December 09, 2008

Church in the Round

I've attended Masses "in the round" and you may have too. What's the point? There is no point. God forbid we have conclusions or points or edges. It all needs to be rounded and smoothed. Rather like the preferred theology of this architecture. Don't give us any absolutes for crying out loud!

Is this the environment that breeds the circular argument? The dreaded "dialogue"? Talk it to death, run around in circles, never end anywhere, never get anywhere....

Architecturally these churches are built so that the altar is in the middle of a huge circle of pews (you are lucky if it is pews with kneeelers, often it's moveable chairs so we can set up for the concert later)

No matter where He is, all eyes are going to be on Him anyway. We could all sit in a drum circle with Christ as a member in the circle, sitting right next to Joe and everyone will be looking at Christ anyway. He can't help Himself, He's that kind of guy. The Christ shows up at a party and all the playas may as well go to another party because no one is going to care they are there.

People who built these churches in the round failed to realize that rounding it off does not make Christ any less the focus to someone who is totally focused on Him. But, that's where these architects suceeded, they succeeded in weakening the visual reference point. Now, we are not just looking at Him, now we are looking at everyone else. Hey, look, Joan's pregnant again! Nodding and waving at Jon and his family! Nice denim outfit, Harold! Frank is late!

The benefit to worshipping in a space that is completely and only oriented towards the altar-all the pews face one way-is we don't have quite as many opportunities to look anywhere but at The Sacrifice. Terrifying isn't it?

I know The Sacrifice makes us uncomfortable. It's supposed to. I know for some of us The Sacrifice is dull and you'd rather look at all your buddies, I bet there were a lot of people at The Crucifixion who looked away and chatted with their friends too. It's unsettling stuff. You bet it is. It's supposed to be. Train yourself. The mind is a powerful thing. Don't be afraid to focus on Him, to look upon Him, to see the Victim. You are not at Holy Mass to see your friends or your family or Father Johnson or Deacon Spelt or your kids serve at the altar or hear the choir. You are there to see Him. You are there to listen to Him. You are there to worship and adore Him. If you are properly disposed you may even receive Him.


Blogger Chris said...

As an architectural counterpoint, it's easier to see Him if you're not waaaaaay in the back. One of the reasons to build a 'church in the round' is to put everyone closer to the alter.

Another reason, I suspect, relates to something we discussed at RCIA last night. It isn't the priest who celebrates the mass, it is all of us. (Go check your catechism if you don't believe me.) It is easier to remember that if you can see all of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

That being said, I can certainly sympathize with someone who's distracted by other people in such a setting.


December 09, 2008 6:59 AM  
Blogger Adoro said...

Chris ~ Watch your definition in terms. Certainly we all "celebrate" the Mass to a certain degree, for we enter into worship at a very profound level. However, it is the Priest who offers the Sacrifice of the Mass, and ONLY he can do that. The Priest is the ONLY one who has the special annointing, and is able to stand in persona christi and speak to God ON OUR BEHALF.

When he offers the Mass, he isn't speaking to us, he's speaking to God FOR us.

And I'll bet they don't teach you that at RCIA, do they?

December 09, 2008 7:13 AM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

Thanks for the clarification, Adoro.

"Nice denim outfit, Harold! Frank is late!"

Cathy, you sure have a wonderful knack for portraying "irregular" behavior (not quite "dissident") during the Mass.

There are two reasons why I usually sit up close to (but not with) the Pharisees.

Firstly, so I can see the priest on the altar. Why someone would choose to sit a couple hundred feet away, back in the "early exit rows", I don't know.

Secondly, by being in the fifth row or so, I do not have as many of my fellow Catholics in sight. Sometimes their behavior or wardrobes can be quite distracting.

December 09, 2008 8:36 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

With the exception of Latin mass, where I sat smack in the middle (so I could see other people and follow along!), I always sit within the first 4 rows or so. I'm with Ray--I'm want to SEE what's going on!

December 09, 2008 9:15 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I am with you 100% Cathy. I can't stand those round churches. Most of the (Catholic) churches I have belonged to in my life are half-round, but there is one in town that is full circle. According to their website, this is "so that eveyrone can be close to one another". Barf. This just reiterates the idea that Mass is just a "celebratory meal" or "fellowship". It's no wonder that I didn't understand how Mass is a sacrifice until I was 30 years old. There's little in most churches to indicate any continuity with the sacrifices of the Old Testament or the Ultimate Sacrifice on Calvary.
So much of the theology and meaning of the "old" EF/TLM Mass has been forgotten or ignored. The design of the building, the vestments of the priest, the positions and gestures of the people, the manner of receiving communion- they all MEAN something but no one seems to know any of that anymore. (Too busy with their guitars and projection screens!)
OK, I'm done now. {end rant}

December 09, 2008 10:09 AM  
Blogger Chris said...


Yep! They certainly did teach us that in RCIA.


December 09, 2008 10:27 AM  
Blogger Angela M. said...

Our church is built in a semi-circle around the "table of the Lord" and we have no kneelers. To further dissuade us from kneeling the floor is built on a slope down to the altar. We kneel anyway.

My son considered getting married there but said they rejected it in the end for one reason - the church is too ugly. I can't fault him for that.

When churches are built in the round it's all about the horizontal worship - instead of the vertical.

If I had a choice I'd worship somewhere else but our parish is the only one in our town. At least we have a priest.

December 09, 2008 11:21 AM  
Blogger Adrienne said...

Bede - I'd sure be looking for a new RCIA class. Adoro is correct.

When I have to go to our regular parish church I sit way in the back now to avoid the hand holding and other PC garbage going on.

Memo to parish: I DO NOT want to hold your hand and I won't!

December 09, 2008 12:34 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Adrienne: no worries! The RCIA folks are being very thorough about the explanation of the Mass. I know that Adoro is correct. (Isn't Adoro always correct!?) It's also correct per the Catechism to say that the congregation celebrates the mass (see below for reference).

Anyway, I'm guessing that's part of the rationale behind 'church in the round'. Not knowing any actual church architects, I can't be sure. :P

And just for kicks, I'll give you all my own take on 'people distractions' in church. I came from an evangelical congregation where there were no children in church (they had their own service) and no older people (make your own guesses on that one). So, unless it's really, really an egregious distraction, I'm just glad to see all those people in church! Sure it's hard to concentrate sometimes, but all those weird and wonderful and different people... in church!







1136 Liturgy is an "action" of the whole Christ (Christus totus). Those who even now celebrate it without signs are already in the heavenly liturgy, where celebration is wholly communion and feast

December 09, 2008 12:56 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Bede: We may have a role in the liturgy as servers, lectors, cantors, participants in prayer.

However, the core of the Mass: The Sacrifice, The Consecration, does not require any participatory roles (lector, cantor, server etc) from us. It does not even require our presence to occur. Though it is certainly desirable that we are spiritually and physically present to unite ourselves with it, it's not strictly necessary for The Sacrifice itself to occur.

But our physical and spiritual presence, under the prescribed rules (attending Mass when required by Holy Church) is necessary for Our Salvation.

A priest, acting in the person of Christ Himself, performs the Sacrifice. A priest may offer Mass with no one there; and they often do in what is called a private Mass (basically meaning "unscheduled to the public" though the public may join Father if they see him)

In private Masses, the priest may not even have any servers, no chant or music, he does the readings himself, speaks the words of the Mass, consecrates the Bread and Wine, consumes it, everything just like Mass you are used to but without the "audience participation"

My point in composing the post was to express my concern that I feel the churches in the round have lost the visual emphasis on The Sacrifice and replaced it with an emphasis on "us" instead.

You don't have to sit up close or see or even hear the Mass to unite yourself with it. I've found that spiritual unification with the Mass is a lot harder than using the senses. I've sat thru Masses behind a huge column, unable to see anything happening but you KNOW, you KNOW and you unite yourself with it in prayer.

The architecture in the round and the visual idea it presents that "we" are the focal point of the Mass and not The Sacrifice, and that we perform the same role as the priest has crept into our Theology and our Catechesis.

The Eucharist is Calvary. Not a re-enactment, not a do-over, it's really IT. Even if no one is there but Christ (Father) it still happens once and for all.

Even if, God forbid, there were never any more priests offering Mass and no more Faithful participating in it, doesn't mean it (The Christ's Sacrifice) never happened.

Bede: Thanks Be to God that our Faith is SO rich and that there is so much to learn and explore! I goof up myself. I had a recent howler about the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It happens.

You are correct, Adoro IS always right. LOL! If I screwed this explanation up, she's going to throw a lump of coal at me. Truly.

December 09, 2008 10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those of us with very young children who cannot be quiet or still during Mass like to sit in the back as to cause less distraction to others who are also present to worship

December 09, 2008 11:53 PM  
Anonymous Adoro said...

Bede ~ It sounds like you're getting some of the truth in RCIA, but also that they're giving you a lot of "lateral theology" as well, the kind of "theology" that indicates Mass is "about us" and God is just kind of an afterthought. It's dinnner and a show! Woo hoo!

The reality is that Mass, specificially that portion of the Liturgy that is the REAL Sacrifice of Christ, offered by the Priest for our atonement (this is very Old Testament), is directed towards God the Father on our behalf. We can't participate in that, other than through real sorrow for sin, recognizing who we are, and who God is. We are invited to enter into that Divine Mystery, and unite our own sufferings with those of Our Lord.

That's what Mass is about.

Once Mass is done...that's when we take the Grace we receive at Mass and spread it out to the rest of the world. That's where the "love thy neighbor" part comes in, actively.

And you two, Cathy and Bede, Adoro is NOT "always right", don't even go there! lol

December 10, 2008 7:28 AM  
Blogger swissmiss said...

I think part of the problem with the Church in the Round is that they typically have many other abuses going on. In some of the small parishes I've attended in the woods of Wisconsin, there are priests that make due very reverentially with the austere and architecturally-challenged churches, while some of the larger and beautiful churches are home to Joe (not Father) who invites/allows all sorts of abuses. Like Angela said, the round churches tend to encourage the horizontal because often times the tabernacle is in another room, the altar light is no where to be found and the statues that help to lift our thoughts vertically to God are not there, replaced instead by felt banners. I like to walk into a church and not wonder if it's a conference room :)

December 10, 2008 7:38 AM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

When searching for a Church for Sunday Mass in an unfamiliar location, the first alert you should be aware of is the use of the word "Community" in the name or description of the parish.

December 10, 2008 7:48 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Adoro et al,

I feel like I didn't make myself clear earlier. Please don't get the idea that our RCIA program is in any way diminishing the central premise of the Mass. They are not!

My discussion has only been conjectural about why people might build churches in the round. I don't really know why... not knowing any church architects personally.

I am curious to know, though, why folks here might consider something in the Catechism as 'lateral theology'? If by that you mean that some parts of theology are more critical than others, then I understand you completely!


December 10, 2008 8:01 AM  
Blogger Adoro said...

Christ ~ It has to do where the emphasis is placed. By the way you were speaking, you made it sound like what you've been taught is that the Mass is about the people, that it's a community celebration, etc. Basically, "lateral theology" tends to focus on the Mass as a "Sacred Meal" (which it is, indeed), but ignores the other half, that it is also a Sacrifice of Atonement. Now, we can't focus on the Sacrifice ALONE, for in order to fulfill the Covenant, we must consume the flesh of the Lamb. But when we focus on one aspect without considering the other, which is a dominating idea in too many theology programs today, then we miss the entire point.

Chris, as you are in RCIA, you may not be aware of this, but a lot of very old heresies are abounding in the Church today. And most of us here at Cathy's blog have participated in them, we've been raised in them, and we're sensitive to them because of the spiritual poverty those heresies have caused in our lives and in the lives of those we love.

December 11, 2008 6:25 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro calling you, "Christ" and not CHRIS is also a heresy!


I'm know Chris is aware that there are Catholics in Name Only (CINO) around.

December 11, 2008 6:37 AM  
Blogger Adoro said...

ROFL! I was coming back because I left something out. Well, Chris, at least you know I have the utmost respect for you....I don't call many people "God". LOL!

Can I be annointed and receive an Apostolic Pardon before I'm burned at the stake as a heretic? :-)

Chris, one thing I came back to say....when you brought up "Mass is celebrated by the people", well, that tends to be code for people trained in lateral theology. What it really gets at is, "We don't really need a priest, he's just an actor." It blurs the lines between the ministerial priesthood (ie the Ordained Priesthood) and the prieshood we all share as baptized persons. That's why it's so important to recognize the sacrifice of the Mass even as we recognize that we share in that sacrifice, which is offered on our behalf. And then go into the world to live it out as the hands and feet, of Christ, as members of the Mystical Body.

Hope that helps.

December 11, 2008 6:56 AM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

Adoro said:

"Mass is celebrated by the people", well, that tends to be code for people trained in lateral theology.

In those services, often the congregation and sometimes laypeople standing next to the celebrant say the words of consecration along with the priest.

December 11, 2008 7:29 AM  
Blogger Joe of St. Thérèse said...

I hate that round feeling, even as a teacher. Anything that de-emphisizes my importance is a good thing.

God forbid we have anything absolute such as Sacrifice. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi. This Churchin the round idea is merely expressing a new theology, I will not go to a Church in the round for any reason.

December 18, 2008 12:31 PM  

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