måndag 26 november 2012

St Lars Catholic Church, Uppsala

Went to Mass here yesterday. The architecture of the church is firmly stuck in the mid-1970s. In its way, it is an attractive and well thought-out building, with good quality materials, but it lacks the markers that are associated with sacred spaces.

The worst thing about it is the arrangement of the Sanctuary. An organ, slightly askew, reading desk, altar, crucifix with an Rothko-style offcut barely recognisable as a cross, three IKEA-style chairs and a cube of a tabernacle, are spread out in a row along the end wall as if they were items for sale in an auction. There is no symmetry or sense of order - in fact, the lop-sidedness is deliberate. It lacks focus. Goodness knows what theological statement is it all trying to make, but the message that comes across is confusion.

The same, unsurprisingly, goes for the liturgy: a pick-and-mix collection of Lutheran and Wesleyan hymns, a few 1980s settings and a garnish of Gregorian chant in Latin. The latter was very well sung by the organist, whom I would imagine finds the rest of the service a penance to be offered up. There is something for everyone, but the total effect and message is incoherent. The whole carries the stamp of the times just as do the clothes, popular music, cars and just about everything else from four decades ago.

Period piece
I should not like to live in this parish. It is run by a community of German Jesuits who must have received their formation in the late-1970s. At that time, the Catholic church was going through an experimental phase in the wake of Vatican 2 and the liturgical reforms that had followed. Since then, the pendulum has swing, with the publication of books such as The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Razinger, Turning towards the Lord by Uwe Lang or the Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis by the Pope. These authors have clearly had no influence on the clergy at Uppsala, to the point that they seem to have lost touch with the spirit of the times and have inadvertently created a period piece.

The church is well-filled, and the people are friendly and welcoming. But this is Uppsala, the leading university city in Sweden. The Catholic church needs to be running a flagship parish, where the musical treasures of the Catholic church's heritage are on display. A good model is the Oxford Oratory, where members of the Oratorian order took over a moribund parish at Oxford and brought it back to life through, amongst other things, the use of a traditional liturgy with Latin, Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony.

Unfortunately, the possibilities at Uppsala are constrained by the building itself, which is unsuitable and would be difficult to adapt by re-ordering. However, nearby is a medieval, former Dominican church would would be perfect since it was designed in the first place for the Catholic liturgy. The Church of Sweden could no-doubt be persuaded to part up with it if the offer was good enough. Someone, presumably the bishop, needs to take control of the situation, as at present a wonderful opportunity for mission and evangelisation is going to waste.

Helga Trefaldighet Kyrkan

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