SINCE my letter of April 22 inviting readers to inform me of any "peremptory change, alteration, destruction or removal in their church, without proper consultation with parish councils, liturgy commissions and art and architecture committees" — I have received numerous complaints of priestly and episcopal iconoclasm.
The smashing of pulpits, the ripping up of altar rails and the totally unsympathetic reordering of santuaries have nothing to do with official liturgical reform. In fact the Vatican Curia gave instructions in 1971 (OperaArtis) that any disfigurement was to be discouraged, condemning such acts as "disregarding the warnings and legislation of the Holy See". The document continues describing those who have caused the disfigurement of sacred art as having done it "under the pretext of carrying out the reform of the liturgy". Moreover on January 4 1967 Pope Paul VI was quoted as deploring the tendencies "towards arbitrarily stripping church-established worship of the sacral and aesthetic forms that surround it and present it to the people of God".
At this present time two sanctuaries in East Kent are being ruthlessly reordered; against the wishes of the people and at considerable expense up and down the country churches are being irreparibly spoiled, one reason for this given to me by a university Don was to compensate for the inability of the clergy to present the liturgy effectively and so they took it out on the furnishings.
If only there was an ecclesiastical equivalent of Prince Charles to slow down the devastation, the bishops who have made assurances "that listed buildings in their control will be adequately cared for" (Catholic Herald December 4 1987) have singularly failed. Indeed a bishop in the North seeking to have altar rails removed was only checked by the protests of the people. The
Liturgy Commission and the Art and Architecture Committee seem to have no powers and the only redress seems to be the level of popular protest.
Two months ago visiting a once splendid church in the heart of Berkshire I was horrified to find a total disregard for the style of the interior by an expensive and fashionable architect who has quite ruined the sanctuary. When these reorderings are done at some expense the morality of such expenditure must be questioned.
Most bishops and priests do not understand architecture, conservation or what is worthy of preservation and some check must be made on the continuing tide of "disfigurement." A catalogue is being prepared to present to the amenity lobbies to show that some of the listed churches are not being adequately cared for and therefore ecclesiastical immunity from civil control should be changed. Mark Elvins 55 Upper North St, Brighton FR Mark Elvins (Viewpoint: 20 May) blandly suggests that the yawning spaces at the east ends of churches suggests mere changes of fashion. On the contrary, the disappearance of altars and sanctuaries had little to do with "keeping up with the fashion" and a very great deal to do with a clumsy and dangerous groping after a kind of makeshift theology of worship.
In 1971 in the circular Opera Artis, the Vatican Curia referred scathingly to those disregarding the warnings and legislation of the Holy See who have caused "the disfigurement of sacred art under the pretext of carrying out the reform of the liturgy". The same circular went on to warn bishops "who no matter how hard pressed by their responsibilities must take seriously the care of the places of worship and sacred objects".
Surely history will talk less about "fashion" and more about massive ignorance and misplace zeal persisting at local level in a difficult period of parish adjustments.
Fr Elvins' fashionable approach is well off the real
targets. J C M Nolan 8 Antrobus Rd Chiswick London