Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sacred Interiors

The Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament
St. Clement's Eucharistic Shrine, Boston MA

It's quite easy to instigate a heresy, intentionally or otherwise. In our household, we are dealing with a self-inflicted controversy we call "The Donutist Heresy."

You see, when the children were little we enticed them towards good behavior in church by promising them that they could have donuts after mass if they behaved and comported themselves well. Perhaps in this we were too successful. Over time, the donuts became expected, then demanded, until it finally came to the point where the purchase and consumption of donuts became an almost integral part of the liturgy itself. In fact, if there were no donuts to be had shortly after the recessional it might even lead them to question if it was really a "valid mass."

We tend to cross things up now and then with a different venue, but it can't always be helped... In our relentless Sunday morning pursuit of sweets, we may have even exacerbated matters by upping the ante...

Sacred Heart Church in the North End, Boston MA

As we do on occasion, last Sunday we attended mass at Sacred Heart Church in Boston's North End, which is like New York's version of Little Italy. It's been a heavily Italian neighborhood since the 1870s. After mass, true to form, we couldn't help heading for coffees and capuccinos at the Caffe Vittoria and pastries at Mike's. I'm partial to to Mike's espresso cannolis, myself. I can be be pretty good about sticking to an Abs Diet while I'm at work all week, but on weekends my discipline does tend to break down a little bit.

It always feels very special to me to have all the kids there at Sacred Heart because of family history. My late mother and my aunt used to say novenas there (and in other West End and North End churches) back in the 1940s and 1950s.

It's a small church filled with dozens of statues, votive candles, and a rosary society made up of local elderly ladies replete with their walkers and canes. The second reading and the hymns are always in Italian, and on occasion we have the good fortune to have a Franciscan friar from nearby St Leonard's come by to say a wonderful mass. My daughters say he gives the best homilies they've heard.

One of the things I really like about Sacred Heart is that it's unabashedly, unashamedly, and unapologetically full of statuary and other images. Some of the statues are clearly too big for the small enclosed place, but it's fine just the same.

In looking for an image of the interior, I came across a wonderful little website that I'd like to give a hat-tip to:

The Church Gallery
Lot's of nice photos there of beautiful Catholic churches from around here and elsewhere. One thing I found curious enough was how many beautiful churches there are in Hartford, CT, for some reason...

Anyway, I love the incarnational emphasis that lies behind the adornment, art, and imagery in our churches and I wouldn't have it any other way, iconoclasts be damned. Let God be immanent, and caring of humans and our fragile human flesh, made in the divine image, not remote from us and utterly transcendent. The people who object the most to images tend to be the same ones who insist with the most vehemence that Christians are no longer under the Law, so go figure...

St John Damascene said:

We have passed the stage of infancy and reached the perfection of manhood. We receive our habit of mind from God and know what may be imaged and what may not. Especially since the invisible God took on flesh, we may make images of Christ, Who was visible, and picture Him in all His activities, His birth, Baptism, transfiguration, His sufferings and Resurrection.

We proclaim Him [God] by our senses on all sides, and we sanctify the noblest sense, which is that of sight. The image is a memorial, just what words are to a listening ear. What a book is to those who can read, that an image is to those who cannot read. The image speaks to the sight as words to the ear; it brings us understanding. Hence, God ordered the Ark to be made of imperishable wood, and to be gilded outside and in, and the tablets to be put into it, and the staff and the golden urn containing the manna, for a remembrance of the past and a type of the future. Who can say these were not images and far sounding heralds?

You see that the law and everything it ordained and all our own worship consist in the consecration of what is made by hands, leading us through matter to the invisible God
The diversity of the architecture and imagery in our churches is as wonderful and as diverse as we can be (at our best) within a unified community. Some other fine churches we've been in recently, albeit very different...

The National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Fonda, NY

St. Clement's Eucharistic Shrine, Boston MA


Garpu said...

Really want to go check out St. Clement's sometime, but it's $16 there and back via transit. :/

Jeff said...

16 bucks? Hunh!? How are you getting there?

Jeff said...

Yeah, from the North Shore into town is tough...

Have you checked out this site at all?

Maybe something on Groupon could help...?

crystal said...

Oh, neat gallery site!

Donuts ... mmmm

I do like art in churches but part of me hates the money spent on all the interior design stuff - the gilding and roccocco-ish ornamentation - that could be better spent on people. Anyway, you've inspired me to write more on this :)

Garpu said...

Train into Boston, then the T. Everything involved is cheaper if you have a pass, but I think they let theirs lapse.

Jeff said...


You mean like San Xavier del Bac?> :-)

European cathedrals are one thing, but what I find extraordinary about the ones in the US is that they were funded mostly through donations from immigrants who had practically nothing. They were dirt-poor themselves, but they wanted their churches to look they way they do.


I travelled on the T for most of my life, but these new Charlie Cards they have...? I'm completely flummoxed by them.

Liam said...

Lovely post, Jeff. John of Damascus is my main man.

Jeff said...

Thanks Liam.

Congrats, btw, on the news about the big move!

shera10 said...

"The Donutist Heresy" LOL you made my day Jeff.

My regione centuries ago was very poor but in every little village the most beautiful building is always the little church.


Jeff said...

Hi Cris,

Yes, I remember the photo you sent of that church nestled in the mountains of Aosta. Very beautiful.