A Jesuit High School in Tampa, Fla., recently dedicated its new chapel, which was beautifully re-designed to encourage devotion to God.
“The Jesuits recognized that the existing chapel was becoming inadequate to the growing liturgical needs and desires of the community,” artist Joel Pidel, who re-designed the chapel, told CNA Feb. 13.
Pidel noted “that greater devotion would be fostered” by transforming the space “into a place that more fully or evidentially manifested God's beauty.”
“Beauty increases devotion,” he added, “beauty is the 'natural' analog of grace, a continual reminder that everything is gift, and that our every response should be one of gratitude.”
The newly renovated residence chapel for the community teaching at Jesuit High School, as well as the larger school community, was dedicated Jan. 5 after a little more than a year's work.
The chapel was originally built in the early 1960s, and is an octagonal room which had no clearly marked sanctuary, limited seating space without pews, and dark brown walls. The renovation features a larger space with a clearly demarcated sanctuary, a prominent tabernacle and altar, a large 19th century stained glass window, elegant wooden pews, and numerous references to the Society of Jesus.
Father Richard Hermes, president of Jesuit High School, told CNA Feb. 15 that the chapel had been “altered from its original design to accommodate the new Missal (of 1969), but then also just to accommodate deteriorating liturgical sensibilities, where nobody kneels.”
He said the remodel was a “great opportunity” to give the chapel “an architecture in communion with the Church.” His own understanding of Church liturgy and architecture has been influenced by the works of Pope Benedict, he said.
Pidel said the remodel “was to be a visible response to the Holy Father's inauguration of the year of faith in a manner which would both demonstrate and orient the priorities of the community.”
Fr. Hermes said he wanted the new chapel to “bespeak the sacred. When you walk in there, you're gonna know this is a sacred space and a holy chapel...the main vision was sacred space, and nobility, and make it a place where not only Mass is celebrated, but devotions, the rosary or stations of the Cross.”
He said the students have been “awestruck” by the beauty of the chapel, and have commented on the beauty of the new stations of the Cross, and he sees this as an opportunity to “let's get a group together and pray the stations” on Fridays.
Pidel said that beauty is a “safeguard of gratuity over-against every functionalism or reductionism” that cannot be mistaken for “mere aesthetics.” He said, “sacred art and architecture are called to bear specific witness by calling the individual and the community to a universal act of gratitude, in the imitation of Christ, through the highly personal, specific, ritualized form of the liturgy.”
It was important for him to create a beautiful chapel because “a chapel is the house of God, not merely the house of the people of God, and the desire for a beautiful chapel should arise out of gratitude to the God who has deigned to make his dwelling with us.
“The Faith, like the Truth to which it attains, is beautiful, and so a chapel which does not manifest this beauty does not efficaciously represent the Faith of which it is its architectural image, regardless of whether or not it is functionally adequate.”
A chapel, he said, should be beautiful because it “both manifests and facilitates our encounter with the Living God.”
He made reference to the 20th century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who wrote that the man who “sneers” at beauty “can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.”
Pidel was inspired by the great Jesuit churches in the baroque tradition, particularly the Jesuits' Roman novitiate chapel, including an “architectural hierarchy between elements of the nave and sanctuary.”
The chapel now has an altar rail which provides “visual and liturgical demarcation” between the nave and sanctuary, so that no-one's roles are confused.
When asked if he imagines that Saint Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, and Our Lady, the Society's queen, are well-pleased with the renovation, Fr. Hermes said, “I devoutly hope so.”
“Baroque churches came to be synonymous with the Jesuits, and it's striking how much they engage the senses, how much they lift the mind and heart to God, and how they speak of the communion of saints.”
Fr. Hermes concluded, saying that “to the extent that this little chapel takes its humble place within in that liturgical tradition, I think it's very much in line with St. Ignatius and the great history of Jesuit churches, and Jesuit preaching and evangelizing.”
Tags: Sacred Art