Monday, May 11, 2009

Looking for the best of both worlds

This past Saturday I went on a mission to find Confession available in the morning, and my ensuing adventure ended up symbolizing my current feelings on the Liturgy and church architecture. Here's what happened.

Act I: Knowing that I had two Tower Grove kickball games in the afternoon, I perused the Archdiocesan website for AM Confession. You would think in a town with Catholic churches every mile or so there would be plenty, but that was not the case. Interestingly, the only parishes offering Absolution before lunch were housed in very mid-century modern buildings. There has to be some symbolism there.

Act II: At 9AM I drove down unexplored South City streets to St. Stephen the Protomartyr in Holly Hills. (10 points for the multi-syllabic name.) Upon arriving, I found many parishioners - Knights of Columbus?- hard at work landscaping. The church appeared to be one of those "Chicago Style" places where the school came first (1931). After decades of Mass in the school basement or auditorium, the "real" church was completed in 1962.

I'm always fascinated by these barely Pre-Vatican II churches. They retain the bare bones of a traditional structure, but also try hard to be hip with the times. The floorplan is still cruciform and confessionals are still booths, but everything is very simple and streamlined. Artwork is present, but minimalist or stylized.

My new Protomartyr friend certainly delivered on the geometric shapes and non-traditional stained-glass. I think the window depicts St. Stephen having his heavenly vision.

I felt right at home in this modernist place, but I was a little put off by the commotion of altar guild ladies watering plants and whatnot. (I was also afraid they would yell at me for taking pictures.) Confession was also, um, interesting. The priest curtly rushed through his advice, like he was annoyed to be in a penitential box at this hour of the morning. It was rather ironic to have someone bark at me to trust in God and go "get to know Jesus better" in prayer. Something must have been bothering this impatient man. Maybe the altar guild ladies had been nagging him.

So I went to a pew for my reflective penance... and I could. not. pray. Between the plant-watering and chatting in the sacristy and lurking tabernacle in the back corner, I couldn't really concentrate on Jesus. So I took a few pictures and left.

Act III: I had been planning to photograph the Old Cathedral anyway, so I went up the highway to the riverfront. The Basilica of St. Louis the King is the oldest cathedral west of the Mississippi, completed in 1834. Its elegant neo-classical interior is unusual in this city.

Ahh, much better. It was easy to spot Jesus here.

Some tourists milled about, but they paid heed to the sign requesting "reverent silence." We smiled at each other as we walked by the statues and other artwork. Two women arranged flowers for a wedding later in the day, but they spoke in hushed tones.

Kneeling in the warm sunshine that poured in the west windows, I spent longer than my required 10 minutes of "get to know Jesus time."

Finis: So there you have my current Eucharistic mental dilemma. Respect and appreciation, but also skepticism for the spare modern buildings and cheesy guitar hymns that formed me as a Christian. A longing for reverent silence and beauty that is welcoming, not intimidating.

What do you think? Which church do you like better?


Dad Wms said...

Hi, Sarah, don't know if you remember Laura/Rachel's parents but I (mom) found your very interesting blog on Mr. Westhoff's. Wow, I can relate with your morning confession fiasco. A similar, disappointing experience was had at Confession in the new Gainesville Holy Trinity Church on Holy Saturday. We were trying to squeeze in one more confession before Easter, the din of the chatter from all the "penitents" in line was way too distracting. Rachel commented that it shouldn't be an occasion of sin to wait in line for Confession! (We'll keep praying that people can behave better in every House of God.)
Anyway, we hope your work in St. Louis will continue to nourish and strengthen you! God bless!
Mrs. Williams

Dad Wms said...

Sarah, me again - have you tried St. Francis De Sales Oratory (cathedral) downtown? Here is a link about it. We were there last year and it was beautiful. Amazing how many beautiful churches are there. (btw, there's a German restaurant not far away with great food!)
Mrs. W.

Dad Wms said...

Sarah said...

Mrs. Williams - of course I remember your family! Thanks for visiting my little corner of the blogosphere.

Thanks also for the tip about St. Francis de Sales - I actually went there for the first time a few weeks ago and thought it was gorgeous. (I think my photos from that Sunday are in my April posts.) We really are spoiled for pretty churches out here.