Where the Second Vatican Council and Modern Architecture Converge

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St. Francis de Sales, Oakland, CA, (ca. 1970)

The history of the cathedral of the Diocese of Oakland is instructive for understanding the early influence of the Second Vatican Council on the subsequent design of many Catholic churches. The recently-installed bishop of Oakland at the time, His Excellency Floyd Begin, the Diocese’ first bishop, had attended every session of the Council and returned in 1964 determined to renovate the existing cathedral, built in 1893, rather than spend a large sum on of money on a new one.

INFLUENCE OF THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL

St. Francis de Sales became known as the “…first cathedral in the United States to be completely remodeled according to the liturgical spirit of the Second Vatican Council”. (All quotations herein are from: Jeffrey M. Burns and Mary Carmen Bautista, We are the Church: A History of the Diocese of Oakland. Strasbourg: Editions du Singe, 2001). The enthusiastic bishop had a bold plan for remodeling the Cathedral:

“With the priest now facing the people, the bishop found the venerable stained glass windows behind the alter distracting. ‘The rather colorful windows in the sanctuary impeded the vision of the service, just like the headlights of an oncoming car do.’ The stained glass windows were covered over by redwood paneling. The interior was whitewashed and the exterior was painted in a creme color [it was red brick]. The alter rail was removed as were all the statues, except for that of Jesus. In sum, the remodeled building followed Vatican II directives and created ‘…an atmosphere conducive to participation, worship, and prayer.'”

The Cathedral interior before the renovation:

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The Cathedral interior after the renovation:

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The new altar:

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Types, Symbols, and the Nativity Story

Biblical typology is the study of words, events, symbols, etc. that have a broader meaning then their immediate literary context. Numbers connected to events are the most common types found in the Bible;  there were forty days of rain, forty years in the Sinai wilderness, forty days fasting in the desert etc.. It tells us that these events are connected or somehow foreshadow each other. Other important numbers include 1, 3, 7, 8, and 12.

Probably the best book on the subject is The Bible and the Liturgy by Jean Danielou. He looks into the Bible for events that foreshadow Catholic liturgy. One example he explores is the narrative of the flood and how it foreshadowed baptism. The ark going through the noahwater represented the purification of mankind just as for those being baptized, water represents purification from original sin.

Also, he points out that the number of people on the ark is eight, the number that represents the new creation, the eighth day. Sunday is considered the eighth day as the day of Christ’s resurrection. (Danielou makes an interesting observation that there is no record of any dissent by Jewish Christians in the first century when they made Sunday rather than Saturday the day of worship). This is why in most Catholic churches the baptismal fonts are octagonal (at least at the time he wrote the book — 1956). Baptism removes the stain of original sin enabling a new creation.

Continue reading “Types, Symbols, and the Nativity Story”