Monday, March 15, 2010

A Friendly Critique of the Chapel of Christ Triumphant

A couple weeks back I walked into The Chapel of Christ Triumphant, the main chapel at Concordia University Wisconsin, out in Mequon, thinking I might pray the Way of the Cross. I was very disappointed to realize soon after entering the chapel that once again the stations have been veiled with dark veils.

It seems that for some reason, which I'd love to hear explained by Pastor Smith, or someone at CUW, during Lent each year the stations of the cross are all veiled. This is a gross misinterpretation of the custom of veiling statues and images during Passiontide. First, the veiling of crucifixes and statues takes place, as I say, in Passiontide, not all of Lent. Second, the veiling of images never includes the Stations of the Cross. While the devotion of the Way of the Cross may be prayed in any season of the year (especially on Fridays), it is especially appropriate in Lent, and Passiontide. In fact, it should be encouraged, even scheduled congregationally where possible (you know, like those few places where we actually have the stations, such as at CUW). Instead, it is discouraged, and in fact, made practically impossible, by the hiding of the stations with dark veils. Does this make any sense?

While I was there, I took a few moments to look around, and I noticed a few other oddities, and liturgical embarrassments. For example, one can still see the evidence that there once were holy water stoups at the back entrances (at the liturgical west), but they are now merely architectural curiosities. Here would be a great opportunity to make good Lutheran use of an ancient custom of the Church. With the rich Lutheran spirituality of Baptism, there is real pastoral potential in such a practice.

Sadly, this is a pattern that continues as one walks up the side of the nave. For there we see two confessional booths (with two more on the other side). Not only are these not being used (Confession could take place anywhere, of course), the really disturbing thing is to see that these booths, which once had a sacred use, are now used to store things like, brooms, music stands, electrical equipment, microphone stands, and other worthy objects. Seeing such irreverent conversion of confessional booths into broom closets speaks louder than any explicit discourse on what the Lutherans in these places really think of Confession, and sacred space.

Walking a little further, one sees in the west transept (liturgical north) a set of drums, monitors, amps, music stands, and other paraphernalia for the rock band, or "praise" band, or whatever it is called that takes up space there. Next to that is a large rack of chairs on wheels. This makes me wonder, isn't there some place, some room under the chapel, or somewhere, where these extra chairs could be stored, instead of right in front of the side altar?

Both of the side altars, by the way, are each adorned with a brass, naked cross, which are also veiled. Why cannot these side altars have crucifixes? And since they don't, but have merely naked crosses, why are they veiled?

The next thing I notice is the American flag in front of the nave, on its own right. Think of what this means for our concept of the church, and her liturgy. On the other end is the Methodist Sunday School flag. Can anyone defend this?

Then, as I look toward the high altar, and its magnificent hanging crucifix, I cannot help noticing the light of the sanctuary lamp. I know that many Lutheran churches burn the sanctuary lamp without a tabernacle, and I don't condemn them, but I must say, again, for the record (since there is hardly much of a voice for this view in today's Missouri Synod), that it does not make a lot of sense. In this case, in fact, it's a bit comical, since behind the free standing altar, on a stand which I suppose once held a tabernacle, there is now a large open Bible. And the Bible has a spot light shining on it. That and the sanctuary lamp are pretty much the only two lights lit in the darkened chapel. This has the unmistakable effect of making it seem as though the object of our adoration and worship is the Bible. In fact, consider also the fact that on the east wall (behind the altar) there are twelve figures carved into the wall, all turned, seemingly in veneration, toward that Bible.

If resources will be expended on a spotlight, I regret that there is not one on that beautiful and striking crucifix. It really is a great focal point in that chapel, which, over all, is a very modernist space.

I have not had the pleasure of experiencing an actual liturgy, or worship service at the chapel recently, so I cannot comment on the liturgical practice there (though I find it a bit curious that the campus pastor announced recently that chapel is not just for Lutherans). What I can say, as a concerned Lutheran of the Missouri Synod, is that these few observations of the chapel only bring up more questions about the liturgical life of this prominent LCMS university, questions I'd certainly want addressed before I would send a student there for his undergraduate study.

12 comments:

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Forgive me, Deacon, but I wonder more about your surprise on these matters than I do about the matters themselves. The "junk" stored in the confessional booths is iconic of a much broader situation, is it not?

I have abstained from commenting on Lutheran issues for some time, and hope you don't take offense at this comment...nor at the good Lutheran question your post raises: "What does this mean?"

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Fr. Hogg:

First let me say that I appreciate your perspective, and the choices you have made, and I am saddened by the ecclesial separation that we must suffer now. And though we are separated in this way, I gratefully see that you still do have concern for your brethren on this side of things. So I am bold to ask for your prayers as well.

Regarding the observations I made, I saw the same situation with the stations, etc. last Lent, but on that day a couple weeks ago I had forgotten until I walked in and then it came back to me all over again. So I would say that 'very disappointed' would be more accurate of my reaction than 'surprised.'

The reason I write on some of these things is not that they are news, though some of it may be news to many out there. The reason is that I cannot be silent. "I believed, and therefore will I speak."

I do not assume naively that every person and institution will come around to my way of looking at things. But by speaking up, and being a reasonable yet passioned participant in the conversation, who knows what may happen.

I also address some of these issues precisely for the sake of the young impressionable students at these schools. I have nieces and nephews, as well as dear God-children, and when the time comes, some of them may feel drawn to one of these schools. They will need all the moral and spiritual support they can get, even from a poor, miserable uncle like me.

The Exiled said...

I have had past dealings with the campus pastor from his previous post at Concordia River Forest. I raised similar issues regarding the goings on of the campus chapel there. His response was nothing more than the old Nuremburg defense, "I am only following orders." I guess you can use that defense when his "call" wasn't really a "call" at all, just an at-will employee under contract. I'm guessing he has the same arrangement at Concordia Wisconsin.

In other words, you will never get anywhere with him regarding your concerns. Off the record he might say that he doesn't agree with the way things are done there. For the record, he will say and do whatever he needs to do to keep his job, um, I meant call.

Phil said...

When I visited the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, I saw that their confessionals were also filled with cleaning supplies or used for storage. One of them had a sink installed in it. This isn't a uniquely Lutheran problem.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Dear Exiled:

The set up for the campus pastor position, certainly at CUW, and I think RF, but maybe for all of the Concordia University System, is very troublesome. I agree with you on that. It is no pastorate at all, for there is no Divine Call involved when a man is working on a renewable contract.

I don't say that against Pastor Smith personally. One of these days he might ask himself how it feels to be a puppet in the system, rather than a pastor.

One thing is for sure, somebody, if not Smith, then somebody, should be clearly accountable for what happens at the chapel. And I'd love to get more information. Maybe when I get time, I will attempt to investigate.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Dear Phil:

You are right about that. The problems of the modern Church, certainly in the West, are cross-denominational. In many respects, Fr. David Scaer is right when he says that we live in a post-denominational age. We must pray for each other, and work to improve the situation through constant catechesis, writing, preaching, whatever it takes. Just as the problems in one church affect other churches, so likewise the positive developments in one can positively influence others as well.

So lest anyone think I am picking on another church, for the record I have been happy to give both criticism and praise.

So to your specific example of the Roman Church, let me add that the catechetical and liturgical crisis in that church is at tragic proportions. Over half of American Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, according to at least one study. And in some sectors of that church, those who do try to maintain a reverent and traditional eucharistic piety, for example by kneeling and genuflecting, are ridiculed and accused of "cookie worship."

Here I must add two points. One is that there are also positive developments, such as the efforts of Pope Benedict. The other is that we too have our modern day Phillippists, who look down upon some of us as bread worshippers.

There is much work to be done.

Tim said...

I'm probably not a Phillippist. Mostly the reason being is, despite my upbringing, I have felt a real draw to Eucharistic Adoration. Of course, such thing doesn't really exist in Lutheranism (to my knowledge). However, I do think we would all benefit from devotion to Christ in the Eucharist (and here I am not merely talking about Eucharistic Adoration, but rather a greater belief in His Presence, and the piety that results).

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Tim:

Since you mention the Eucharist, I will say that the frequency with which the Holy Supper is actually celebrated at Concordia University's chapel is embarrassingly low. A revival in eucharistic practice in our schools is one of my fervent prayers.

Joshua Woelmer said...

It's so easy to go in and critique a church's or chapel's architecture without actually seeing changes being made. You don't know how CUW has changed in the past few years to become more liturgical, so I don't see how you have any right to criticize our problems. Instead of putting your questions to the right people, you just accuse CUW through your blog. More people come to the Matins and Morning Prayer services than the contemp. services, which have been in decline. Or take into account that we're the ONLY Concordia to offer regular evening prayer services during the week. As far as I'm concerned, we serve the students more that way than worrying about confessional booths, crucifixes, and lights. If you really want to change those things, fine, but at least acknowledge what we do right. (We also use incense on more than one occasion.)

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Joshua Woelmer writes:

"It's so easy to go in and critique a church's or chapel's architecture without actually seeing changes being made. You don't know how CUW has changed in the past few years to become more liturgical, so I don't see how you have any right to criticize our problems. Instead of putting your questions to the right people, you just accuse CUW through your blog. More people come to the Matins and Morning Prayer services than the contemp. services, which have been in decline. Or take into account that we're the ONLY Concordia to offer regular evening prayer services during the week. As far as I'm concerned, we serve the students more that way than worrying about confessional booths, crucifixes, and lights. If you really want to change those things, fine, but at least acknowledge what we do right. (We also use incense on more than one occasion.)"

Dear Mr. Woelmer:

Liturgical practice was not the topic of this blog post. I stated that I have not been to a chapel service at CUW lately. When I do get the chance to investigate the liturgical practice of the Chapel of Christ Triumphant, you will find my observations right here at this blog. In that event I will be glad to have a reasonable discussion with you. I hope when that time comes, you will have learned the art of reasoned discussion.

And when I do criticize anything having to do with the chapel of Concordia University, such criticism pertains not to the sheep, some of whom try as best they can to improve certain aspects of the liturgical life of the campus community on their own, but to the parties truly responsible for what transpires there, eg., the campus pastor and the administration of the school.

Anonymous said...

You do realize that the Chapel and Campus used to belong to a Catholic nunnery right? That is why all of the Catholic elements are evident in the Chapel.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Anonymous wrote:
"You do realize that the Chapel and Campus used to belong to a Catholic nunnery right? That is why all of the Catholic elements are evident in the Chapel."

I respond:
Yes, I do know that the present CUW campus was once a convent. Unfortunately, however, the number of catholic elements "evident" in the chapel seems to decrease as the vacuous Protestantism of the chapel increases.