Monday, August 26, 2013

NOW WHAT IS WRONG WITH A CHURCH ?

Former Sacred Heart Church Pymble

High on Pymble hill and right on the Pacific Highway the Spanish Mission style church that was Sacred Heart Pymble was an impressive , even beautiful sight. But the very location fronting the desperately busy Highway was its downfall . For though it gave the most dramatic witness to Faith in Jesus Christ by its bold presence to the thousands who pass it each day, for those who used it, especially on Saturday evenings and on Sundays and Feast Days, parking was hazardous and mostly remote. So, about 25 years ago, it was decided to sell the church and the fine Federation style Presbytery which can be partially seen on the right in the above photo to the local Municipal Council, and a new church and presbytery were built across the Highway and adjoining the Sacred Heart School. Regrettable, but necessary. So far so good.




                              The new Sacred Heart church Pymble -the presbytery is the 
                                        modern building to the left of the tower.
The above photograph is not unpleasant. The Highway passes immediately to the rear of the church as shown here.The "V" shaped roof skylight is a modernistic stained glass window of a red and orange abstract pattern which may symbolise fire or  something, and is situated above the area in front of the Altar.


                                        The interior of the church- note carefully the 
                                         Tabernacle perched on the extreme right.

It seems that the architects had taken little trouble to study Catholic  church architecture and or, were very badly briefed.

The property has direct frontage to the busy Pacific Highway, but because the land slopes away from the Highway , cut and fill procedures were adopted and the church is not visible from the Highway. No doubt the Municipal authorities would not have been happy about any request for access and egress from and to the Highway, but physical presence to the Highway would have been an important element of witness to the passing thousands each day. Access to the property is obtained primarily via a cul-de-sac off a side street from the Highway.

The church itself presents as an elongated diamond shape with a high pitched timber ceilinged roof along the elongated axis.The Sanctuary - if it is appropriate to use the term here- is at one of the shallow ends of the diamond shape and the entry is at the opposite shallow end.To the left as one enters, is the Sacristy next to a combined Crying Room and Meeting Room. The Sacristy leads into the Presbytery.The Parish office entry is just outside the Crying Room/Meeting Room.So much for the general arrangement.

The traditional arrangement has always been to have the Sacristy and any Work Sacristy , near to the Sanctuary to facilitate work on the Altar setting up for Mass,and ease of clearing the Altar and Sanctuary after Mass. And the Sacristy has usually been close to the Presbytery.

But in this case, the placement of the Presbytery and the Sacristy make it necessary for any movement from the Sacristy to the " Sanctuary" to be through the body of the Church.

The central visual focus for those in the church is the Celebrant's throne behind the  sole Altar set in the broad carpeted stage- like would have been /should have been, "Sanctuary". Above the throne is the very fine Crucifix which was rescued from the original Mission style church. But wait! You are thinking where is the Tabernacle in all this? 

                           The " Body,Blood Soul and Divinity" of Our Lord Jesus Christ 
                                in the Blessed Eucharist lies in the Tabernacle in the 
                                          darkness in front of the albed Acolyte. 

Yes,Emmanuel - God with us in the Blessed Sacrament is no longer the centre of attention, indeed He is shunted "offstage" waiting in the darkened wings as it were, until we, the new masters of the Universe have use for Him. Is it any wonder that people arriving at the Church , after nearly 21 years in  this building,have become confused about genuflecting, and most do not - or , if they do, very few genuflect toward the Tabernacle.

A couple of Sundays ago as I genuflected toward the Tabernacle I was confronted by a gent leaving the pew across the aisle from me, actually genuflecting to me with his back to the Tabernacle. Only one Class in the adjoining School is taught to genuflect to the Tabernacle out of about 12 Classes!.

Now, OK, deficiencies in education, both School education and education from the Pulpit are one thing - and both are areas of serious neglect in this case. But the building itself is conveying its message loud and clear. As MacLuhan said all those years ago : " the medium is the message". And in this case the building is clearly saying that What is over there offstage is NOT important. The guy in the big chair is IMPORTANT.

This church is a very big building and obviously a very expensive one with its soaring unsupported ceiling.But as a church, a Catholic Church, it is a terrible failure.It is simply a vast auditorium and a pretty attractive one -for a theatre perhaps, though the acoustics are not good.But as a Church, it is totally devoid of the sense of the sacred, ignores the Divine Presence in any appropriate way, makes practical operations associated with worship very difficult and absolutely lacks atmosphere. 

Even simple matters of devotion such as The Stations of the Cross are bizarrely attached facing the perimeter aisle to round columns which support the outer flat roof.They can only be seen by the Priest and Servers when the Stations are being prayed by the Congregation.Oh well, who knows about all this Catholic stuff anyway?

So there it is. A rather dismal situation really.Oh! I didn't tell you about the weird little Prayer Room - room enough for perhaps three people curiously tucked in behind the offstage wall the Tabernacle is backed against.As if one could rationally go to pray in a place " out of sight" of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament - Behind Him no less! Who could do something so mind-bogglingly absurd , almost sacrilegious?



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