Wreckovation is a portmanteau term coined by some Catholics to describe the controversial style of renovations which historic Catholic cathedrals, churches, and oratories have undergone since the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). Some post Vatican II renovations of older churches are similar in nature to the iconoclastic modifications of churches that took place in Northern Europe during the Reformation in the 16th Century or the Byzantine Iconoclasm in the 7th Century.
The essential layout of a Catholic church building had remained effectively unchanged since the Council of Trent in the 16th Century despite the great diversity of architectural styles over the centuries. Main Altars were often placed against the wall of the apse to reflect the ad orientem (to the east) posture of the priest during Mass. The tabernacle containing the consecrated Eucharist, Candlesticks, a Crucifix, altar linens, and an elaborate set of reredos all sat atop the High Altar. The Altar and Sanctuary was intended as the abode of priests and consecrated ministers, not the laity. The altar rail or a rood screen served to distinguish the Nave (place for the lay worshipper) and the Sanctuary (place for the priests) as an allusion to the separation seen in the Holy of Holies of the Temple of Jerusalem. Representative religious artwork in churches was created to encourage devotion to God, Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints as well as an important means of communicating the message of the Gospel and the traditions of the Church to a largely illiterate populace.
With the proposed changes to the Liturgy during and after the Second Vatican Council in the mid 1960s, there was a movement to build new churches and renovate old ones in the "spirit of Vatican II". These changes were advocated as a means of bringing the actions of the Mass closer to the congregation to encourage "full and active participation". There was also a school of thought that a more "sophisticated" "modern" worshiper would not need religious imagery to worship effectively. In fact, some reformists saw statues and representative religious art as distractions from participation in the liturgy.
This movement inspired bishops and priests from all over Western Europe and North America to reorder their churches and Cathedrals according to this new liturgical theory. There was in fact no particular document or dictate issued by the council or the Pope making architectural changes to Catholic Churches compulsory. A document was written in 1978 called Environment and Art in Catholic Worship. This document was represented as having the force of Church Law but was in fact merely a committee essay of the US Council of Catholic Bishops and was never ratified.
Church renovations started in the late 1960s but gained momentum with the publication of the aforementioned document. Examples of typical changes seen in the renovations include the removal of the high altar, side altars, altar rails, religious artwork, statues of the saints, elevated pulpits and non-face to face confessionals. In some cases, the sanctuary was extended into the nave which would reduce available seating for the congregation and modify the original architect's vision for line of sight and symmetry. Seating for the laity was occasionally placed in the apse or old sanctuary to create a "theater in the round" concept. Reredos and altar screens were removed leaving the sanctuary walls bare which left historic churches without a central focus. Perhaps most controversially, in many renovated churches the tabernacle was removed from the sanctuary and placed in a less prominent part of the church, such as a side altar or even a separate room.
These changes in church architecture and design have been criticized from an artistic standpoint. Many historic and irreplaceable works of art have been discarded or destroyed during these renovations. The end results of many renovations have also been criticized as unattractive and not an improvement from the pre-concilliar designs.
Opponents of wreckovation also charge that such changes to churches are iconoclastic and result in Catholic churches that look more like theaters, airport terminals, or barns rather than churches. A major concern is that the design of renovated churches downplays the sense of the sacred in favor of focus on the congregation. Critics see this as inconsistent with the traditional Catholic understanding of communal worship. Meanwhile more liberal Catholics have referred to the renovations as necessary steps in order to emphasise the role of the congregation in worship in accord with the wishes of the Second Vatican Council. Conservative Catholics charge that this is a misinterpretation of the documents of Vatican II.
In the United States, a prominent liturgical design consultant as well as Roman Catholic priest Richard S. Vosko who has presided over a good number of church renovations is generally seen as one of the primary proponents of the emphasis away from the traditional.
Vatican initiative on church design
In November 2011, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, established a "Liturgical art and sacred music commission" which will be responsible for evaluating both new construction and renovation projects as well as music used during the celebration of mass to ensure that they comply with church guidelines. He has the full support of Pope Benedict XVI who considers the commission's task as “very urgent.”
- Dellachiesa.com "Church Renovator Thrives on Manipulation Skills" 2004
- Catholic Culture: "Liturgical Design Consultant Reveals His New Age Religion"
- Canadian Catholic journal 'Challenge': "How a Canadian church was saved from destruction"
- The Friends of St. Colman's Cathedral: "Renovating or Ruining Cathedrals?" October 15, 2001
- Seattle Catholic: "Weakland's Cathedral Renovations" July 27, 2001
- La Stampa - Vatican Insider: "New Vatican commission cracks down on church architecture" November 21, 2011
- Michael Rose, Ugly As Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces and How We Can Change Them Back Again, Sophia Institute Press, 2001
- Google cache of U.S. Catholics' "Who Moved the Tabernacle?" article
- US Conference of Catholic Bishops take on Environment and Art in Catholic Worship