Saturday, May 12, 2007

To Be Contemporary

The common discourse on modern church architecture, it seems to me, regularly uses the notion of what is contemporary in too narrow a sense. Those who explicitly insist on being of today should indeed expect that tomorrow they will be considered of yesterday. The Christian immersed in the life rhythm of the Church claims much larger dimensions for his today, in geographical space as well as historical time. I think of the Requiem Mass for my brother inside the rotunda of St. Micael's in Fulda, a church dating back eleven hundred years. I think of the High Mass in Notre Dame on the feast of Corpus Christi, when the sequence Lauda Sion made me suddenly aware that a professor at the Paris university, Thomas Aquinas, had composed these lines seven hundred years earlier, and that he might have listened to its first recital in this very same cathedral.

And I think of a Mass in 1963, inside the church built by one of Antonio Gaudi’s students in memory of the martyrs of Nagasaki, a building rich in visual symbolism, with steeples reaching like two bare arms into the same sky out of which had fallen, in 1945, the atomic bomb. All this, undoubtedly, belongs to my own today: the Gregorian chant, the traditional words, and also the church buildings! What is the unifying principle here, tying together all these thoroughly different buildings, bridging distances of a thousand years, and making them truly contemporary? It is alone the fact that every one of these buildings, right from the beginning, had been conceived and erected as shelter for the one and ever identical sacred action that makes such a building, in name and in fact, an aedes sacra a sacred space.

— Josef Pieper, In Search of the Sacred


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