Make Church Great Again! “Free Our Churches From the Ugly and Stupid”

So I’m reading my email.  A reader sent the text of a Wall Street Journal piece (they have an evil paywall) entitled “Free Our Churches From the Ugly and Stupid“.

“This hath potential”, quoth I, and in did I delve.

Pure gold.

So I get to the end of the brilliant brief essay only to discover that it was penned by Anthony Esolen!  Moreover, it was abridged from his recent book – which I instantly added to my Kindle Wish List … Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture


I’ll bet that this book will apply also in the UK, Canada, etc.

Here’s a sample from the WSJ version with my emphases and comments:

The great iconoclasm of the 1960s buried much of Christianity’s best art and music.

I have seen, in Catholic churches, minimalist Stations of the Cross that hardly can be recognized as depictions of the Passion. I have seen crosses that look as if a modernist Jesus were flying with wings outspread, like a theological pterodactyl. I have seen the Eucharist relegated to what looks like a broom closet. I have seen a baptismal font that bubbles. I have seen beautifully tiled floors, with intricate cruciform patterns, covered over with plush red carpet.

I have heard for decades effeminate “hymns” with the structure and melody of off-Broadway show tunes. I have read hymn texts altered so as to obliterate references to God with the personal pronoun “He.” This music would not be acceptable for a jingle to sell jelly doughnuts on television.

I have seen and heard enough. We must get rid of everything ugly and stupid from our churches, most of it visited upon them since the great iconoclasm of the 1960s. What’s needed is genuine art that stirs the imagination and pleases the eye, that entices the soul with beauty before a single word of a sermon is uttered. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

Let me use an analogy. I am involved in the restoration of an old home that for more than 100 years served as the rectory of a Catholic parish in Nova Scotia. One of the first things we did was to tear out carpeting that had gotten dingy and moldy. Beneath lay plywood and linoleum. And underneath that?

We found in most of the rooms oak and maple floors, with three-inch-wide strips laid in handsome patterns, squares enclosing diagonals, and a large diamond set in the center of the original parlor. The craftsmanship was impressive, the execution precise. Other floors had large planks of seasoned hemlock, which absorbs moisture from the air and grows tougher from it. The hemlock is as old as the home’s foundation.

This kind of plywood covers beauty everywhere in today’s churches. You are not only walking on it. You are looking at plywood on the walls, hearing plywood from the pulpit, and singing plywood instead of hymns.

The first thing we can do to return beauty to our churches is to swallow chronological snobbery and find out what our ancestors, even those who could not read or write, achieved. I am speaking about more than the fine craftsmanship of well-turned balusters and newels, though we should desire that too.


Today, the word of God is proclaimed in translations that have all the charm and wonder of a corporate memorandum. Must ordinary people be fed the drab and insipid? The politically correct—another thing thrust upon people by their ecclesiastical betters—is always ugly. Get rid of it, period, no excuses, no exceptions. What Christ hath spoken well, let man not paraphrase. Let grace in the word be one humble way in which we show our desire and our gratitude for the grace of God.

Fr. Z kudos.

Run, don’t walk, to get his book.

And let’s get back, now, to ad orientem worship!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ¡Hagan lío!, "How To..." - Practical Notes, Be The Maquis, Cri de Coeur, Decorum, Fr. Z KUDOS, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Just Too Cool, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, The future and our choices, Turn Towards The Lord and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. HyacinthClare says:

    Ordered and received. I don’t do taxes on Sunday, so I’ll be reading this! Thank you!

  2. Kathleen10 says:

    Professor Esolen is a great communicator and a nice guy. I emailed him once and he kindly answered me generously. His writing is always interesting and really inspiring.
    I so hope the fascist witch hunt against him at PC has been resolved. What happened there is so unfair, but as we see every day that is the nature of things in the world of academic elites, even at our Catholic universities and colleges. God bless him, his family, his work.

  3. pelerin says:

    What a great article and so true. My first parish probably built 100 years before had beautiful marble altar rails – each upright was a different coloured marble. Quite exquisite. One Sunday they were there and the next they had disappeared. I never dared ask where they went and I don’t remember our ever being told that they were going to be removed.
    Regarding ‘minimalist Stations of the Cross’ I am reminded of a recently constructed church which I visited to see if it was a bad as the photos I had seen. It was. When I came out I realised that I had not seen any Stations. On consulting a leaflet I picked up inside I discovered they were laid in the floor – I had probably walked over them – and were squares filled with squiggles no doubt by some celebrated artist.

  4. James in Perth says:

    @perelin Where I attended university, the Catholic Center had modernist stained glass windows doubling as the stations of the cross. No real people were depicted but you had a crown of thorns standing in for Jesus and – for example – one, two, or three rectangles representing his first, second and third falls. It took some real imagination to make it work.

    I will not name the university, since its choice may reflect the need to save money in an otherwise very nice structure.

  5. mburn16 says:

    ” On consulting a leaflet I picked up inside I discovered they were laid in the floor – I had probably walked over them – and were squares filled with squiggles no doubt by some celebrated artist.”

    Our parish…enjoys…a similar arrangement. Plates set into the floor with numerals, nothing more. The church was built about 15 years ago and has minimal decoration, which I will charitably ascribe to financial limitations. The parish debt is nearing repayment, and the pastor is nearing retirement, so I am hopeful that the next few years will see improvements.

  6. marthawrites says:

    It will be in my mailbox tomorrow! My favorite cartoon shows husband saying to wife, “Good news, dear: Your Amazon cart has been upgraded to a forklift.” This is certainly true regarding all the eagerly anticipated books I’m accumulating for Lenten reading.

  7. This morning I read the Wall Street Journal article on this book. I am intrigued. It will fast become a part of my reading list.

  8. rodrigow says:

    The church where I used to go to Mass back in my hometown (when I was little they were sometimes celebrated by none other than the infamous Fr. Leonardo Boff, which kind of makes sense with this story) was one such victim of the post-VII wreckovations. It has a beautiful ceiling depicting Our Lady of Glory that spent decades covered by ugly white gypsum celing tiles, and frescoes on walls that had been painted over, also on white. All that white didn’t match the amazing, colorful vitrals which fortunately were spared. Alas, I can only imagine what the high altar looked like, because it was one of the parts that weren’t restored.

  9. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Going by this sample, it and his Real Music seem complementary to each other!

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