The Oasis

When we returned from our vacation in Holland, Michigan, to Ann Arbor, I attended Mass for the Assumption at the parish of St. Thomas the Apostle. It is a lovely old church, completed in 1899 and lacking the kitchy art of many 19th century churches. Instead it has tasteful stained glass windows, beautiful Italian marble columns marking off side aisles, and a large sanctuary with a striking alabaster altar.

They also have something new since the last time I visited: a (relatively) gigantic new tabernacle right behind the main altar. The tabernacle used to be in a little alcove off the to the side, as in many churches of traditional design after Vatican II. Since the true aggionamento of Benedict XVI, however, the faithful are beginning to dare to hope that Catholic Churches will look a little more, well, Catholic. I remember when I first converted in 1983 my parish church, St. Thomas More in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, still had statues of Mary and Joseph right there in the sanctuary, but within two years they had been moved to the "gathering space" just inside the front door, and then, only three years later, they were in the basement. Not long after they were moved again, and I had no idea where they had gone until a friend of mine in the Legion of Mary told me of finding the statue of Mary in the women's bathroom. They weren't exactly high art, but they weren't hideous, either.

The tabernacle at St. Thomas the Apostle also is not spectacularly beautiful as far as its artistic execution, but it is remarkable beautiful in what it is: an in-your-face statement that we are not ashamed of the doctrine of the Real Presence or of the Catholic understanding of the nature of the Incarnation. We do not think it a distraction to have this statement behind the main altar: we are grownups, and during a Mass we can focus on the altar without drifting into puerile reveries about That Big Thing behind Father. It was an insult from the start to make such an assumption in the first place.

Don't even get me started on ad orientem. The better parishes have already returned to it.


Andrew Casad said…
You'll be happy to know that the statutes of Mary, with Jesus, and Joseph from Chapel Hill which you mentioned are now grouped together in an oft frequented devotional area in the main body the new church of St Thomas More on the site where the school would have been in 1989.
Vitae Scrutator said…
Thanks for the update--it's great to hear. I was last in Chapel Hill in 2009, and was rather startled--and saddened--to see that the old St. Thomas More church and rectory had been demolished and replaced with some kind of McMansion or other. But I visited the new church and really liked it. It is much larger than the old church, which I suppose is a good sign!

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