Today I just want to mention a brief verbal way that we sometimes use in casual speech that although may be innocent often degrades Vatican II.
You know, those times where we enter a church and say, “I bet back in the day before the reforms of Vatican II that main altar was beautiful before the white paint covered it all up.” When we say this we unconsciously ascribe something negative to Vatican II as if it was the cause of a loss of certain church styles. Is that our intention?
What Vatican II called for was that “The rites should radiate a noble simplicity.” Sacrosanctum Concilium # 34. In a previous post I have went over how Vatican II wanted to introduce the vernacular without losing Latin, the organ or Gregorian chant. ( Latin and Vatican II) As, the council also pointed out, “The church has not adopted any particular style of art as its own, but guided by people’s temperaments and circumstances, and the needs of the various rites, it has admitted styles from every period.” Sacrosanctum Concilium # 123.
What noble simplicity is –that is a matter of debate. What we should not do is blame all bad architecture on Vatican II because of it. In fact, I would like to bring to your attention an excellent article on the topic. (see link below)
The take away for our discussion is that noble simplicity, does not mean white walls or lack or ornamentation. In fact, it is derived from what used to be used to describe Greek art beginning in the 18th century. (see footnote 20 in the article) Thus, the best guess as to what the council meant by noble simplicity is the Greek level of beauty!
What happen even before the council was the dominance of functionalism in architecture. (i.e you would not build a large spire in a church because it serves no liturgical purpose, but you would build fan shaped seating because it helps the people get involved.) As a result, when post-council architects starting building churches they interpreted noble simplicity in a way much more modern/bare/functionality inspired than probably was intended. Thus, you have modern white walls and other such bare designs. Hence, white walls are not mentioned by Vatican II.
Now don’t get me wrong. I can in fact enjoy battleship shaped churches and a lot of modern design. The church did say she has not adopted any particular style, so I am not going to quench any spirits by disregarding good modern tastes.
What I wanted to do was to give us a reason to stop and think before we claim it was Vatican II that caused the decline of what others would term more traditional forms of architecture and sacred furniture. It was not Vatican II itself, but a whole lot of other societal trends that caused the painting of that main altar. (And in fact, not all painting was probably a bad thing as God can be served by many designs)