numbers had never occurred before or since. When you take a longer look – say two hundred years, that 20 year period is so far above the average. That being said, there is documentation that would show that VII raised expectations of a married clergy, other changes and when they did not happen, folks began leaving.
        – the same goes for ordinations – ’45 to ’65 seminaries were full to overflowing – again; an anomaly; a spike and by 1975 the total numbers dropped. But the reasons are complex – closing of minor seminaries; movement of college seminaries to catholic universities; switching formation to older candidates; models of development and psychology (hard to directly link this to Vatican II – it had more to do with US culture, psychology, human development e.g. Kennedy study on the emotional health of catholic priests in the US – >50% were seen as emotionally underdeveloped. (the US bishops buried the report and never acted on it)

        Greeley would agree with your last paragraph – cultures develop and grow morally, human concepts, change in *fear based* attendance changed behaviors and thus, structure; etc. This development appears to have the most significant impact. His opinion polls in 1963 aqnd 1974 underline Paul Inwood’s (#33) comment – Humanae Vitae was a significant key and supports his belief that changing beliefs about sex, sin, and authority is what impacted attendance across all age groups (whether pre or post VII) and then demographics – the younger generations did not attend regularlyand this only increased over the decades.
        Sorry – did paraphrase your quotes but still don’t agree even with your *many, if not most, Catholic churches…..sweeping and unnuanced generalization and…

  8. @ Jack Feehily #6

    “Ah, Father Cekada has dropped in to make a sarcastic comment about Vatican II. Padre, you should know very well that all kinds of influences are involved in the decline in church attendance over the past 50 years. I was in my 20’s then and am now over 70. I wonder if VII caused my old age?”

    One man’s sarcasm is another man’s wit, I guess! But the underlying point is serious.

    I, like you, was around when Vatican II was being implemented, and since I was in the seminary, I heard all the “new springtime” talk about how the Council’s reforms would draw more and more souls to the Church.

    Obviously, the exact opposite happened, and the story of St. Elizabeth church has been repeated again and again worldwide.

    Vatican II’s reforms were in the realm of religion and were, merely in terms of the numbers, a DISASTER for religious belief and practice. To attribute Catholicism’s fifty-year long decline to social, economic or psychological factors, rather than the Council itself, is, to my way of thinking, an exercise in denial.

    1. @Father Anthony Cekada – comment #10:
      Fr. Cedaka,

      Please spare us of the superstitious, magical think that Vatican II caused the decline. This is simplistic thinking, and it is exactly all those other factors (social, economic, etc.) that need to be taken into account.

      Please don’t hijack this thread. Pray Tell is not the place for you to push your anti-Vatican II agenda. Period.


  9. I would not agree that Vatican II is the problem, although making pastoral decisions of this Council dogmatic and infallible would be a major problem. But the real problem as implied in many of the comments is Pelagianism. If we would do what the Council said; if we would do worship better; if we would have this council and collaborative forms of ministry, if, if if, it all hangs on us and what we do. Indeed Pelagianism is the horizontal gone berserk. It is the tower of Babel all over again. The quality of pre-Vatican II Catholicism lost in the Post Vatican II Pelagianism is that we relied upon God, the Church and liturgy (even if we didn’t understand it completely) that were given to us to see us through even unto martyrdom. But after Vatican II, we could on our own make it new and improved with impoverished looking churches stripped of the residue of centuries of thinking and remaking things in order for us to be more with it. We’ve tinkered with this, that and the other thinking our tinkering would improve our relationships with each other and the world and with God. We thought and think things were/are broken and we are the ones to fix it like retailers constantly give us new and improved Coke, Clorox and automobiles. God laughs.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #12:
      Fr. Allan,

      I half agree. I think there is always going to be a period after a Council, whether a dogmatic or pastoral one, where there is a tendency to think that whatever the problem is has been “fixed” in principle and now all we need to do is implement the plan. But this is not unique to Vatican II. The Tridentine quest for uniformity and Vatican I’s bureaucratization of the Church were also seen as fixes for what ails us and it was only a lack of will to implement the fixes that was the problem. So Pelagian tinkering is a phenomenon that is hardly unique to the 20th century.

  10. Reading Teresa’s essay, two quotes come to mind:

    “In a period of Church and liturgical renewal, the attempt to recover a solid grasp of Church and faith and rites involves the rejection of certain embellishments which have in the course of history become hindrances. In building, this effort has resulted in more austere interiors, with fewer objects on the walls and in the corners.” – Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, USCCB, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship (1978)

    “If the highest goal of a liturgical environment according to EACW is hospitality rather than transcendence, the presumed model for a church seems to be the family room of a suburban house rather than the nave of an early Christian basilica.” – Duncan Stroik, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship – A Critique (1999)

    I wonder a bit about Stroik’s critique of EACW, since by this measure, St. Elisabeth in Hanau seems to have failed even the “living room” test, at least as far as subsequent reflection of Hanau Catholics is concerned – if these newer furnishings are anything to go by. Pictures I have seen of the old, unadorned brutalist interior of St. Elisabeth do not make for an inviting setting – rather than warm colors, all is cold concrete and stone. This may be why I have seen similar redecorations of other austere churches of that period (which predates the Council, BTW) – a little statuary reintroduced, a dash of color, warmer woods. Mid- and late-century interpretations of noble simplicity as something more akin to industrial austerity seem not to wear well on most human psyches.

    Not everyone here may agree with me that the answer is an abandonment of modernist and post-modernist forms for (tastefully executed) classical idioms, whether of Stroik’s sort or not. But I do think that Teresa’s reflection here has to make church architects think harder about how sacred space is received by human senses and the human psyche. And I do think that EACW gave too little thought to that.

  11. @Kelly Marie Santini – comment #17:
    Fidelity to Vatican II and reform in continuity are not the problems and is not Pelagian. It is all the rest and thinking that what we do will save us here on earth and in the here after. It’s redefining Catholicism into something that is unrecognizable as such and doing everything within one’s power to make it happen that is Pelagian with a gnostic foundation. Words like faithful dissent and redefining obedience come to mind especially when these lead us away from fidelity to the magisterium of the Church as it is presently constituted under post-Vatican II principles.

  12. It helps to delineate between the liturgical changes of VII and the modernist movement in church architecture of roughly the same period. My parish church of St. Teresa is an interesting structure- -designed in the early 1960s just before the council. It is squarely within the mid-century modern paradigm: composed of cubes and rectangles, large volumes of space, use of monotone brick on interior walls, minimal decor. When it was built, there were no statues or images of any kind, save for flat brass images of Mary and Joseph. No cross or crucifix, though one was soon added. The art glass windows are slab glass, set in concrete, with abstract depictions of St. Therese by artist Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France. A thoroughly modern structure.

    Yet, the church is classical in its proportions. It features a large and elevated sanctuary against the east wall, clearly demarcated from the nave by its placement. Substantial marble altars and altar rail. Choir loft with a large pipe organ. A freestanding campanile with three bells.

    This is an example of modern architecture slightly predating the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. Photos of the dedication Mass here show all of the pomp and splendor of a classical style of liturgy.

    Despite being one of the least-attractive (in the conventional sense) churches in the area, today the parish is thriving due to all the good things that take place within these rather plain walls.

    1. @Scott Pluff – comment #20:
      Another example of modern architecture would be the underground, St Pie X, basilica in Lourdes.
      May I offer a thought about the plain style of churches? It seems to me that the stained glass, sculpture and paintings serve not only as decoration but also as aids to teaching. To explain what is shown and why can help the faithful appreciate what they see. Without such explanation these can be seen as distractions.
      So rather than repaint in new colours part of the church it may be worth rescuing items from closed churches, presenting and explaining them. This may bring something fresh to the church building and a point of interest for the congregation. It may even pass the ecologists tests as a form of recycling.

  13. @Kelly Marie Santini – comment #17:
    Ms. Santini – would caution you on jumping to conclusions about certain posters when you are new to this blog.

    You *correct* Dale but then repeat his *supposed* mistake by saying: ” …childish and irrelevant….As a newbie to this blog I’m surprised at the maturity level (or lack thereof) of the people who choose to comment. Surely this does not represent the majority of people who come here.” Sort of demeaning and you obviously don’t understand his reference to the names of moons after Jesuits (you might want to think about that – Dale was attempting to posit much larger changes in the church beyond church archeticture or even liturgical concerns – yes, there is more going on than just liturgy)

    You might want to spend some time reading legacy posts and comments from folks such as Allan – they play the same mantras over and over even when the topics change.

    FYI – Allan actually only accepts VII per his own unique and non-historical interpretation – with lots of repititious *in continuity of the reform of the reform or following the magisterium of the church properly understood or they deconstructed the church after VII with their spirit of VII ideologies and faithful dissent * (whatever those mean) or his blog post today in which he again blames academics or other professionals for all the evils of post VII and then quotes from one recent speaker at the LCWR (a bete noir for Allan and another key group that is blamed for all the evils of post-VII). His pronouncements are usually modified when posting here which only highlights the hypocrisy and why folks such as Dale become frustrated.

    The newest mantra are the Francis’ words, Pelagian and Gnostism, which he twists to fit his ideology. And, of course, all academics and professionals are pelagian and faithful dissent – in his words….”what garbage, what silliness, and what outrage”

    1. @Kelly Marie Santini – comment #36:
      Was not my intent to *bash* you…actually, admire and thank you for participating. Your comment was instructive – we all bring our own baggage (as you can see, mine is deep and heavy and causes me to trip at times). You shouldn’t have to search/read archives but I found it to be helpful when I am participating in a blog – it helps provide context, gets me up to speed, and introduces me to those participating. Sorry if this suggestion was off-putting.

      As Deacon adds, at times allow my *obsession* about Allan to impact my comments. You appear to understand; and appreciate your kindness and, yes, they were really only tips to save you any frustration, etc. Yes, you have the right and please do question any *mantra* in light of larger conversations. My frustration shows at times because the *mantra* limits and impedes the *discourse* or redirects in ways that grow tiring after a time. The same is true for off subject comments that go down dead end alleys. (but as Deacon reminds – mantra can happen to any of us)

      If #18 answers your questions, more power to you but we do disagree on that!

  14. I would offer this thought, from a Short Documentary of 1968, Why Man Creates. “Have you ever thought that radical ideas threaten institutions, then become institutions, and in turn reject radical ideas which threaten institutions?”

    I think this applies to many of the discussions that are going on here.

  15. How can a “Vatican II Church” be assessed apart from its worshiping community? Without this, it is merely a vessel waiting to be filled and led into praise and thanks of God.

  16. @Kelly Marie Santini – comment #17:

    Boy Kelly, did you misread my post.

    My point is that secularists accuse Christians of being ignorant, they don’t contribute to science and are a superstitious lot.
    If we don’t educate the public that we definitely contribute to science and that we even have craters on the moon named after Jesuit scientists then we lose the battle.
    That’s my point. As far as Deacon Fritz recusing himself, kids who attend orientation at Jesuit colleges receive a booklet with questions about famous Jesuits, one of the comments usually is how many craters are named after famous Jesuits? I jokingly made the comment that Fritz not answer because he is a professor at a Jesuit university and already knows the answer.

    As far a it being childish and irrelevant I’d say you have egg on your face.

    BTW there are 35 craters on the moon named after famous Jesuits.
    I rather doubt Richard Dawkins will have one named after him.

      1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #26:
        Sorry, but I don’t think my correction was out of line.

        Apparently you had no problem with her statements “childish and irreverent” and “lack of maturity”.

        If I remember correctly, you were a bit “hot under the collar” last week when some made comments and opinions about you that you didn’t like.

      2. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #27:
        In the “Decibels” post, I made a remark and someone assumed I meant it in one way, as an accusation. In response, I said I didn’t mean it that way, and that I’d prefer to be asked to clarify myself than to have someone else explain my potential motives or style.

        I have not commented on Kelly’s remark, but it is by no means apparent by that absence of comment that I have no problem with her remarks. I just think her post could have been corrected more gently (with honey rather than vinegar). Kelly didn’t understand your comment; you could simply have explained it without publicly announcing the egg on her face.

        I just desire more peaceable conversation on this blog. I don’t care if we don’t see eye-to-eye on this issue or that one, I just don’t want to be leaping down each others’ throats while we disagree, fueled by assumptions and biases.

      3. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #27:
        Dale – JP is the self-appointed *minder*.

        JP – re-read what I stated. Found her comment to be *lacking in charity* and, given Dale’s follow up, she didn’t understand his original comment.

        Would like her to form her own opinon about some commenters – merely pointed out some of the places to start.

        Did appreciate Fr. Ruff’s input on Cekada – was that *graceful* enough. Did that reply allow others to form their own opinon about Cedaka?

        JP – only ask that you be consistent and fair minded.

    1. @Kelly Marie Santini – comment #37:
      One last time, the reason you don’t see why theology and the church needs to present itself as a science is because that is NOT what I am saying.

      I am saying that in the real world there are secularists who state that Catholics are stupid and superstitious. Ever hear Bill Mahr talk about the church? Richard Dawkins? etc. unfortunately they have lots of followers.

      However, we are not stupid and superstitious. We believe in faith and reason. Our church founded most of the first universities, and one of our own, Fr. Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian priest who was a member of the pontifical academy of science developed the Big Bang Theory. I am not talking about theology here but our place in society.

      1. @Kelly Marie Santini – comment #48:
        Yes, very interesting.

        BTW. let me welcome you to PTB!
        You will definitely find lots of commentators who hold very strong opinions on all subjects as you have found out already 🙂
        Not for the faint of heart, but despite everyone’s positions you will not find a better bunch anywhere else!

  17. Anyone wishing to know why I addressed Bill’s and Dale’s comments, and not Fr. Ruff’s or someone else’s, the reason is because I perceive bullying from them on a fairly regular basis (moreso from Bill than from Dale). I think if one were to look at the history of comments between me and Bill, they might see what I mean. That is my bias; I feel put on the defensive in my interactions with them.

    I’m sorry for derailing this thread. I’ll go back to lurking.

    1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #31:
      “I perceive bullying from them on a fairly regular basis”
      Really? On a regular b
      Never mind, I’m not going to even bother, not worth it.

  18. Churches such as St. Elizabeth were novelty back in those days, like the changes to the Mass. Once the newness wore off, people tired of the less-is-more style of architecture and wished the altars and statues hadn’t been thrown out.

    The early 60s were the swan song of the Church before the collapse of the late 60s and 70s set in. Media-driven inflated expectations for the Council (almost bordering on utopian) no doubt helped to speed up the collapse.

  19. Bill deHaas Dale – JP is the self-appointed *minder*.

    Bill, you might notice that it was you who felt the need to instruct a new reader/poster in the failings of Fr. Allan. So your characterization of Jeffrey as a “minder” is a bit…well, I hesitate to characterize it.

    I mean this in all sincerity: you know a lot about liturgy, have a lot of on-the-ground experience in the church, and can and do make positive contributions to this blog. But sometimes, particularly in your unhealthy obsession with “outing” Fr. Allan or in correcting those whom you perceive as being on the wrong side of some ideological divide, your posts can come across as a bit bullying.

    I won’t claim the final word here, but I do hope at some point we can get back to discussing Teresa’s quite moving post.

  20. Thanks, Deacon…was on a roll. Sorry. Appreciate your honesty. Agree with her observations – it is sad in terms of attendance; it is sad that some early VII decisions were penny wise liturgically but pound foolish. (but, then, that could be said about lots of church buildings pre or post VII).
    Church buildings can impact the community – but, find that joyful and alive communities of faith don’t allow a building to impact their community. Within reason, they find the werewithal to make changes – sometimes significant, sometimes just to fit their budgets and their current community needs.

    Teresa describes the look of a church building 50 years later – what is missing is the community context, the people who do attend, its 50 year history – could that shed light on what has happened? Why hasn’t the local church community made changes? Why has attendance dropped?

  21. Back to Teresa’s post. I think what Scott stated in comment # 20 was spot on. Often many unattractive church buildings are blamed on Vatican II reforms. Rather, it seems that there are cultural influences that dictate what a church building may look like especially the period they were built in. There are unattractive pre Vatican II churches and post Vatican II churches. To blame Vatican II reforms for unattractive churches is a disservice.

    1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #45:
      While the point about churches following contemporary architectural trends is very true, it should also be kept in mind that the Vatican II reforms did serve as a catalyst for church renovation at a time in history when many people did not yet appreciate pre WWII art and architecture (I’m speaking from an American perspective). While you do find some examples of major church renovations of earlier buildings in the 50’s and early 60’s, most churches aren’t renovated very often unless there is some kind of perceived need. After Vatican II, there was the perceived need to renovate virtually every church on earth, and many fine buildings that would have otherwise been left alone were given major overhauls. While some people like to point out the bad plaster statues and catalogue furniture that was tossed out, there were just as many examples of hand crafted and high quality art that were destroyed as well.

      That isn’t to say Vatican II is directly to blame for ugly churches, but it did serve as an unusually strong motivation to “wreckovate” an unusually large number of churches and to replace fine buildings with ugly ones because of *when* the reform happened.

      1. @Jack Wayne – comment #51:

        That isn’t to say Vatican II is directly to blame for ugly churches, but it did serve as an unusually strong motivation to “wreckovate” an unusually large number of churches and to replace fine buildings with ugly ones because of *when* the reform happened.

        Dale is undoubtedly correct that the the greatest driver for radically new church architecture was, well, radically new architecture already making its impact in secular construction. Brutalism did not magically begin in 1965. The International style goes back to van der Rohe, Corbusier, Gropius… it was perhaps inevitable that these trends would have some impact in Catholic sacred architecture. Many of the key facets of what has become common post-conciliar sacred architecture were already laid out by Fr. H.A. Reinhold in his 1952 work Speaking of Liturgical Architecture, noteworthy for its emphasis on “form follows function.” Even Randall Smith at Sacred Architecture has made the point emphatically that we can’t just blame Vatican II.

        But that is not to say that the Council – understood as a motivating event, more than its texts – didn’t unleash these currents in a way they had not been in play in the years before the Council. And it’s also not to say that there weren’t new theologies emerging demanding radically new designs for churches (or renovations of old ones) – though these theologies were not always perfectly congruent with these secular architectural philosophies.

        While some people like to point out the bad plaster statues and catalogue furniture that was tossed out, there were just as many examples of hand crafted and high quality art that were destroyed as well.

        In a lot of ways, it was a revolutionary spirit, and it swept much before it, often indiscriminately.

      2. @Richard Malcolm – comment #54:
        Richard, I very much agree.
        With everything happening in the 1960’s from the Vietnam war and protests against “the establishment” the trend was to change things. As is often the case, “change for the sake of change” can make matters worse. Didn’t matter if it was the government, society, church architecture or cultural influence, changes were made and they weren’t always for the best. Anything old and historical was “square” anything new was “hip”. As it turned out “square” was actually appealing and “hip” ended up usually ugly.

      3. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #59:

        Hello Dale,

        With everything happening in the 1960′s from the Vietnam war and protests against “the establishment” the trend was to change things.

        If there’s a lesson to be learned in all this for pastors, it’s just that: learn from the mistakes that were made in the 60’s and 70’s. Many of those wholesale renovations may have been well-intended by the designers and pastors; many undoubtedly thought they really were implementing what the Council called for. But the Council also called for lay empowerment, and in most cases, little to no heed was really taken of what the folks in the pews actually wanted or thought about rearranging their family parish. Most Catholics back then may have sucked it up quietly; but if we’ve learned anything, it’s that they usually hate sudden, major change in what they see and do on Sundays. (And not just in their missal translations.)

        Especially when what’s being changed is something their parents or grandparents may have sweated to pay for, and put in the labor to help maintain. Some of them may have helped build it. Some may have worked over time in their jobs to bring in that painter from Italy, or to buy that marble out of state for the statues. Boom, suddenly, it’s gone.

        And it’s a knife that cuts many ways. If one wishes that Dick Vosko (and the pastors who call him in) would exercise more restraint and more respect for the parishioners he works with on his renovation projects, conservative young priests might also contemplate the need to consult closely and widely with their flocks before turning the sanctuary into a neo-baroque wonderland. One needn’t get every last person on the roles to agree, but there ought to be as broad a consensus as possible when major change is in the offing, and no bait-and-switch acts. And perhaps consider taking the changes a little more gradually.

        Hopefully that’s something most of us can agree on, whatever ou other differences.

      4. @Jack Wayne – comment #51:
        Jack, you won’t get an argument from me on that. I’ve always stated, and previous comments will bear me out, that if a church is to be remodeled then it should be done with taste and blend in with the remaining architecture. A small contemporary wood altar just doesn’t fit in with a beautiful church with marble interior.
        Look at Blessed Sacrament cathedral in Detroit, what are those “sliced toast” looking barriers behind the ambo and the cathedra? The pipes of the organ block some of the stained glass windows too. They could have done better. This is not Vatican II, this is just poor design.

  22. Teresa Berger’s post has given us a good “ink blot” test upon which to project our pet prejudices and peeves. The resulting “conversation?” suffers much in comparison to two far more interesting and civil conversations about liturgy currently taking place over at dotCommonweal.

    The second on “What makes good liturgy” is found here

    and in order to prevent tripping the “hold for review” mechanism, you will find the link to the first article about “Parish shopping” in the top sentence of the above article.

    In reading the contrasting conversations, I get the uneasy feeling that PrayTell may have become stuck in 2010, and the liturgical issues of that time, now long ago and in a far off papacy. (Francis gets in the news so much it already seems that he has been Bishop of Rome for a long time).

    When PrayTell has covered Pope Francis, I get the uneasy feeling that he is being discussed in terms of the 2010 rear view mirror rather than his Jesuit and Latin American backgrounds.

    Recently I noticed a local parish had renamed a newly remodeled area after Pope Francis. That seemed to me a very forward looking and very grassroots response to the future.

    We are in a new era more like that of Pope John. It is not what John did himself but what he facilitated in others that made the impact. That was far more than the Vatican Council. I suspect Francis will be a similar pope (without a council but perhaps with many synods to his eventual credit, perhaps started long after he leaves the papacy). We need to be moving toward a more conciliar church by facing all our issues at very local levels.

    The contributors more than the commenters bear the chief responsibility for resetting the clock forward both in their choice of topics and how they frame those topics.

    The two topics at Commonweal are a good starting point. Two types of comments within them suggest two others: 1) some people who are very moved by the readings, are not similarly moved by the Eucharistic Prayer (if I did not regularly experience a sung EP I might feel the same), and 2) more and more good religious people are not seeing regular Sunday attendance as important (again now that I don’t go to Mass when it is snowing or raining because of my balance problem I can understand their viewpoint).

    Electronic media is another big area. NCR recently published a report from the Mormons which suggests that “Worshippers’ digital distraction may not be all bad.” (again not directly linked for obvious reasons). And many of us older people, and some not so old, are taking to the internet for our worship.

  23. Can any church be renovated? Seems to me that like asking that a poor oil painting be renovated. It would take genius, if it’s at all possible.

  24. Seeing church interiors stripped of all beauty in the name of Vatican II started me on a long journey of questioning clerics, liturgists and other Church bureaucrats. I wonder how many parishioners quit going to Mass because of the wreckovations alone. Of course, if one questioned these renovations, a cleric often accused him or her of being “materialist.” Abuse scandals, financial mismanagement, closed churches, handcrafted altars and statues thrown into the trash, devotions ridiculed by the clergymen and religious…no wonder the Catholic Church is falling apart.

  25. Oh please – let’s not go overboard with painting with one broad brush. Sure, some probably did leave but more because it was *their* church that was being changed.

    And what about the flip side – how many folks left churches that were filled with pietistic statues, votive candles, novenas, etc. that had more prominence and value from the local pastor than the celebration of the sacraments?

    *wreckovations* – how cute…borrowed from Macon?

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #57:
      Bill, I actually am surprised that you don’t seem to know that wreckovations is not a Maconian invention, as it were, but goes further back.

      And why not resist the temptation to respond with contemptuous broad brushes? They don’t help your argument one bit; indeed, they are signally counterproductive.

    2. @Bill deHaas – comment #57:
      There were probably people who left the Church because of the changes their parish went through, but I would expect there were others who left because they perceived the changes being made on a larger scale.

      But we’re listing categories of people without knowing the statistics on them… or at least, I don’t know the statistics. I’m not sure of the relative size of the group of people who left the Church because there were too many statues, candles, and devotions.

      (And Wikipedia’s entry for “Wreckovation” was first composed in 2006, presumably long before Fr. Allan began using it.)

      1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #61:
        Oddly enough, though, I don’t think I’ve used that term even at my fabulous blog, but maybe iconoclasm, desconstruction, bankruptcy, dumbing down, and the like, but I don’t think I’ve used wreckovation, although there’s nothing wrong with that term and actually quite good and should be added to the dictionary like tw..king., oh, well, let’s not go there.

    3. @Bill deHaas – comment #57:
      I borrowed the term from historic preservation circles, who have used it since at least the 80s. A wreckovation is an unsympathetic renovation of an older building that usually ruins it. Preservation Magazine used to have a section called “YIKES!” where people could submit pictures of horribly renovated buildings.

      Also, you invented the broad brush.

  26. When I was first ordained in 1980 there were many faithful older Catholics well formed in fidelity to the Church prior to the Council who gritted their teeth and bore the changes in the Church, but they were wounded by many of these changes and clerics who ridiculed their “pre-Vatican II” faith and practices. These people, my parents age, now mostly if not entirely gone, were of the “greatest generation” and put up with a lot knowing what beauty had been destroyed. Today’s Catholics are oblivious to the treasures of the Church prior to the Council and think so much of the ugliness they experience at Mass and elsewhere in the Church is what always has been. Few people today now in their 20’s could care less about the distinctions of pre-Vatican II and post Vatican II. For them the Church is just a piece of parsley on their plate where the meat and potatoes are disconnected from the Faith.

  27. Just for the record: my parish church was an entirely new construction because up until the 1950s, my hometown did not have any sizable Catholic presence; it was a historically Protestant town since the 16th century. Our new Catholic parish church — even as a contemporary, cement church — in 1964 spoke to us of life, vibrancy, and flourishing. And no, none of us experienced it as “brutal cement,” from what I remember. As has been remarked before on this blog, signifiers (such as “cement”) are never stable…

  28. “Wreckovations” started during WW2 when bombs literally wrecked churches. The 60s on continued the philosophies developed in the 40s & 50s as people rebuilt to meet their new situations. People were forced to rethink their churches, and their lived experience influenced those who followed.

    Vatican II was not isolated from the horrors of WW2, and much of what is blamed on V2 is really the consequence of WW2.

  29. Lets keep in mind that there is no way to make an objective assessment of the vast number of renovations that took place in the decades following VII. Thus we’re always dealing with anecdotes that reflect the values and tastes of the one doing the describing. Most dioceses, however, had clear guidelines and procedures in place for the purpose of promoting the principles set forth in “Art and Architecture”. But we all know there are some priests who may have wired around whatever obstacles stood in the way of implementing their own purely personal viewpoints. But this issue lends itself to exaggeration. So the Trads decry the removal of altar rails and plaster of Paris images of Mary and Joseph, while the “progs” lament the restoration of those elements even to contemporary structures. I had a hand in the renovation of two churches and the construction of three new ones. The guidelines were followed and the people seemed very pleased. The church I built in 1992 was not satisfactory for two of the three pastors who followed me as they undertook what they considered improvements, some of which I found quite pleasing to the eye. As the saying goes, “de gustibus non disputantum est”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *