The changes to church interiors after Vatican 2


I must totally disagree. A church building is not just any building.



The liturgical movement leading up to Vatican II was heavily influenced by Pius XII’s encyclical on the Church, Mystici Corporis, with its renewed emphasis on the entire Church–including the laity–being one body. Those in the movment also wanted to emphasize the important dimension of corporate worship–one body offering one and the same sacrifice.

This influenced the push for more active participation–all should be praying the same Mass as one (rather than some saying the Rosary, some saying other private prayers, etc.).

Along those lines it was deemed suitable that everyone’s focus should be on the one sacrifice on the altar. Anything that was a distraction to this: side altars, ornate reredos, art and statutes of saints, and even the tabernalcle was often removed to achieve this goal–this unity of focus. This was even the original motivation for turning the priest around so the people could see the sacrifice on the altar better.

Vatican II, despite not really addressing this architectural aspect, was seen as a general stamp of approval for liturgical reform and even experimentation–the most radical members of the liturgical movement just ran with it after that.

Of course, there were many different (and even conflicting) motivations that exploded after the Council. Some took “aggiornamento” to mean dumping anything old and adopting everything modern–including architecture (and unfortunately, those days didn’t have the best architectural fads IMO). Some made churches more stark for ecumenical concerns.

But as has been mentioned, this happened everywhere, not just Germany.

1 Like


Edwest I don’t believe anyone here said that a church is just like any building.

We are saying that there are many beautiful ways to design a Catholic church which reflects the culture of the worshiping community. I am from Europe and love old Medieval churches. However it is perfectly possible to have a modern church that is also orthodox in all it’s elements, beautiful and sympathetic and reflective of the local culture. I believe that it what other commentators are saying, please don’t jump to negative conclusions.

1 Like


That’s not true. Especially experimentation. I was in Catholic School before and after Vatican II. We had a missal with the Latin and English on the same page. We responded in Latin, we all stood up and sat down as indicated, we all sang, even if a few of us were not that good. There could not have been more active participation.

Usually, a few older women would stay after Mass to pray. Or come in on days when the Church doors were open, not just on Feast Days and so on.

Unity of focus was not what those statues meant or the candles in front of them meant. I was taught, as was my mother who was from a foreign country, that these were lit for a special intention or person (usually someone who was sick). The tarbernacle was always on the high altar at the end of the center aisle. It was never moved elsewhere. That is where the container with hosts was placed. It was integral.

1 Like


My point was not that the liturgical movement “experts” were right, but merely what their motivation was. In my opinion, they seemed to me like ivory tower types with little real pastoral experience or knowledge of what the laity really wanted/needed.

You’re lucky that your tabernacle was not moved or that you didn’t experience the most painful deformations in the name of “experimentation.”



I can’t know where you got that impression of “ivory tower” types. Here, Pope Benedict explains the situation very well.

"In the first place, there is the fear that the document detracts from the authority of the Second Vatican Council, one of whose essential decisions – the liturgical reform – is being called into question.

"This fear is unfounded. In this regard, it must first be said that the Missal published by Paul VI and then republished in two subsequent editions by John Paul II, obviously is and continues to be the normal Form – the Forma ordinaria – of the Eucharistic Liturgy. The last version of the Missale Romanum prior to the Council, which was published with the authority of Pope John XXIII in 1962 and used during the Council, will now be able to be used as a Forma extraordinaria of the liturgical celebration. It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were “two Rites”. Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.

“As for the use of the 1962 Missal as a Forma extraordinaria of the liturgy of the Mass, I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted. At the time of the introduction of the new Missal, it did not seem necessary to issue specific norms for the possible use of the earlier Missal. Probably it was thought that it would be a matter of a few individual cases which would be resolved, case by case, on the local level. Afterwards, however, it soon became apparent that a good number of people remained strongly attached to this usage of the Roman Rite, which had been familiar to them from childhood. This was especially the case in countries where the liturgical movement had provided many people with a notable liturgical formation and a deep, personal familiarity with the earlier Form of the liturgical celebration. We all know that, in the movement led by Archbishop Lefebvre, fidelity to the old Missal became an external mark of identity; the reasons for the break which arose over this, however, were at a deeper level. Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.”



It was a well known criticism at the time that the leaders of the liturigcal movement often had little pastoral experience on the ground (see for example, Archbishop Bugnini in Rome or Frs. McManus and Weakland (later a bishop) in the US). Masie Ward (Frank Sheed’s wife) in her “Cri de Coeur” written in 1961 on the changes in the liturgy being proposed at the time discusses the disconnect she found between the reformers she met and the laity and how it seemed like an academic exercise to them (and she was not opposed to change at all).

As Cardinal Heenan famously noted at the 1967 Synod of Bishops:

Like all the bishops I offer my sincere thanks to the Consilium. Its members have worked well and have done their best. I cannot help wondering, however, if the Consilium as at present constituted can meet the needs of our times. For the liturgy is not primarily an academic or cultural question. It is above all a pastoral matter for it concerns the spiritual lives of our faithful. I do not know the names of the members of the Consilium or, even more important, the names of their consultors. But after studying the so called Normative Mass it was clear to me that few of them can have been parish priests.

He goes into detail after that.

Here’s how a US priest who lived through it describes how “experts” ran the show:

The “experts” were given permission to make a few adjustments. They made more than a few. It was a little like telling your 19-year old child, “Now while we’re visiting your great uncle Reinhold down in Boca Vista Palma Bella, you can have a few friends over, but nothing wild and NO beer!” Inevitably you will come to a smoking ruin, a gaping hole where your little cottage with the white picket fence had been, and you will be living in a motel for quite a while.

People like me who remember the tradition are getting fewer. A few men, who were considered “experts” forced the Church into radical separation from the unbroken continuity of her liturgical history during the twentieth century. I suspect these experts were really good at church-craft.

Some bishops felt much more comfortable in a discussion with accountants and heating contractors than they did with theologians. One of the finest and kindest bishops I ever knew, who is now long dead, actually once said in response to a religious question, “Don’t ask me. I’m not much of a theologian.”

This is certainly not true of all the bishops, but I suspect it was true of some. They were made to feel inadequate to the task by experts who were only too glad to tell them what to think and sweeping changes were made because, “Well, this is what the experts are telling us.” This is evident in the architecture of the time. Experts decided that churches be trashed, and Communion rails were ripped out and Formica replaced marble. I know a contractor who told me once that his family had prospered first by pulling all the old stuff out, and then putting it all back in. They just had to wait until the next wave of experts weighed in.

1 Like


Our tastes definitely do not match, at least in one case. I do not like what Liverpudlians call ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’. It isn’t because I don’t like modern. My parish church is modern and I do like it. I do agree about Westminster Cathedral and wonder how wonderful it may have been had it been completed. I have never been to St Wilfrid’s in Preston but your posted photo makes we want to as it would not be too far for me to travel.



In the best of worlds, Stations are not part of the church where the Mass is celebrated. The focus is fully on the Mass.



Hmm - - I am not familiar with that idea that they should not be in the church. May I ask where would they be best placed, according to your view?



We always had Stations of the Cross inside the Church.

1 Like


I recall a humorous saying of the time:

Q. What’s the difference between a Liturgist and a terrorist?

A. You can negotiate with a terrorist.

1 Like


That’s fine, but that’s not optimal. The focus should be on the altar of sacrifice and the celebration of the Mass.



I’m pretty well acquainted with the documents of VII, and there isn’t a single word in them as far as I know which would justify destroying beautiful Catholic architecture and replacing it with ugly banality.

Many people who I suspect were either ignorant and never actually read the documents of VII or who had malicious intents used the “Vatican II permitted it” excuse to do whatever they wanted in the last decades of the 20th century after the Council.

Luckily the Church is regaining her bearings and this sort of thinking is going the way of the dodo, and many of the younger generations of Priests and laity alike are recovering much of the beauty and tradition which was lost during those turbulent years.



Facts matter. Not opinions. The Stations of the Cross was a separate service.

1 Like


Yes, that is what is happening.



Which ideally belong in a different space.



Why would the Stations of the Cross belong in a separate space than in the church? They are not held during Mass. The Stations are a distinct devotion, which properly belongs in the church. Where else would we have them–in the gym?



When I was a protestant and reading the biography of Martin Luther, there were stories of his followers destroying the insides of Catholic churches at that time also.

I do believe that those born after WW2, the baby boomers who mostly grew up in the late 50’s and 60’s were not well catechized and they passed this on to the next generation.

I am a young baby boomer, who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and the catechesis was pretty much nothing when the 70’s hit and when I listen to older baby boomers, not all but some just don’t seem to want to grasp what the Church had been throughout history.

but fortunately I do believe there is a restoration in the making.



That is inaccurate. The Baltimore Catechism was the standard. Officially, the cut-off date for “baby boomers” is 1965. Starting in 1970, wolves in sheep’s clothing began to dismantle proper catechesis in Catholic schools. Catholics, as a group, were far more faithful during the time period you mention.

Yes, a restoration is occurring.

1 Like

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit