Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Large vs. small churches

I believe I've commented before on my preference for small churches, but a visit to Notre Dame this weekend reinforced my preference for me. I went to Mass four times while on campus. The first two were in the dorm chapel in Alumni Hall. It is a very well appointed chapel with a classic "feel." It has pews, for instance, which is by no means a universal feature of dorm chapels, where students at their 10:00 p.m. Sunday Mass may be more likely to sit on the floor rather than kneel.

The setting was, however, quite intimate. There was nothing fancy, no singing (or not much, anyway). The congregation amounted to a handful. It was quiet. I felt more like God was trying to get my attention rather than we trying to get His.

The second two times I went to Mass were at the Basilica. The first time only had a cantor; the second, a full-blown choir. They were the Saturday evening and Sunday Pentecost Masses. I love the beauty of the Basilica; it is breathtaking. On the other hand, the liturgy itself just seems overblown. Too loud, too showy, too contrived. More like "look at us, God," rather than "look at God, us." The self-congratulatory spirit that is Notre Dame's Achilles' heel affects its liturgies as well.

But even if it weren't Notre Dame with its pretensions, I would find such a blustery liturgy spiritually distracting. It seems to me the more grandiose the liturgy is, the less spiritually enriching it is. Give me that ol' Roman noble simplicity any day.