It is very easy to get caught up in the slogans of ideologies. Movements that tend to start out seeking good change in any institution often end up going off the rails. This has been the case throughout our human history since the First Fall of man. It is just as true today. In the 1960s there was a movement in the Church that within a few years, perhaps by the 1970s even, all Christian denominations would return to the Catholic fold. Churches at the time were designed with an un-Catholic sensibility. The best example is St. Thomas More in Norman on the campus of The University of Oklahoma. It is my home parish. It is where my first Mass as a priest was celebrated. It is where I made my First Holy Communion. It looks nothing like a Church.
It was designed by a Buddhist architect. There is no fixed sanctuary where the altar would stand. Instead about ten raised and movable platforms were built. For parts of my early life the chairs (there were no pews, and no one knelt at all) faced each other with the platforms in the middle. On top of the platforms, in the middle of the chairs facing each other, was a very long sanctuary that stretched the entire length of the Church. On one end of the Church the priest sat front and center. Then midway down the line of platforms was the altar right in the middle of the Church. Then at the very end of this long runway of platforms was the ambo (pulpit), where the readings and homily were proclaimed. But the ambo faced the altar and the priest. So everything was turned inward.
St. Thomas More was designed this way because they thought Protestants would come streaming back to the Church in droves. It didn’t happen. As many of you know the 1960s had a unique take on the future. It was supposed to be an enlightened age. It was supposed to be the Age of Aquarius. About 15 years ago one of the pastors of St. Thomas More tried to rearrange the Church so that it looked more like a Catholic Church. It was an awkward fit. Eventually Archbishop Beltran informed the parish they must begin kneeling during the Eucharistic prayer just like all other Catholic parishes. So we used garden kneeler pads as kneelers. You would enter the Church, put your host in the ciborium to be consecrated, and pick up a garden kneeler. Thankfully St. Thomas More has a wonderful visionary pastor who has just begun construction on a new, beautiful, and traditional Church. It should be dedicated this spring! The current Church will become a parish hall.
Our human experience is that it is easy to get caught up in movements and ideologies. We invent slogans to demean what came before. This is a given in the political sphere. It should not be the case when it comes to the Catholic Faith. Our one job in this life is to receive what has been handed on to us and pass it to the generation to follow us. The last 50 years has seen such fragmentation in the Church. Sadly I hear many slogans that seek to disparage what was supposed to be handed on to us. Many of us who are young don’t want Churches designed by Buddhists. We desire a Church that is not the sum of passing ideologies, fads, or fashions. We’ve done our research. The young today desire one thing, just one thing in this world that isn’t constantly changing or influx. That used to be the Church. It is my hope this can one day be said again about Holy Mother Church! -Fr. W.