Shock and Awe

Calvinists, look away! The vault of the Chiesa del Gesu', Rome.

I sometimes try to look at my blog with the eyes of a person who sees it for the first time, and try to imagine what would be his reaction. Insofar as these exercises can be made with any reasonable accuracy, I would say the first impression must be of an overload of Catholic imagery (and text; but I think the imagery will at the beginning impress itself in the mind of the reader faster, and stronger).

Some might say this is overkill, and might even put off the – perhaps – timid potential convert desirous to learn more of Catholicism and put in front of a massive barrage of Catholicism.

I disagree. Let me tell you why.

I grew up in Rome, a place with a simply terrifying concentration of baroque churches. In those years, people didn’t do “subtle”, and everyone entering a church was literally brought into another world, and run over by a massive wave of visual, tactile (the holy water), olfactory (the incense), aural (the music) experience. This must have seemed rather massive even to those who were accustomed to it, and absolutely inconceivable for, say, the travelling Puritan.

If you think the Church of the times made her churches less Catholic in order not to shock the Puritans, you’ll have to change your mind. The fact is, in those times Catholicism was proudly asserted, not camouflaged in order not to give offence, and probably the very idea of being less overtly Catholic so that non-Catholics would not be put off would have been considered strange at best, and heretical at worst. 

Catholicism is very image-laden, and directly linked to all our senses. It is not a cerebral, abstract religious experience. Catholicism wants to carry you away and assault your senses with the smell of the incense, the beauty of the paintings, the spiritual power of the music.  Catholicism properly intended is, in fact, never ashamed of being Catholic (a phenomenon you observe every day in England’s churches).

Is this shocking? Probably, but it is a salutary shock. Will an assertively Catholic blog please the Puritan eye? Probably not. Will he be put off by what he sees? Hopefully not; but frankly, his problem. He might start to think, though.

If you enter the Chiesa del Gesu’ in Rome, or the church of St. Ignatius not far away, you immediately understand what I mean. Shock and awe are, in this case, truly appropriate words.  There is nothing of “inclusiveness” there. Rather, they are so brimming with Catholic imagery and, truly, choreography you understand no alternative to Catholicism is even conceived.

Without hoping to even imitate the splendour of the Jesuits (when they believed in God), this little blog aims at doing the same: overwhelm the casual visitor with a massive show of Catholicism with no pretence of “inclusiveness” at all, but rather serving the entire Catholic tiramisu’ without worrying about the calories.

This is why Papal Rome will stare at the visitor in the face, whilst the sweetest portrait of the Blessed Virgin I could find online (and what a pleasure it is, every time!)  will immediately terrify the evangelical unfortunate daring to enter this den of shameless Popery ;). Plus, if the poor chap has overcome the shock he will be bombarded with a rather long series of Popes, a Vatican flag, & Co.

Will this put people off?  Has Catholicism ever advanced (spiritually, I mean) by refusing to be Catholic? Is it really productive to tone down, and dumb down, what Catholicism is in order for other people not to be “discouraged”? On the contrary, the visual, olfactive, tactile and auditive elements of Catholicism are so important that Catholicism cannot be conceived without them; then Catholicism is a complete experience, carrying away all of you in its stride. 

Is it a surprise, then, that the madness of Vatican II attacked all of these elements? Gone are the stoups with the accustomed, cold touch of the holy water immediately reminding me I am in the house of God, and in His presence at the tabernacle. Gone is the wonderfully spiritual, awe-inspiring music, substituted for sugary children songs. Gone is the splendour of the paintings and painted glasses, now making place for more or less abstract, often ugly, more often childish, most often vaguely stupid kindergarten imagery. Gone is the incense, no one knows why really. Probably it wasn’t cool, or new enough.

When the smoke of Satan entered the Church, it tried to kill the touch, smell, sound, and vision of Catholicism.  It did so by persuading the naive it be good that Catholicism denies itself and become its contrary; hey, if you want to convert a thief you may want to learn shoplifting, lest he be put off by your honesty. Satanic.

This is why this little blog will continue to be unashamedly Catholic, and laden with Popes, Saints, flags, churches, Blessed Virgin, and the entire Catholic enchilada: because Catholicism is a sensory experience as much as a spiritual or intellectual one. When you enter a Catholic church (properly decorated) you enter in a different world, and are immersed in a total Catholic experience. This church might shock the Protestant, but is more likely to make him think than the V II half-heretic outfit trying so hard to be Protestant, or in some way “cool”.

Lets us claim back our Catholic patrimony, and show it without any coyness.

Shock and Awe must be our aim.

Like our ancestors did, when they believed in God.


Posted on April 10, 2012, in Catholicism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Well said Mundabor. I feel the shock and awe just from seeing that image. How beautiful that must be to immerse yourself in a church like that. When a person is distracted and looks around at my church, they see a plain white ceiling with ridges that fan out from the altar made of speckled office building tiles. Nothing that would teach them through sacred art and beauty what they fail to grasp with words. There are too many of these structures in the USA.

    • Irenaeus,

      alas, they are everywhere in Europe too. What is rose, a real devastation took place in many parts, with the priests making the church as little catholic as he can. Of course you couldn’t do this in the Chiesa del Gesu’, but near where I live there is a church where the entire sanctuary has been certainly demolished and remade in V II fashion. You can’t even see the old main altar against the wall in solitary confinement, as you can still see very often in European churches.


  2. Very good post. Many pre-Vatican II chuches is the US were devastated by the remodelling craze. Altar railings stripped, traditional altars trashed, floating crucifixes installed (or the Risen Jesus). In many of the old churches it is virtually impossible to locate the Tabernacle today. In some, it is completely out of sight of those in the pews. And the new churches in the US are an abomination. Church-in-the-round, as I call it. My mother live in the Arch Diocese of Indianapolis and within the last three years her parish built a new Church. The old one was a church-in-the-round built in the early 70’s, with sloped auditorium style seating and wood looking formica covered everything in the so-called sanctuary. So they raised millions of dollares and built a larger more sterile church-in-the- round out in the middle of a corn field. The entrance has some kind of flowing fountain baptismal and the Tabernacle is hidden in some glass vault room behind the santuary. I’ve seen Southern Baptist wedding chapels that look more Catholic than most new Catholic Churches. It is terribly depressing

%d bloggers like this: