The Monthly Memo — April Edition


What We Lost With the Great Altars

This month I want to preview an article that I am currently writing. The Great Altars of the Catholic Church (like the one above from St. John Cantius in Chicago) are artistic treasures. But more than that, they fulfill an aesthetic need that centers and grounds the rituals of the Mass by reminding us of the celebration's solemnity. Unfortunately, post-Vatican II churches have largely done away with their altars and replaced them with bland ones, usually made of simple cuts of marble. The loss of these altars can be connected to the loss of deeper rituals and rites within the Mass that continue to impact the Church. 

Perhaps the largest disruption that came from the destruction of the old altars was the reordering of the purpose of the Mass, both literally and figuratively. There is a reason churches-in-the-round were rare before Vatican II, and why they are now popular in more circles. The physical design of old churches was meant to dictate several things: ornate artwork on the walls, domes, and arches was meant to pull the eye upward and spark meditation on the divine mysteries, the altarpiece was placed in the apse to orient the congregation properly, and the incense that was often used was meant to draw together and sanctify the individual properties into one event.

That sort of order and hierarchy has been misplaced and is often focused inward, not upward.  The importance of physical design on the structure of the Mass is lost on a number of 21st century, post-modern Catholics. But it is important to remember that how a building is designed is integral to its function. That’s why removing the old altars was one of the most detrimental post-concilar things that could have happened: by reorienting the altar to meet the people, the Mass is now too often (though not always) about the people themselves. The number of Masses I have attended that function more as performance art and less as worship are sadly too many...

Contemporary Masses may be more accessible in a literal sense but too often their priorities are in the wrong places. If a lively parish has a handful of priests to itself, why do there need to be ten or more lay Eucharistic ministers at every Mass? Why must every song sound like something from a low budget Christian movie? And why must the altar and tabernacle be so plain?

Stay tuned for more in May!

Why American Malls Are Dying

American strip malls are shuttering at a worringly fast rate. But why? The Atlantic attempts to take a deep dive:

There have been nine retail bankruptcies in 2017—as many as all of 2016. J.C. Penney, RadioShack, Macy’s, and Sears have each announced more than 100 store closures. Sports Authority has liquidated, and Payless has filed for bankruptcy. Last week, several apparel companies’ stocks hit new multi-year lows, including Lululemon, Urban Outfitters, and American Eagle, and Ralph Lauren announced that it is closing its flagship Polo store on Fifth Avenue, one of several brands to abandon that iconic thoroughfare.

So, what the heck is going on? The reality is that overall retail spending continues to grow steadily, if a little meagerly. But several trends—including the rise of e-commerce, the over-supply of malls, and the surprising effects of a restaurant renaissance—have conspired to change the face of American shopping.

Here are three explanations for the recent demise of America’s storefronts.

Read more at The Atlantic.

Prime Cut
The best of the best

Alex Vega has built his auto business in Miami fulfilling outlandish demands from the rich and famous, but one day in the winter of 2015 he got a call from a client with a request Vega could hardly fathom.

"Ten cars?" Vega remembers asking the caller, trying to suppress his disbelief. "You want to start out with 10 customized cars?"

On the other end of the line was Yoan Moncada, an entirely unproven teenager who was also the highest-paid 19-year-old in the history of baseball. He had been in the country for a handful of months, and he had yet to play a major league game in the United States. His last means of transportation had been his older sibling's hand-me-down bicycle, which he had pedaled 3 miles each day down a dirt road to a baseball stadium on the southern coast of Cuba. Now he planned to drive his new fleet of cars under his baseball agent's insurance policy.

Moncada told Vega he wanted to begin by purchasing and customizing a BMW i8, then a Lamborghini Huracan and a BMW X6 -- more than $500,000 in all. Moncada said he wanted the luxury cars souped-up and ready for spring training. Then he made one last request: He asked that each car be stamped with a personalized logo of his initials.

"Are you sure you're ready for all this?" Vega asked him.

It is the same question many in baseball now pose to Moncada, whose talent has developed with a hyperspeed that's forced the rest of his life to catch up. In less than two years, he's moved from Cuba to Ecuador to Guatemala to the United States. At 19, the switch-hitting second baseman shattered MLB's record international signing bonus, earning a $31.5 million payday -- four times more than what he could have earned as the first pick in the MLB draft. "New family, new language, new friends, new life, new rules," Moncada says now through a translator. "I knew I wanted to come here to play baseball, but I never thought about dealing with all of this."

"You Sure You're Ready For This?" from ESPN