15/8/10 – Designing Churches for Liturgical Celebration

At present, we are exploring the liturgical principles which underpin our work in the Church Renewal Process.  Having considered active participation, we now consider the fifth principle, namely:

Designing churches for liturgical celebration

In some religious traditions, sacred buildings are constructed (at least in part) to provide a place for their god to dwell.  The very existence of the building is enough to make it sacred, and to invite the sacred being to live within it.

In the Catholic tradition, we often refer to the church building as “the house of God”.  It is also, equally “the house of the people of God.”  This draws out a clear distinction between us and those other traditions.

Does God dwell within our church buildings?  Yes.  How?  Because of what we, the Church, do within our buildings.  It is through the celebration of the liturgy that Christ is made present amongst us; through the gathered, worshipping assembly, the priest, the proclaimed word, and the Eucharist.

God doesn’t need us to build church buildings any more than God needs us to celebrate the liturgy.  These both reflect our desire to give thanks to God and rejoice in the glory of the Paschal Mystery – Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that open up to us the gift of eternal life.

Our churches, therefore, need to be, first and foremost, practical buildings that allow us to carry out our work (the word “liturgy” comes from the Greek leitourgia – “the work of the people”).  The first criteria for determining how they are designed should always be how the design supports the liturgical celebration.

It is possible to design an exquisite, beautiful church which is nothing more than a landmark – to effectively celebrate the liturgy in such a place can be almost impossible.  On the other hand, there are very simple, plain churches which are laid out and designed in such a way that the community is nourished and enriched by the liturgy it celebrates there.  Hopefully we can ensure we have a beautiful church which allows us to celebrate the liturgy well.

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