The following comes from an October 19 Catholic World Report article by Jim Graves. Full interview here.
Enzo Selvaggi, 36, is founder of Heritage Liturgical, a liturgical design firm in Southern California committed to reviving traditional sacred art and church architecturefor the purpose of promoting the New Evangelization. He lived in San Marco Argentano in the Calabria region of southern Italy until age 11. After living in California for a time, Selvaggi returned to Italy for four years to discern his vocation with the Institute of Christ the King, a society that celebrates the Mass and sacraments in the Extraordinary Form.
Selvaggi combined his artistic talent and formation in the seminary to begin working in the field of church art in 2008. Heritage Liturgical has since become an approved liturgical design firm in the Diocese of Orange in Southern California. Areas of expertise include liturgical design, sacred art, vestments, and church renovation. Selvaggi has worked on a variety of church projects in the area, most recently the ongoing renovation of St. John Chrysostom in Inglewood in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
He recently spoke with Catholic World Report.
Catholic World Report: What are you working on at St. John Chrysostom Church?
Enzo Selvaggi: Father Marcos Gonzalez, the pastor, asked me to make improvements. He was placed in charge of what I call a “wreck-o-vated” church, mangled by those who had come before him. It had a poor color scheme—painted in varying shades of green—its marble floors were carpeted over, and its decorative bronze removed. A baptismal font, more like a tub or spa, was placed in the main body of the church by the altar for baptism of both adults and children. It didn’t look much like a church. Father Marcos is a father to his people, and wanted the church to be a place which would better help them encounter God.
We began by rebuilding an altar similar to the 1959 altar, which replaced a table altar. We restored the Communion rail and its decorative bronze. We removed the tub and replaced it with a four-foot, Calacatta Gold marble font in a restored baptismal chapel. We repainted the interior of the church, which included a large depiction of the Blessed Mother over the altar. (Before and after photos can be seen here.)
We did all this work as the church continued to function as a parish. Sometimes we’d work while Mass was held in the main church; at other times Mass had to be celebrated in a chapel elsewhere on the grounds.
St. John Chrysostom is not a rich parish [the 1992 Los Angeles riots began four major streets down at Florence and Normandie], so we’re continuing our work a step at a time, as money is raised. Father Marcos has given me a lot of leeway to propose ideas, as he knows we’re a Catholic firm and wouldn’t do anything heretical. I’m responsible for the design and function as the project manager; I hire artists as they are needed. I tell the artist what to paint and where, then I leave it to him to do what he does.
Besides being a designer, I’m a decorative painter, so you’ll see me doing some of the painting and gilding. Any approvals we need at the archdiocesan level to I leave to Father Marcos.
Catholic World Report: In 2012, the Diocese of Orange celebrated the completion of one of its major church projects, Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach. You weren’t among those celebrating. What are some of your criticisms?
Selvaggi: It suffers from what I call the non-distinction of what is office and what is church space. If you look at pagan or New Age symbolism in which the Spirit or God is depicted, you’ll see similar elements visible in this church.
Its sanctuary has a sacred circle with a square altar in the middle. This is ancient symbolism, but it is not fundamentally Catholic symbolism.
The Blessed Sacrament chapel is awkward, hard to get into, carpeted and mostly asymbolic. … Its door outside looks like something you’d find on an industrial building.
Its windows are blue with symbols which mostly cannot be seen inside, but what light does come through is a blue glow. This is one of many missed opportunities to teach, but its design is intentional by the designer.
It utilizes a traditional crucifix from the old church, but is placed off center on a wooden grillwork which makes it hard to see and appreciate.
There is no desire to put forward Catholic doctrine. When you spend $20 million on a church, you expect something a little better. The newer churches in Europe look much the same.
There is a poverty in the capacity and will of these designers to evoke higher concepts. For example, the Queen of Angels altar is not elevated. There is a symbolism to walking up steps to the altar; it reminds us of walking up the hill to Calvary. So, this element of the symbolism of the Passion of Christ is gone.
It’s unfortunate that we remove the richness and wealth of sacred art and architecture that we’ve accumulated over 2,000 years. We’ve embraced the literal and banal, like when you remove adjectives from a sentence. You can remove them and convey a basic meaning, but in a skeletal form, without the full richness of meaning you can convey.