Places of Spirit

Cathedral of Our Lady Queen of Angels: Strong Center of Faith and Open Doors to the World

February 03, 2009

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DANIEL BENEDICTEntrance and exterior wall.

A friend told me about the Cathedral of Our Lady Queen of Angels and said,“The next time you are in Los Angeles, be sure and go there.” I took him at his word and after my order’s annual retreat in Redlands, California, I spent a morning at the first Roman Catholic Cathedral built in the 21st Century.

A dismissive comment often made by European tourists about cathedrals is that when you have seen one you’ve seen them all. I strongly disagree with the comment, but I would add, “You’ve never seen one like this!” I parked in the parking structure. (How many cathedrals have parking garages? Hey, but this is LA, freeway city!) Emerging onto the plaza in front of the cathedral my gaze swept upward to the massive eleven story east wall and the contemporary statue of Mary clothed with the sun and the huge bronze doors folded back below her.

Entering the cathedral I assumed I would see the nave and sanctuary, but instead I made a gradual ascent along the high ceiling south ambulatory and Cruciform collage of the abusedseveral side chapels past the great mural of the introduction of the catholic community into Alta California toward the Spanish Baroque retablo, which looked like an friendly antique in this contemporary space. I stopped in a side chapel opposite the mural to experience the wrenching cross-collage of “the abused,” feeling the anguish of those individuals, their families and the church at the toll human brokenness afflicts and suffers. I was moved at the courage of the archdiocese and Roger Cardinal Mahoney to acknowledge in art this deep wound in the Body of Christ.

Turning to the right (north) my eyes were drawn to the baptismal font. Turning right again (east) I saw the great nave with its huge altar of angels and the flood of light playing on every surface. The space was breathtaking in simplicity, yet everywhere there were details asking for attention and the play of imagination. The trumpet bells in each light fixture, the angel sconces on the walls, the great “Communion of Saints” tapestries expressing continuity with the baptism of Jesus tapestry on the west wall over the font. No Gothic arches or gargoyles, yet such depth and grace in the simplicity of light playing on spare, understated lines and textures.

I needed time to take it all in and to begin to make the connections that the space invited. Walking down the aisle of the congregational space to the Nave looking toward altar, ambo and music spacealtar-table (a polished six ton slab of Turkish Rosso Laguna marble), the ambo that seemed suspended and remarkably accessible to those in wheelchairs, and looking back to see the font, it was clear that here in bold relief were the “central things” (font, ambo, and altar/table—see Gordon Lathrop, Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology) around which the liturgical community enacts its faith. AND, the simplicity of the vast space begged for the primary symbol, the assembly of the people of God.

What struck me strongly as I looked for connections were the relational dimensions in the space. For example, the oblique placement of the music space (choir, organ console and pipes) allows musicians both to address the assembly and to support and join with it in the oblation of praise to God.

A macro example in regard to relational connections is the location of the cathedral on Old Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles overlooking the Hollywood Freeway and adjacent to the County Hall of Administration, the Music Center, Disney Concert Hall, City Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The juxtaposition was striking to me. Here were the strong central things (symbols) within counterbalanced by the intentional Cornerstone.location of the cathedral to symbols of the political, economic, and artistic life of the City of Angels without. Built on a hill overlooking the contemporary river (the Hollywood Freeway) coursing east and west and surrounded by city, the Cathedral of Our Lady Queen of Angels opens its doors as a house of prayer for all peoples—even the curious who may discover themselves drawn to the One who abides with the world in continuing redemption.

I left grateful to the cathedral community for its welcome of all visitors and its hospitality in allowing them to take photos. The space is of such size and grace that cameras are hardly a distraction. I wish that I had been able to be part of a Lord’s Day assembly to really try it out with all my senses and to know the Presence of the triune God among the people in this sacred space.
Note: There is much more you can discover about the art, artists, architect and architecture of the cathedral at its website. For a detailed look see Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels by Mary Christine Foster.

Daniel Benedict, OSL is an ordained presbyter/elder in The United Methodist Church living in Hawaii. He is abbot of the Order of Saint Luke, a dispersed community of lay and clergy men and women. Semi-retired, he served for twelve years as the Director of Worship Resources at the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.  He is also the author of Patterned by Grace - How Liturgy Shapes Us (Nashville, TN: Upper Room Publishing, 2007), Come to the Waters: Baptism & Our Ministry of Welcoming Seekers & Making Disciples (The Christian Initiation Series) (The Christian Initiation Series) (Discipleship Resources, 1998) and co-author of Contemporary Worship for the Twenty First Century: Worship or Evangelism? (Discipleship Resources, 1994).

Photo credit:  Daniel Benedict


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