National Catholic Register


One Example of How Beautiful Church Buildings Lead People to God

BY Jennifer Fulwiler

| Posted 11/2/11 at 8:05 AM


The other day I was chatting with someone who works at our church, and she mentioned that couples who get married there are well versed in the fullness of the Church’s wisdom on marriage and human sexuality. Engaged couples are required to take a full Natural Family Planning course (not just an intro class), and they also must take a class on the Theology of the Body, so that they can understand why the Church teaches what it does. Though I’m not naive enough to think that every single couple who goes through the system is going to immediately throw out their birth control pills, the quality of the marriage preparation process undoubtedly leads a lot of them to at least remain open to the Church’s teaching in this area. Though some may initially grumble about the extensiveness of the process, I’ve heard that many couples end up being extremely grateful that they were given such thorough practical and theoretical information to get their marriages off to the right start.

After thinking about this for a moment, I had a delayed reaction. I asked: “Wait, how do you get all these couples to agree to do this?” Given the current cultural climate regarding marriage, I was surprised that more couples didn’t decide to get married in a different parish, perhaps that of their parents or their future spouse, so that they could skip the lengthy list of requirements.

She said that the marriage preparation staff hears that question all the time. “I’d love to do something like that for our parish,” a lot of people who work in marriage programs at other churches say, “but I don’t think any couples would agree to it.”

So how is it that our church manages to get so many couples to take the time to learn about God’s plan for marriage and human sexuality? She said that there are probably a lot of factors at play, but the main one is this: The building is really beautiful.

People don’t want to get married anywhere else if their other options have less beauty. With the vaulted ceiling painted with stars, the grand dome over the altar, and the breathtaking replica of Raphael’s Disputation of the Sacrament behind statues of the four Gospel writers, our sanctuary is something to behold. Whether or not they can articulate exactly what it is, couples are drawn to something they experience when they walk through the doors of our church building. Of course there’s the Blessed Sacrament, the most powerful Presence of all, that any other Catholic church also has. But the splendor of the physical structure brings in something else as well, something that churches with more plain architecture do not have.

I once visited Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon, and after noticing how gorgeous their surroundings are, I found this note on their website:

Beauty is one of the attributes of God, along with truth and goodness. For this reason monks are naturally attracted to it, and through the centuries have preserved it in their monasteries.

To experience beauty is to experience God. It’s why the monasteries and cathedrals of Western civilization have always been so marvelous, why places like the Sistine Chapel lure people of all different faith backgrounds to behold them. It makes sense, then, that a church filled with beauty would inspire people to sacrifice the time and energy to learn about what God has taught us through his Church. It’s simply one attribute of God—beauty—drawing people to another of his attributes: truth.