The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

The hallmark of a truly beautiful church

The simmering thread about church music got me to thinking about church architecture. (No, I’m not going to start another Top 10 list…but it’s tempting…)

I remembered a conversation I had when I met Fr. George Rutler, at his magnificent church, Church of Our Savior. I commented about how beautiful the church was and he replied, proudly, “You know how you can tell if a church is really beautiful? It’s the brides. If a lot of brides want to be married there, you’ve got a pretty church.” 

Truer words were never spoken. At my parish, (shown above) we get calls from all over the city, from brides asking to be married there. (Among other things, we have a looooong aisle.) But we have a strongly enforced policy — no weddings unless you’re in the parish — and that keeps the number of weddings manageable. Otherwise, we’d be booked solid every week, and Pachelbel’s Canon would never quit.


But don’t get me started on wedding music. Please. 

Meantime, Fr. Rutler’s church is below.  
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Deacon Norb

posted July 8, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Thanks for this post. I work at a parish in a small city but one that has maybe a dozen other Roman Catholic churches within a thirty minute driving time. We have more weddings at our place annually than any the rest of those other local parishes many times over ! Part of it is the beauty of our main sanctuary but also part of it is that the area parochial high school (right across the street) uses our church as the site of its weekly all-school masses. A lot of brides fell in love with the place while still in high school.
We are open to having weddings for non-parishioners but they do have to accept a church-use fee that is 60+% more than the one the parishioners are charged. In fact, this year alone we had two weddings for folks who live (and thus went through their wedding preparation process) in a distant diocese.
In past years, we have also been a stop on the local “Visit the Houses of Worship” tour.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I understand the strict rules about only parishoners getting married in the ‘pretty’ parish. However, people who enforce those rules can’t complain about he fall in marriages in the Church.
A good friend was born and raised (and still lives) in a parish with a very, very ugly church. She wants to get married in the Catholic Church… but not there (lots of reasons but the uglyness of the parish is a huge one). In the end she figured that sthey will just get married in another location and get the marriage convalidated later. Hopefully they will remember to get the convalidation.

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Deacon Norb

posted July 8, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Margaret: This is really not that big a deal.
–A couple can get married in the home parish of either sets of parents, or either of their own home parishes (assuming they have moved away from home and registered in those parishes as independent adults), or even the Cathedral parish of that diocese without hardly any extra permission needed. It DOES NOT have to be the parish of the bride/bride’s family.
–If — as independent adults — they already live or plan to live within the territorial limits of a parish where they would like to celebrate their wedding, all they have to do is officially join as members.
–IF both are registered as individuals in other parishes than the one they would like to use for their ceremony, all that is needed is a written “indult” from their home pastor. I have NEVER had a pastor refuse a request for that “indult” — these pastors are usually so delighted that the couple want to get married in a Catholic setting that any such request is honored promptly.
But maybe the Midwest is different!

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posted July 8, 2010 at 5:23 pm

I can tell you that Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Monticeto (Santa Barbara), also new home of Al Gore, is certainly an exception. That church is so beautiful (web site pics don’t do it justice), that EVERYONE wants to get married there. It’s not only a “beautiful church, a modern day replica of the old CA mission churches, it’s also “beautiful people” (some ride their horses to mass), beautiful scenary outside (set in the lush ocean view hills of Santa Barbara), and if I must say, “beautiful after mass coffee”. OLMC has an “expresso machine outside after mass. It also shares the locaiton with “beautiful neighbors” for any into celebs (Orpah Winfrey, Rob Lowe, Dr. Laura, and Dennis Miller are 4 that I know of who have homes in the neighborhood).
The first time I ever attented mass there, I was simply stunned, almost overwhelmed as I have a great fondness for beauty and history of the CA Missions. Best part, I really love the priests who are there; even spent my Holy Week there this past year.
The bulletin clearly states every week that for any wedding to take place, either the bride or groom (parents don’t qualify), have to be registered a year in advance. That pretty much eliminates everyone except the locals, but I think it’s a good thing. If they weren’t so strict about it, it would be a “wedding marathon, 7 days a week.”
Rumor has it that Jennifer Lopez was scheduled to be married there before the location got leaked. I’m not sure if that is true, for several reasons, but the media certainly believed it was happening.
I strongly recommend anyone ever driving up the CA coast (highway 101), to get off the Monticeto exit and have a visit; it’s beautiful beyond words; indeed a dream chuch for any bride, even non Catholic brides. It’s hard to take one’s eyes off of the alter as it’s truly transcending.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 6:49 pm

To accomodate our growing parish a new church was built on the
existing property, the ‘old’ church became a community center..pews w/kneelers were sold off.
The new church is devoid of any icons/statues, only cloth banners herald the liturgical seasons, chairs no kneelers.
A new depiction of the Blessed Mother was relegated to the courtyard.
Made of bronze-I think-She is the artist’s conception of what She would have looked like seated, late in Her life. Our Lady sits atop a pedestal, a small bench facing. Forgive me…the first time I saw this I had no idea who it was. So Sad.
The church is built in the round, beams high above are exposed; there is no long aisle just several short ones radiate from the center. It’s not uncommon to hear “where’s the church”? after entering the front doors-it’s so austere. All this to blend with the southwestern location somewhere near Dallas Tx.
We have decided to attend the only parish celebrating the Traditional Mass for miles around. I miss the beautiful churches back home, one is being dismantled bit by bit to rise up again in a Georgia parish.
Thank you for sharing with me. God Bless…

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R Plavo

posted July 8, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Father Greeley was right: as soon as we got rid of the legalism of the pre vatican II church, it came rushing back with all kinds of rules about weddings; some couples are literally put through hell to get married in a catholic church of their choosing…..4x the cost???fee????if not a parishoners….what a shame….Catholic weddings are way down, anyone wonder why?

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posted July 8, 2010 at 8:33 pm

I got married the first time in my parish church — newly built, utilitarian, with nothing you could refer to as aisle and… not quite finished. The floor was ripped up three days before the wedding. We set up folding chairs, we put a white runner down so I wouldn’t rip the bottom of my dress. The parish office was in a tizzy, neither I or my mother cared.
I was married the second time in one of those church’s brides line up to get married in. (My parish, yes.) Long aisle, beautiful old Italian marble altar, stained glass windows…it still takes my breath away after almost a quarter century in the parish.
Yet, when I think of each of these ceremonies, the setting each time seems equally beautiful — what I remember are the people gathered, the sense of “God with us” in that moment, and the graces that supported us as we went forward.
Though now that I think of it, the length of the aisles might have been a portent. We did not see our sixth anniversary the first time (before anyone is scandalized, I was widowed!)… and so maybe brides should be looking for long aisles!?

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posted July 8, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Klaire, you are right about Our Lady of Mount Carmel. My parents were married there 51 years ago. It’s a good thing the rules were looser then — my parents both lived in L.A. (mom left Santa Barbara after high school) and got married there because it was her brother’s church.

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Deacon Norb

posted July 9, 2010 at 7:37 am

The original theme of this posting was beautiful churches. Let me put five out for your consideration:
–The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of the Catholic University of America in Washington DC.
–The Cathedral Church of Mary, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary in Toledo Ohio.
–Church of the Gesu, across the street from the campus of John Carroll University in Cleveland Ohio.
–Church of the Resurrection in Lexington Ohio
–Church of Saints John and Elizabeth in Grayson Kentucky.
These three would be Honorable Mention:
–Church of Our Lady of Victory in Seaside Oregon — but I have to say that the parish is involved in a capital campaign to build a new facility so I have to reserve judgement here. The old one was a clone of a typical New England style white clapboard church made totally of wood.
–Saint Elizabeth Bailey Seton Chapel, Sacred Heart Retreat Center in Gallup New Mexico — on a hill-top in the Hopi Indian Reservation. Lots of Native American and natural materials used in its interior.
–Byzantine Mission Church of Saint Nicholas in New Orleans — this facility was all but totally destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. I have not seen it since it was in tatters but I have been convinced that it is even more beautiful than before.

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A thought

posted July 9, 2010 at 10:39 am

While Our Savior in Manhattan is a beautiful church, it seems to be a conglomeration of styles and very busy. The addition of all those rather large icons added to the mish mash. Two of the icons happen to be of Saints George and Dorothy. Why you ask? They were the names of the pastor’s parents.

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Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher

posted July 9, 2010 at 10:48 am

Deacon Greg – the rose window at your parish is stunning! And the icon behind the altar at Fr. Rutler’s parish is lovely!
If you are ever in Anchorage, check out St. Nicholas Byzantine Parish – it is a lovely little church!
And in Juneau, the Shrine of St. Therese, surrounded by trees on a little island, accessible by a causeway, is a gem.

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Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher

posted July 9, 2010 at 10:57 am

Here’s a picture of the outside of the Shrine Chapel – the pictures on the website of the interior are pre-renovation. The renovated chapel is beautiful!

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Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher

posted July 9, 2010 at 11:05 am

Miles Schmidt

posted July 9, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I love St. Patrick’s Church in NY and the cathedral in Covington, KY (across from Cincinnati, OH)! How gorgeous both are!

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posted July 11, 2010 at 10:20 pm

I was fortunate to have a chance to visit the Cathedral of St. Helena in Helena Montana this year. It is very beautiful.

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posted July 12, 2010 at 4:17 am

The top picture is an epitomy of what is wrong, or gone wrong in the last 40 years. Where is the front of the high altar? Why RIP it out in the first place. Turning a sanctuary into a shrubbery will not hide the schism of mind that thinks this acceptable! The Pope has called for a restoration. Time to put the altar back,,,restore the high altar. Restore tht altar railings and at least put in a temporary alatr on wheels or use the restored high altar for Mass Eastward facing!
father Rutlers church looks far better!
[Chris…re: “shrubbery,” the picture was taken during Easter, so there was more foliage than usual around the altar. Re: altar rails. You can’t see it, but the altar rail is still there — it’s the original, installed in 1939, made of marble, at the entrance to the sanctuary. What had once been the high altar is now the altar for the tabernacle. (Unlike many churches, at my parish the tabernacle containing our Lord sits in a place of prominence.) And finally, when the priest celebrates mass at that altar, facing the congregation, he IS facing East.]

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