Well, folks! It’s been a great run. However, our writing staff has decided to move on to bigger and better things. We figured that web design and articles were too mainstream. Instead, we’ve decided to allocate our resources to a far more lucrative operation. By the way. Happy April Fools Day 🙂
by Liam O’Toole, The Catholic University of America
The parish of St. Joseph of Cupertino on Mars is a planned new design for a new church on a completely new planet. It will be built sometime around mid-century (in the 2050s or later), presuming the success of the SpaceX expeditions to Mars. The church would serve the spiritual needs of the first residents of the planet following the creation and population of Mars with colonies of people and would fall under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, as the SpaceX expeditions leave from a base located in that diocese (Boca Chica). Stylistically, St. Joseph of Cupertino on Mars will emphasize the wonder and majesty of Mars, as it is closer to the sun and has been viewed traditionally as closer to the heavens. The church will make use of the resources of the planet and resources from Earth to awe the parishioners and emphasize that their journey to Mars can be seen as a journey closer to God.
Elon Musk began his company of SpaceX with the intention of leading successful missions to Mars, with the long term goal of establishing a colony on the planet as backup in case Earth becomes uninhabitable. Using his proposed “Big Falcon Rocket”, he hopes to populate the red planet with up to a million people by 2100. While this sounds like an overly optimistic and unrealistic plan, Musk claims it is necessary to recreate earthly civilization on a new planet. Assuming he is successful with these plans, the colony would need a place of worship for the residents of this new colony; and given the clean slate provided by a new planet, there is an opportunity for these residents to regain a sense of wonder in creation in a place unfamiliar to them. Tapping into this, the new parish church of St. Joseph of Cupertino should be among the new buildings of the new colony. Rather than building the church as a means of refuge in a harsh and seemingly inhabitable planet, the philosophy of the church draws on earlier traditions that viewed Mars and the planets as “heavenly bodies”. For instance, Mars makes up the fifth sphere of heaven in the Paradiso section of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Drawing on Canto XIV of Dante’s Paradiso, which places the souls of the fifth sphere of heaven on Mars within a large Greek cross, supposed to resemble to Milky Way galaxy, the architectural plan of the church will be Greek cruciform. As such, the altar will be at the center of the church with four equal-length aisles with pews proceeding outward from it. Thus the church will resemble earlier Byzantine churches. This will be done to ensure a feeling of unity amongst the parishioners. In terms of the capacity of the church, for the time being (as the one million figure cited by Musk seems unlikely), it will suffice to fit a congregation of about five hundred people. Following this Byzantine style, at the center of the church (the center of the cross), above the altar, will be a large dome. However, unlike traditional Byzantine churches, the dome will not be ornate or decorated– rather, the dome will be clear and made glass, reinforced in a sort of bubble to protect the congregation from the unsafe atmosphere of Mars. This is done in accordance with the USCCB guidelines on the construction of the church, which is supposed to point towards “heavenly realities”. Here, the heavenly realities are of the heavens themselves– represented in the vastness of space. The new residents on Mars will be given a very different view of space from Mars than from Earth– and certainly with much less light pollution. So the dome will be clear for the purpose of awing parishioners with a view of space. This large dome will also provide much of the lighting of the church through natural means. Just below the dome, however, will be Latin text from the Vulgate translation of the beginning of Genesis, written across the dome in large lettering: “In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram”. This passage describes how God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning, and here “caelum” (heaven) will be in gold to emphasize its importance. The point here is to give the congregation a new view into creation in this new environment; while all of us are familiar with the creation of earth, we are less so with the vastness of space, or the heavens.
At the center of the church will be the altar, which will appear mostly similar to typical altars that the parishioners may remember from earth. The difference being is that the altar will not be made of earthly material but rather from rocks from Mars; this is to fit the USCCB’s guideline that the altar be made of natural stone, and it would be too costly to bring stone from earth. It follows to construct the altar from local materials. The altar will be made of a type of rock common on Mars, Martian sandstone; both the table and the supports, as would the cross on top of the altar, albeit the cross will be polished sandstone to emphasize its importance. Underneath the altar will be a relic of St. Joseph of Cupertino, hopefully his body if it can be obtained, for whom the parish is named. Joseph of Cupertino is the patron saint of space travel and flying as he is said to have performed levitations as part of his spiritual practice. The altar will not be very ornate or excessively decorated, however, but rather simple to emphasize the humility of Christ’s sacrifice on the altar; the USCCB advises that one should be moderate in decorating the altar. So the altar will be inscribed with a cross on the front of the table, as well as the cross on top of it, but other than the altar cloth, this will be the extent of its decoration.
Above this altar, suspended, will be a crucifix with Jesus on it. This feature will be forged entirely from meteorites that landed on Mars, of iron and nickel. The purpose of this is to set the figure of Christ apart, by showing His ultimate sacrifice as something coming from beyond (beyond even Mars) down to the human level. The shiny coal color of the meteorite sets Christ apart from the the duller colored Martian sandstone. The crucifix will proceed upward from the altar, heading towards the ceiling as if to represent his ascension. Surrounding this central dome, and also going down the aisles, will be columns made of sandstone; classical Doric columns that point one’s attention upwards toward the dome into space. These lines pointing upward resemble the Gothic technique of directing the viewer’s attention upward and thus toward the heavens. While the church will not primarily be an example of Gothic architecture, St. Joseph of Cupertino will use some of these techniques for its purposes, such that it actually borrows from several architectural styles. This is so the church can be said to transcend these earthly architectural styles– Byzantine and Gothic– which are used to point to something greater and other-worldly. The chair for the priest will be just off to the right side of the altar, and made out of wood, simply to be more comfortable than any Martian rocks. To the left of the altar will be the ambo, constructed out of the Martian volcanic rock called scoria. This has particular symbolic significance; as scripture is said to be like fire (Jeremiah 23:29), so the ambo from which the word is read is constructed of a rock from a volcano.
The parish will contain seven side chapels, five of these dedicated to one of the Glorious mysteries as typically prayed in the rosaries; these mysteries are focused on heaven, a major theme for the church. The first side chapel, however, will contain the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle in question will be constructed of a meteorite just like the crucifix. Each side chapel will contain a painting depicting the mysteries; respectively, the resurrection of Jesus, the ascension of Jesus into heaven, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the assumption of Mary, and the coronation of Mary as the Queen of Heaven and Earth. This chapel will be at the top right side of the church and the other four chapels will be spaced out evenly, following counter-clockwise for each mystery in chronological order. In addition to these six side chapels, the seventh will contain a depiction of the fifth sphere of heaven according to Dante’s Paradiso. Confessionals will be located in a similarly shaped eighth area.
The facade of St. Joseph of Cupertino is not intended to be particularly impressive or jaw-dropping. It will be built, as the main structure will be built, of Martian sandstone. It will not be overly ornate, with the idea in mind that the church from the outside will resemble something of a natural growth from Mars, proceeding upwards from the planet itself, and so it will not be decorated very thoroughly. It will be made of sandstone brickwork and from the outside the church will appear (as it is in the plan) similar to a typical Byzantine style church. Likely, given the danger posed by Mars’ atmosphere to humans, there will need to be a secure tunnel to transport parishioners inside and outside the church.
The Church of St. Joseph of Cupertino is intended to give the new settlers of a new Martian colony a sense of wonder about what they are experiencing, as they are experiencing something akin to a trip upwards to the heavens. It will serve normal spiritual needs for a regular parish, including Mass on Sundays and daily mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and the sacrament of reconciliation, while also emphasizing the majesty of God in a new environment that is also part of His creation.
Great article. Good forward planning! I hope the parish of St. Joseph of Cupertino is a big success.