Here's one parish that chose to build a beautiful edifice, meant to endure
We are just about to break ground for a beautiful new church in my parish in Greenville, South Carolina. Whenever Catholics plan to lay out a significant sum of money to ensure their worship is beautiful, invariably someone will complain that the money should be spent on the poor.
This is known as “Judas’ Argument” since it was Judas Iscariot who said the rich ointment used to worship Jesus should have been sold and the money given to the poor. That’s a snide put down. In fact there are very worthy and good reasons for Catholics to build beautiful churches.
First of all, the Catholic faith is incarnational faith. We believe that the Son of God took flesh of the Blessed Virgin and entered this physical realm of human history. That transaction within history registers as the expression of God’s everlasting beautiful made real and visible in the world. A beautiful Catholic Church proclaims the beauty of God made visible.
A beautiful church also represents the sacrifices of time, talent and treasure to build such a temple fit for God. “This is not just a meeting hall!” the beautiful Catholic Church proclaims. “This is a temple where God dwells in our midst as Christ his Son came to dwell in our midst.”
Our new church is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. Many churches were dedicated to the Blessed Virgin because she, in a most unique way, is the temple of God on earth. She is beautiful. She is full of grace. She is transcendent and eternal because of the graces received from her Son. So too, the Catholic Church should be a silent witness to these truths.
A beautiful Catholic church says, “Here we have built a temple that is beautiful and transcendent and full of God’s presence and grace. Here the Son of God dwells in his sacramental presence, so this great Church reminds us of the Blessed Virgin, and if a reminder of her, then a reminder that her destiny is the destiny of each one of us. We too are called to be temples of the Holy Spirit. We too are called to be transformed by hard work, sacrifice and God’s grace to become everlastingly beautiful. We too are called to an eternal destiny.
Here’s another reason: a beautiful Catholic church proclaims our values. It says, “This church is going to last 1000 years. It will be so beautiful that no one will dare to tear it down. We believe in the eternal truths that are so beautiful and true and everlasting that no one can ever destroy them. Furthermore, we believe in values that are everlasting and never change. We aim to live lives that are as solid and dignified and beautiful and true and everlasting as this building. Our doctrinal truths, our moral truths, our love, our life, our joy– all of these are everlasting and this church speaks silently and eloquently that what we hold dear we are willing to invest in, and we are willing to sacrifice much to build a witness that will last long after we are gone. This will speak to believers and unbelievers a truth that is beyond words and which will lift them to prayer which is beyond words.
In every age people spend money building beautiful temples to their gods. If you want to see what gods a society worships look around for the beautiful buildings. Which buildings in our cities are built with marble, fountains, high ceilings, silver and gold fittings, oriental carpets and fine furnishings? Banks and insurance companies mostly. There you find the temples we have built to our gods.
Then look at so many modern Catholic Churches– built on the cheap with tawdry materials, cut corners, shoddy workmanship, poor design by ignorant architects who are working for their own glory trying to "be creative." A beautiful, traditional Catholic Church protests against all of that vulgarity and low life with great dignity and power.