The Monthly Memo — September Edition

The old altar at St. Clement Church in Chicago

The old altar at St. Clement Church in Chicago

The Importance of Aesthetics

For those who have been subscribed to this newsletter from the start you may remember this article from all the way back in April(!). After a number of delays and a few rejections, this article finally found a place at The Federalist. I argue that aesthetics are important in a sacred space, and that by removing the Great Altars of the past the Catholic Church has lost more than just gold-platted, outdated, and outmoded altars. It has lost a connection to the sacred that will be extremely difficult to restore. 

The reform that came from Vatican II stripped a number of rituals (aesthetic and otherwise) from the Mass that had organically come into existence over time and for specific reasons. For instance, in the traditional Latin Mass the priest faces the altar in the same direction the congregation does, and his movements are choreographed down to which fingers handle the Eucharist. The altar, considered the point where heaven and earth meet, was designed with the according dignity.

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 more popular. 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 incense 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 twenty-first-century, postmodern Catholics. But it is important to remember that how a building is designed is integral to its function.

Read more at The Federalist.

Yes, Facebook can be a creepy social network

This story was going around the Internet earlier in September with a startling headline: "Facebook Figured Out My Family Secrets, and It Won't Tell Me How." Wow! What kind of secrets did Facebook uncover? A long-dead uncle is actually alive, maybe, or a sibling separated at birth was found halfway across the country. Of course I clicked on it, and what I read was pretty disappointing. Yes, Facebook is creepy -- but we knew that going in. (Spoilers below).

I sent the woman a Facebook message explaining the situation and asking if she was related to my biological grandfather.

“Yes,” she wrote back.

Rebecca Porter, we discovered, is my great aunt, by marriage. She is married to my biological grandfather’s brother; she met him 35 years ago, the year after I was born. Facebook knew my family tree better than I did

“I didn’t know about you,” she told me, when we talked by phone. “I don’t understand how Facebook made the connection.”

Read more, or don't, at Gizmodo.

Prime Cut
The best of the best

F. Nephi Grigg had an unbeatable scheme. Nephi and his brother Golden had travelled 2,883 miles from the tiny Oregon border town where they ran their frozen potato company to the white sparkling sands of Miami Beach.

This was 1954. The Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami was the new shining jewel on Millionaire’s Row: the dramatic sweeping curve of its design facing the seemingly infinite ocean, all the tans of 1950s Miami laid out beneath the balcony views on hundreds of lounge chairs sidling up to the pool between the hotel and the beach. It was remarkably grand, irresponsibly luxurious. In the main dining room where breakfast was about to be served, the tables were dressed with white linen, surrounded by mid-century modern wood backed chairs all laid out beneath not one, but four massive, trembling crystal chandeliers.

This was Nephi’s stage, his grand debut. Two stories below the dining room where all of the members of the 1954 National Potato Convention were sidling up to tables, talking shop, hungry for breakfast, Nephi was bargaining with the head chef. In his bag he had carried 15 pounds of his new creation all the way from Oregon, and he wanted them cooked and served. What better test audience than a group of potato men? After some bribing, the chef agreed. The innovation was cooked, placed in small saucers, and distributed on the tables as samples.

“These were all gobbled up faster than a dead cat could wag its tail,” Nephi Grigg would write 35 years later. The golden potatoes had been cut into bite-sized pieces and fried, and they were a hit. Tater Tots were born.

The Tater Tot is American Ingenuity at Its Finest from Eater