On being taken to Mass in the underground basilica at Lourdes, the late Msgr. Alfred Gilbey, that most courteous of men, was moved to comment, “It reminds me of nothing so much as a Nazi rally.”  He was referring to the vast crowds, the raised central stage, and the spotlit altar of this concrete bunker.  Moyra Doorly, an architect and convert, does not use so extreme an image in her analysis of modern church architecture, but she makes her views very plain.  Modern churches, she believes, are geared “to the celebration of . . . the worshipping community,” not to a transcendent God; they are temples to the “spirit of the age,” and, just like earlier styles such as Gothic and Baroque, they reflect the theology of their times.

This theology, the author argues, is infected by modernism.  Creeping in under the coattails of “the spirit of Vatican II” and in various disguises, modernism’s impact on church design has been profoundly destructive.  It has introduced the concept of “relativist space,” directionless and nonhierarchical, deliberately blurring the distinction between nave and sanctuary—and consequently, the distinction between priest and people.  Where no part of the church is more significant than any other, sacred space ceases to exist.  So altar rails are removed, chairs replace pews, and the congregation gathers round...

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