22/8/10 – The General Plan of the Church

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 sixth principle, namely:

The general plan of the church

Over the centuries, many Catholic churches have been built.  Very rarely is one church building identical to another, and the layout, design and style of the buildings has changed immensely over the period of almost two thousand years.  So what, then, are the basic requirements for the general plan of a church?

Firstly, the liturgical documents since Vatican II focus on the church being arranged so that “it in some way conveys the image of the gathered assembly” (Rite of Dedication of a Church and Altar, Ch 2, No 3; General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 294) It is a reminder to us once again that it is the whole Church, each of us gathered together that becomes one body in Christ and celebrates the liturgy.  There needs to be, therefore, spaces for each of the various ministries to be carried out.  Once again, the arrangement of the church should encourage full, conscious and active participation of everyone in the liturgy.

Considering the matter of participation further, the most recent General Instruction of the Roman Missal encourages the provision of seating for the assembly, as well as ensuring good lines of sight to focal points such as the ambo, altar and presidential chair.  It encourages us to provide adequate sound amplification, and space to allow us to move as necessary during the Mass – both to sit, stand and kneel as required, but also to move in procession to communion (GIRM, 311).

Also, while the church is a liturgical space, we are also challenged to think about how our place of worship also provides the usual comforts that people come to expect when they gather in public buildings.  This could include facilities such as toilets and parking, but also extend to other areas such as suitable climate control (GIRM, 293).

Finally, our Guiding Concepts Committee met last weekend to draw together the material and feedback gained from parishioners during our meeting with Fr Stephen Hackett MSC in June.  A draft of the guiding concepts has been prepared and is being reviewed by the committee before it is presented to all parishioners in due course.

20/12/09 – The Central Seating Arrangement

A diagram of a central seating arrangement

We now conclude our exploration of seating arrangements this week by looking at another which has become more common of late – the central arrangement.

This seating arrangement is characterised by the central location of the sanctuary, or at least the altar, in the worship space (hence the name central arrangement).  The seating for the assembly is then arranged around the centrally located altar.  One example of the central arrangement can be found in the recently built church of St. John the Baptist, Woy Woy.  This seating arrangement is probably most akin to the very earliest spaces of Christian worship outside of the Jewish temples.  With the eucharist often celebrated at that time in homes and specially prepared “house churches”, the small communities who gathered would have done so around the table, just as they would have done for other meals.

The central arrangement very clearly reflects the understanding that the entire assembly gathers and celebrates the eucharist together.  Their very act of gathering to celebrate together makes Christ present; it forms they into the Body of Christ.

Like the antiphonal arrangement, people can be concerned about facing others.  Addressing this concern at our own St. Patrick’s Cathedral, our diocesan director of liturgy, Fr Peter Williams wrote in Liturgy News of March 2004.  He pointed out that such an arrangement of people gathered around the altar is not designed for us to be “distracted”, but to focus on the liturgical celebration, and to be reminded that we ourselves form the Body of Christ when we gather to worship.  We are also reminded, consequently, that through the eucharist, we “become what we receive”.

6/12/09 – The Antiphonal Seating Arrangement

A diagram of a typical antiphonal seating arrangement

We continue our exploration of seating arrangements this week by looking at an arrangement found in a number of churches, including our own cathedral – the Antiphonal arrangement.

This seating arrangement found its origin the monastic orders, and can often be found in the chapels of religious orders.  This is because the orders have maintained the tradition of praying the Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office.  The manner of praying of the psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours is well supported by a seating arrangement of rows on each side of the space, facing towards the sanctuary in the centre of the space.  The sanctuary then runs the full length of the space, often with the altar in the middle, and the ambo and presidential chair at each end (although this may vary).

This arrangement allows for the gathering of the assembly around the sanctuary, which is clearly evident as the centre of the Eucharistic celebration.  This arrangement also lends itself very effectively to the celebration of other sacraments and forms of prayer.  For example, there is still space in the centre where a coffin can be placed, or for candidates to process forward to the bishop for confirmation.  When there is a smaller assembly gathered, and the altar is not to be used, the assembly can then gather around the ambo where the scriptures will be proclaimed.

The major concern for some people, however, is a sense that people are “facing each other”.  While we may not be used to doing this at church, the point of the seating arrangement is not to be looking at others.  The point, rather, is to be gathered around the altar, and focused on where each part of the celebration is taking place.  Being able to see others, however, can serve to remind us that we gather together as a community for worship, and that in doing so, we make Christ present within us through our very presence and participation.

29/11/09 – The Radial Seating Arrangement

A diagram of a typical radial seating arrangement

We continue our exploration of seating arrangements this week by looking at an arrangement that has become more common in the last fifty years, the Radial arrangement.

This seating arrangement has become more popular since the Second Vatican Council.  The main motivation for its development has been a desire to increase the sense of the assembly being gathered around the altar.  As such, the radial arrangement sees rows of pews or chairs arranged around the front and sides of the sanctuary in a fan shape, with the sanctuary remaining along a wall, or perhaps positioned so it extends from a corner of the space.

In some ways, this seating arrangement is somewhat of a compromise.  It provides people with a greater sense of being a part of a gathered community united in worship, but without deviating too much from a typical processional arrangement.  We can see a bit more than the backs of people’s heads, and the attention of the assembly is still very much directed towards the sanctuary.

One key limitation of the radial arrangement, however, comes from its similarity to the processional arrangement.  Its fan shape, or theatre style, can still give some people the sense that they are an audience; spectators observing a liturgy celebrated by the priest.  This perception is not in keeping with our belief that the liturgy of the work of Christ and his Church – the entire Church – priest and lay people gathered together in Jesus’ name.

22/11/09 – The Processional Seating Arrangement

A diagram of a typical processional seating arrangement

We begin our exploration of seating arrangements this week by looking at an arrangement well known to Wentworthville parishioners, the Processional arrangement.

This seating arrangement is the one we see in our own church, and has existed for many years.  The seats are all placed in rows facing the sanctuary at one end of the space.  This seating arrangement particularly suited the celebration of Mass prior to the Second Vatican Council.  The priest celebrated ad orientum, that is, all were of the same orientation – focused on the altar against the end wall of the church.

The processional seating arrangement’s advantages are that all attention is directed towards the sanctuary and its focal points of the altar, ambo and presidential chair.  Seating capacity within the space is maximised.  It is also a seating arrangement very well suited to personal prayer.  It can provide for clear lines of sight, and impressive processions through the church.

On the other hand, it can be argued that this arrangement suggests that the liturgy is the work of the priest which the assembly observes.  Nowadays, we understand that the liturgy is the work of Christ and his Church; all of us united in faith and gathered to worship.  It can also mean that people are a long distance from the sanctuary; again potentially limiting the sense of being an active participant in the liturgical celebration.  Distance also affects the assembly’s ability to see and hear what is happening.