What does the Church teach us about designing liturgical spaces?
Take a moment to think of a beautiful building that moves you, or that holds a special place in your life. Was it a family home, worship space, art museum, library, or a performing arts center? Certain places touch our spirit deeply and remind us what our lives are for.
Many Catholic Christians recognize the sacred space that is their parish church, or marvel at ancient cathedrals and basilicas built throughout the world to the glory and grandeur of God. As a pilgrim people, we also encounter magnificent architectural achievements of different religious communities throughout history. Certain holy sites remind us that heaven and earth commune in certain times and places.
This happens in your own parish church, at the altar. We celebrate the most important “communion” of our lives in this space: Eucharist. The People of God are formed by this architectural space and the eucharistic liturgy. In the church building the community gathers together, experiences nourishment and renewal, and then is sent forth from that space to proclaim the gospel, and live eucharistic lives.
Built of Living Stones anniversary year gives us the opportunity to pause and truly appreciate our sacred spaces and liturgies. It gives us the opportunity to observe anew the importance of the unique aspects within our church buildings that, like stones of faith and lives of hope, work together to provide amazing dwelling places.
Twenty years ago, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), compiled a new set of guidelines and laws for the Church of the United States of America concerning liturgical art and architecture. This new document Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture, and Worship (BLS) gathered together the rich tradition of the Church’s process of designing new worship spaces in order to aide parish communities in one of the most beautiful, significant and formative experiences in the life of a local church.
BLS sought to assist the challenging process of building a new church, renovating an existing one, or make changes to a sacred space. BLS gathered the resources of liturgical documents since the Second Vatican Council (i.e. the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, pertinent codes in the Code of Canon Law, the General Instructions of the Roman Missal) and previous guidelines (Environment and Art in Catholic Worship) to codify a process for the Church of the USA. Twenty years later, BLS holds up well through the test of time and is truly a thorough, well thought out document that leaves “no stone” left unturned. Quite comprehensive, BLS continues to help communities see the importance of every aspect of liturgical space, liturgical rite (e.g. Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, weddings, ordinations, funerals or typical Sunday masses) and liturgical season (e.g. the Triduum, Christmas and parish’s holy days to name a few).
BLS’s anniversary year gives us the opportunity to pause and truly appreciate our sacred spaces and liturgies. It gives us the opportunity to observe anew the importance of the unique aspects within our church buildings that, like stones of faith and lives of hope, work together to provide amazing dwelling places. Through the course of this anniversary year Emmanuel will offer articles that explore how sacred spaces continue to shape the many different facets of our lives. BLS’s envisions how we best build a place for God and ourselves to dwell in time, to give communal praise and worship to God, to pause for personal prayer and meditation, and to be reminded that we are the Body of Christ. This important work continues today. The houses of God on earth are built to renew us for mission – may they continue to inspire and witness to a living faith.