Why is interior parish church architecture so crummy from a liturgical standpoint?
It’s my strong belief that a parish church should be designed around the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. More specifically churches should be primarily designed to best facilitate the faithful’s exposure (of all five senses) to the sacrifice taking place atop the altar – the best representation of Calvary as possible. Sadly I have never been in a church that did this – or at least as well as today’s architecture and engineering allows.
On the one hand who have those who feel all churches must look like most did in the past when there was a dearth of advanced design/engineering and available materials. If it’s not long and skinny with transepts it’s not good to these people.
The problem is that such structures typically have horrible sight lines, the acoustics are horrible and most of all, there is no feeling of unity. People in the front are enraptured (or they just want to be seen), people mid way back are looking at their watches and struggling with kids and people in the back are nodding off. Micro-conversations are taking place here and there. There is no unity. While I can certainly understand why most churches once were designed this way, I have no idea why anyone would build such a structure today.
On the other hand we have the common square box/utilitarian church structures that are common today. They have ground away most of the positive aspects of the older designs while rarely adding back anything that is positive. Often they incorporate good designs which are badly executed.
The reason I ask is that I was sitting in a world renowned concert hall a few nights ago and I was stunned at how intimate it felt. It felt like it might have held 400 people. I was stunned to learn it held 2,300. As I was waiting for the program to begin I thought "block-off 300 seats (so now one would be behind the sanctuary), add some furnishings and figure out an orderly way to distribute communion and you’d have the finest church of its size I have ever been in. Even with pews/kneelers it would have held 2,000 people with a very intimate feel. Even more intriguing was the thought of a parish church in this design holding about 1,200 people.
Why aren’t churches designed like that? Is it a matter of past prejudices and politics? Is architectural expertise in concert hall design simply that far ahead of churches? While the interior of this building was by no means fancy or opulent, it is a very expensive structure so perhaps budgets are to blame? I find this to be a very interesting subject.