Friday, June 27, 2008

Domus Dei et Porta Caeli

"How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven."

These words were spoken by the Patriarch Jacob after he had the dream of the stairway to Heaven. And so he named that place Beth-el, the House of God.

Why did he say those words and why did he name that place the house of God? Because in his dream, he saw the Presence of the Lord, God Himself, standing above the place. In our day, in a more real and concrete way, all Catholic Churches are truly, in the fullest sense of the word, the house of God. For in the Tabernacle is Jesus Himself, the Real Presence of God veiled under the appearance of bread. How truly awesome then is the Church!

Even in the Old Testament, the Tent of the Lord's Presence, the Tabernacle of Moses shone of gold.
The Temple of Solomon glittered on the hill, it's very stones a reminder and testament to the Presence of God, the Shekinah which dwells inside. The Unseen God was mediated through His House.
An artist's impression of Solomon's Temple

In our own day, from St. Peter's Basilica to Chartres and Rheims, this truth has been proclaimed loudly and magnificently in stone and marble. From afar, once recognizes the importance of the House of God, from it's location, up on the hill as in Sacre Coeur, to it's size and grandeur in the Duomo of Florence. Of course all this is an outward sign, a sacrament, if you will, of the Presence, the Parousia which lies within.
Sacre Coeur de Paris


The Duomo of Florence

It's an outward proclamation of the importance of the building and the Presence housed within. The builders and architects were trying to say something, trying to make a statement etched in stone for all to see.

Putrajaya is a new city in the middle of nowhere. It was designed to be the new administrative capital of Malaysia and home to the Prime Minister and his cabinet, most of the ministries and departments and the Courts of Law. It is where the Prime Minister greets official guests. From his office, the visitor would then get a commanding view of this planned city which is supposed to impress on him the status of Malaysia as a nation and emerging power. It houses some of the most magnificent buildings in Malaysia. Predominantly though, it reflects the classical Arabic style of architecture. Although, here and there, modern forms are also represented.

The modern Seri Wawasan bridge

The Prime Minister's office aptly reflects it's position as the seat of power.

And the pre-eminent position of Islam as the official religion of Malaysia is reflected in the grandeur of the lakefront Putra Mosque.

This is the proposed design for the new Catholic Church in Putrajaya, amidst all those grand buildings.
What does this building say about the God of the Christians? What does it say about the Christians? What proclamation is it trying to make?

This is the new Catholic Church built in the township of Puchong. What do you think this building is trying to say? I think the exterior is horrendous and, in trying to be hip and modern, will soon be dated, like all the other hip and modern nonsense and rubbish built in the 60's and 70's. I can always tell when a house was built by merely looking at it's windows. Thankfully, in the rest of society, that unfortunate period and those unfortunate trends have passed. Not so in the Catholic Church and those still steeped in the theology and mindset of that era.

Yes, I am well aware of the constraints imposed in the building of Christian places of worship by the little Napoleons, the functionaries who man the offices who are so eager to show their zeal for Islam (when they are not accepting bribes and engaging in corruption) that they impose ridiculous limits on Church building.

But a simple building would suffice. Such as the new Church of the Divine Mercy in Penang, above. Although far from ideal, its elegance and simplicity makes the most of the resources available and the sensitivities of the local Muslims.

But what is this building, in the heart of the administrative capital of Malaysia trying to say? About us and about the God we believe in?


Anonymous said...

I agree with you on this one. The church in Penang look good. I never liked the church in Puchong especially the setting of altar..

Justin Ong said...

How do you think we should protest this? Who should we talk to?