Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Holy Dark...

"...was moving too, and every breath we drew was..."

Artificial lighting always impinges upon my sense of the Sacred. Of course, this is "merely" emotionalism, sensualism, aestheticism, what-have-you. Nevertheless, the Sacred in liturgy is in some part emotional, an "altered state of consciousness" induced which touches the very core of our being, and this is why Beauty in liturgy and church architecture is so important.

My most nostalgic memories of "the sacred" in my childhood, before I was really personally religious, were of the deep dark-blue stained glass in my home parish on hot summer mornings when the church was all dark and silent inside. I don't know why I was there, something for religious education ("CCD") perhaps. Also dressing up and going to Mass Easter morning (when Easter fell late enough for the Spring weather to be nice), and they had an "overflow" Mass in the school gym, but the gym's big windows meant the only light they needed was that of the Easter morn. And they'd at least use the "O Filii et Filiae" melody for the Alleluia (..."hallelujah.")

On the other hand, one of the most annoying memories I had was when the power went out at church one Sunday morning (in the Summer!) and they were rushing around to get a generator and to get at least some lights on, as if Mass couldn't proceed without them. I also remember some friends and I being a bit obnoxious giving a hard time to a priest friend during my undergrad about relying on the big overhead lights in our little chapel for the morning Low Masses we served even though the room has literally a whole wall of full length windows.

One of the things the trads are always pushing about the old liturgy is the opportunity for "sacred silence." Of course, they then totally subvert this by "singing over" or playing organ motets over all the inaudible parts as if a little silent respite were the worst thing in the world that could happen. And of course, the Novus Ordo's attempt to reclaim sacred silence (which is not "built into" it) is when that awkward thing happens some places where everyone just sits for a token 20 seconds after one of the lessons to "meditate" on it (even though I'm usually using the time to think about cartoons from the 1990's, which were awesome, or trying to discretely find some eye-candy among the younger congregants).

Oh, and the white-noise of heaters or air-conditioners doesn't help. And if you've got the buzzing of fluorescent lights, that's a double-whammy of profaneness inserted into what's supposed to be sacred space and sacred time. And, while I'm on this "cascading criticism" (a term my dad taught me): wall-to-wall carpeting in churches is vulgar and stupid too; I'm supposed to hear footsteps echoing, dammit!

Is all the artificial lighting so that we can all read along in our missalettes? Wasn't the whole point of putting in English so that we wouldn't have to have our noses buried in books?!?

As I've been attending the daily morning Mass at the Cathedral here lately, I'm happy that it's better than most places inasmuch as it's a big space and the lights are high above and hidden in yellow-glass "lanterns" that make them vaguely less intrusive. Still, I wish churches, especially when there is that beautiful, calming, Sacred morning light of the dawn golden-hour streaming in...would just turn off the lights. There is something so amazing about a darker room naturally lit when it's bright outside, something a bit drowsy, but definitely something Sacred.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the holy dark of keeping Vigil -- Matins for monks, praying at someone's death-bed, the unexpected midnight birth/pregnancy, wandering home after a party at night, Midnight Mass, Easter Day Resurrection Mass at 4 or 5am with a procession around the church, candle-lit churches, and altars of repose on Holy Thursday, Taize prayer, etc...