Tom Clancy in his book Clear and Present Danger talked about the camparison between LDS temples and the Roman Catholic Cathedrals. He, through the thoughts of his character Jack Ryan, described them both as outward symbols of faith. Built by the people of these two religions he saw them as memorials to the people who spent blood, treasure and toil working to express that faith which would out last them.
With that in mind I would like to discuss the roles of both and while I share the comparison because I can agree with it I also know that there is another comparison, one of majesty verses proximity.
My first experience with Catholic Cathedrals was in San Jose California. It was there that I was able to visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph.
It was an awe inspiring place. Confusing in some respects because the various statues and what looked like offerings to the various saints immortalized in statue form.
What surprised me most was how this sacred space was very temple like in design but different. The chairs were spaced in a square in the center of the building which created a sense of isolation. I have been told by some of those at the place that this was done to show the majesty of God. On the same time showing how small and fragile we as his creatures truly are.
Along with this sense of majesty there were story telling of various points in the life of Christ scattered around the cathedral walls. These were simplistic but yet obviously done in a way that anyone could understand what the message of the faith was. God exists, he came here to sacrifice himself for us, we need to remember that.
meanwhile I have also visited old monastic abbeys in England and one other cathedral in Wales. Both are now Anglican and seem to be lesser because of it. Whereas the Cathedrals were filled with light and colour both the Llandaff Cathedral and Bath Abbey were almost void of it.
That is not to say that the ideas of Catholic majesty were not still in the place.
Yet as I wandered through these buildings I was also comparing them to our modern cathedrals such as Salt Lake and Cardston, Alberta both temples built to create a sense of awe, certainly while walking around the Salt Lake Temple interior rooms I was impressed by the growing sense of awe.
Yet the temples there were not meant to create a majesty, but to create a proximity. By this I mean that we are supposed to travel through the temple getting closer to the over all unity with God. As we enter the Celestial room we are in the central place, where God dwells. To me that is the greatest difference.
Abbeys, Cathedrals and Monasteries create a sense that God is just so great we cannot even imagine him. We are nothing compared to him and while we are here we are less than dust because at least the dust obeys God. This is of course my personal opinion not a definite explanation from some Catholic source.
Within our temples I feel a strong sense of unity, of communion with a father not an omnipotent God but a loving father. This subtle feeling of proximity allows me to appreciate the special space and how it effects me. In a way i perceive it as more effective than the mind blowing opulence which I see in some of the better cathedrals.
Yet for both faiths each has set up a memorial to God as they understand it and both will out live their creators for many years to come.