"WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, MICHELANGELO? THE LOSS OF SOUL IN CATHOLIC CULTURE."
By Thomas Day, New York: Crossroad, 1993.
Reviewed by James McCoy
Mark Twain taught that "there is nothing in the world that can stand up to
laughter," and Thomas Day levels most modern church architecture with
explosive paroxisms of it. And having followed his merry demolition job
and cheery constructive proposals, Catholics can understand why
worshipping in many parishes today we feel like creatures in an Escher
Day casts the first stone at modern American Catholicism's glass house of
worship. "Environment and Art in Catholic Worship," one of the documents
that orbit the National Conference of Catholic Bishops like satellites,
wants church architecture to be not only humanly comfy, but also
numinously awefull. The result is simply awful, for you can't have it both
ways: to center on man is necessarily to marginalize God, Day argues.
The clearest example of this anthropocentric turn, as he points out, is
the fact that in many churches the priest has replaced the Blessed
Sacrament as the center of attention at our liturgies. In the place where
the tabernacle used to be, nowadays the celebrant typically sits on a
Day's diagnosis for all that makes us feel disease in our contemporary
experiences of worship is this idolatry of personality. And not just the
priest is held up to be idolized, but also the totems of songleaders,
readers, explainers and, in the end, us men in the pews.
This cult of self-worship was first investigated by Day in , (to which is sequel and
secondary). In it he pointed out that our current liturgical custom of
singing in the first person as if we were God (e.g., "I the Lord of wind
and sky...") is completely without precedent in the history of Christian
worship. But this occult self-worship is nothing more than the logical
conclusion of sacred music, liturgy and architecture which center ever
more on us men, instead of on our salvation.
Not only routinely ignored publications of the Bishops' Committee on the
Liturgy, but even the sacred teachings of the Second Vatican Council, are
in for Day's artful commentary.
Having actually bothered to read its "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,"
Day lists pro-Latin conciliar statements such as "the Latin language is to
be preserved," "steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be
able to say or sing together in Latin those parts...of the Mass which
pertain to them," and "the Church acknowledges Gregorian Chant as proper
to the Roman Liturgy...it should be given pride of place in liturgical
On the other hand, Day writes, "we have what looks like a small but
militant army of opponents who insist that the last vestiges of Latin must
be purged from the liturgy for all time, because this is what Vatican II
wanted... Thus we have the odd situation where the Church's 'official
policy' on Latin seems to be going in opposite directions at the same
And the traditional liturgy doesn't even gain the glory of a bloody
martyrdom: "Instead, the liturgical use of Latin is treated the way an
important but inconvenient figure (the "unperson") used to be treated in
Soviet history books; it is simply erased from memory; it never existed ."
The joke, what's the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist?
(answer: you can negotiate with a terrorist), burst the bubble reputation
of ultimate liturgical participation which the aging children of God
consider their masterwork.
"Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, insofar as
it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition,
resists and limits the power of its predecessors," C.S. Lewis writes in
Lewis prophesied that a generation will come which so absolutely rejects
the traditional wisdom of all previous generations and so powerfully
conditions "by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by education and
propaganda" all subsequent generations that it is the "master generation."
The ultimate irony, as Lewis showed, is that this master generation,
having abolished perennial wisdom, can only live as slaves to their own
ephemeral feelings. And by that abolition (since, as Vatican 11 taught,
man can only find himself in the sincere gift of himself to something
which transcends himself) it will have brought about the abolition of man.
Day likewise ends in darkness. The final chapter is "What Does it All
"We must surely be living in a dangerous era, when any religion begins to
treat human beings as if they were...without imagination, without the gift
of a soul, without art. We would expect (this of) dictators, radical
political theorists and others who have a low opinion of people...but in
religion this sort of thing is bad news. It means the end of that idea of
a special, creating human "soul," and the beginning of an age when people
in churches will be manipulated as if they were stupid machines-- easily
turned on or off (with a gimmick) by smart machines. It means head for the
Day insists that it's a category mistake to say that his critique is
"conservative" or "liberal"--and he's right, because it's based on pure
tradition. H.L. Menchen once wrote, "In a democratic society, it is not
the iconoclast who seems most revolutionary, but the purist." This saying
seems verified in the American Church, where iconoclasm has become the
McCoy is a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Catholic.
Taken from the April 21 issue of the Arlington Catholic Herald.