Friday, March 24, 2017

Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption (in praise of lavish worship space)

A few weeks back, my sister-in-law's father, Al, passed away. As the de facto patriarch of the family now, I flew there to attend the memorial with my mother.  A little over two years ago, Al came out with another family friend when my father passed away. We had no clue at the time that he would be leaving us so soon after. He was a faithful Christian and by all accounts, a generous and decent man. And that's not saying nearly enough.

In any case, as any of you who have followed my blog know (even though I mostly post homilies now), when I travel, I like to visit all of the local Catholic churches. As luck would have it, Marietta is home to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption, which was decreed a basilica only on 2013. The original of St. Mary's Church was built in 1837. (Catholic worship in Marietta began as early as 1749 with Jesuits traveling with French explorers.) This structure served the parish until the early 1900s, when a new church was begun in the current location. The history of its construction is rather interesting (well, if you're history geek like me), and I encourage you to go read it.

Anyway, I forgot to take a photo of the exterior, so I borrowed this from the basilica web site, It really doesn't give a good impression of entry, which is beautiful. Statues of Sts. Peter and Paul flank the stairs. I explained to my mom the significance of the items they each hold (keys for St. Peter and a scroll and sword for St. Paul) and how such items are keys to identifying saints and martyrs.

Two of the most striking features of the church are the stunning stained-glass windows and the beautiful paintings. My home parish, St. John's Cathedral in Boise, has some beautiful examples of German leaded stained glass, so these always shout out to me. The basilica's windows are different in style but beautiful nonetheless.

The paintings are of various scenes: the sermon on the mount, Jesus' baptism, and so on. A renovation was done in the 70s to lighten and simplify the interior, and remove the high altar and rail. Now while I'm not typically happy with changes made during the fever of the Spirit of Vatican II (which sometimes grew into serious infections and wreckovations), I have to say that the sanctuary was still beautiful prior to the renovation. However, the color and art added in the 2008-2009 renovation really bring out the beauty of this church. Check out the restoration page to see the differences.

The twelve apostles surround the altar. Notice the image of the assumption behind the altar. You can also see the umbrellino to the right. The tintinnabulum on the left is not as visible. These are symbols of a church's status as a basilica.

Here's another shot of the Assumption, with the tintinnabulum in the lower left corner and the tabernacle in its proper place of honor.

I did not have a chance to ask anyone what relic is there in front of the crucifix, but I think it likely that it's a relic of the True Cross.

I think this might give a better impression of the colors in the windows. Here are some better shots.

So my mom and I stopped in front of this altar and considered it for a moment. I turned to her and said, "It looks like the Blessed Mother is giving Jesus a high five." And my mom covered her mouth and giggled and said, "I thought the same thing." As a scrupulously observant Catholic in her youth, she wasn't sure if she should say anything.

This beautiful altar for Mother of Perpetual Help is in the back of the church.

I wish I were a better photographer, but truly, I should be trusted with nothing more than a phone or cheap camera. However, even with my meager skills, I think the beauty of this church comes out.

Many people–many Christians and even Catholics—do not understand why the Church spends so much of its resources for its architecture and their interiors. The frequent complaint is that the Church could sell off everything and feed and house so many people. The complaint misses the mark on several points:
  • First, the Church is the largest complex of charitable organizations that has ever existed. The Church feeds more people, houses more people, educates more people, and cares for more sick people than any other institution now in existence or that has ever existed. They do this while still building beautiful churches and commissioning beautiful art.
  • Second, the Church holds much of its "treasure" as a trustee, as a guardian, for public benefit. It safeguards these cultural treasures so that they can be enjoyed by everyone and not simply by the highest bidder. It does not see itself as owner so much as caretaker.
  • Third, Christ said that we will always have the poor with us. If the Church sold off all of its art and architecture, the proceeds would feed and house the poor for a very short time. And then all of it would be gone into private hands. While it's held in trust, donations for the preservation of the works and for charitable purposes can be gathered.
  • Fourth, Catholic churches are not for the rich, the privileged, the parish, or patrons. Anyone can enter a Catholic church and spend time there in reflection. On my last business trip to San Francisco, I saw homeless people sleeping in the pews. I have seen at least one person sleeping in a stall in the men's room of our parish (during a particularly harsh winter). Our churches are for all of us, for anyone. Do the poor and homeless deserve less grandeur in which to contemplate God? The whole point of such decor is to elevate our minds to Him, whether we are rich or poor. To gut churches to address only material needs is to neglect the spiritual needs of many who otherwise would starve.

I love the beautiful reminders we have in our churches to remind us that what we see here dimly (even in such radiant beauty) is nothing compared to the beauty we will encounter in the face of our Lord.
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