Thursday, March 04, 2010

"They're Always There"

As our readers know, I was in St. Louis, Missouri, about a month ago to lead a workshop on sacred architecture with about sixty of the seminarians at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. (You can find recordings of the the lectures here.) If the Pontifical North American College is the Church's West Point, then Kenrick-Glennon must at the very least be its Annapolis. I hope eventually to set down my reflections on what I saw there, but one detail was particularly telling.

There was a small chapel directly across the hall from my guest room, a pleasant, dim little space where the Sanctissimum was reserved atop a simple but very traditional altar up against the wall that could have served as a textbook illustration for O'Connell or one of the other rubrical guides from before the Council--no gradines, the altar strong and clear in its shape and properly vested, God in His little round-sided house covered fully with a white veil, the tent of the presence, a little set of big six candlesticks and two low mass ones, if I remember correctly. A large, straightforward crucifix hung above it.

Wherever the Sacrament is, there is something of heaven, but I was particularly struck at how this well-known constellation of simple objects, with a bit of simple but subtle lighting and the power of memory and recognition, could transform a plain little room--and there was little on the walls save paint and, perhaps, a few icons here and there--into a true place of prayer. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the chapel had only recently been set up there, and was not, as one might assume, a relic of past ages.

This was, however not the detail that struck me. Several times I popped in to the chapel during my visit, a few times to pray and a few times in the hopes of taking a photo of this pleasant little sacred space for future inspiration should I ever need to design such a little chapel, and every time, well into the night, there were always at least two or three seminarians in there, kneeling and praying. I have to admit that, camera in hand, I was a bit annoyed--I didn't want to disturb them, but I did want a photo. It was by now nine-thirty at night and I was getting up the next morning at four-fifteen for the first flight back to Milwaukee. Forgive me, but it is hard to tell folks who design things--artists, architects and all the rest--that they're ever off duty. And, slightly and selfishly frustrated, the thought popped into my head: They're always there. But then I realized, yes, of course, they're always there, before the Eucharist.

I never did get a photo, but I left happy. This is why I have such high hopes for the future of the Church.