Friday, October 19, 2007

Built of Living Stones

"Built of Living Stones" (hereafter: BLS) a document of the USCCB, proposing to set guidelines for the construction of churches in the United States. It, as it note itself, has no binding authority. It does however contain quotes from binding sources, namely the liturgical books, the GIRM, and Canon Law.

It is important to note that this document contains nothing expressly forbidding the traditional arrangement of the Church, on the contrary it includes the mandates for the Tabernacle to be in a noble and visible place, for the sanctuary to both exist and be distinguished from the nave, and for the various liturgical furnishings to be in their proper places.

In spite of this,Fr Vosko claims to use it as a foundational document in his plans that invariably involve making the sanctuary as unnoticeable as possible.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Fr Vosko and Church Documents

Fr. Vosko, in the first paragraph of the introduction to his recent book ("God's House Is Our House"), makes the foundational claim of his philosophy of church architecture: "[this] book may serve as an update on the art and architecture reforms set in motion by the Second Vatican Council." The question remains, however, what did the Council actually say about reforming Catholic art and architecture?

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Liturgy, devotes the last of its seven chapters to this topic. The primary standard it sets to govern the use of art in Churches (presumably applicable to the design of churches themselves) is that " their dedication to the increase of God's praise and of His glory is more complete, the more exclusively they are dedicated to turning men's minds devoutly to God." (SC 122). Canon Law defines a church as "sacred building designated for divine worship to which the faithful have the right of entry for the exercise, especially the public exercise, of divine worship." (CIC 1214)

In spite of noting that Church architecture has long been based on the principle that "the design should fit the purpose of the building and that it should be immediately obvious to all." (quoting A.G. Pugin), Fr Vosko goes on to promote the concept of a parish centrum as advanced notably by the iconoclastic Edward Sovik. This concept is directly opposed to SC's primary principle regarding art and architecture, proposing instead that the church be focused on the community assembled rather than on God. In light of this concept, this school of thought seeks to remove much of that which draws man's mind to God. The tabernacle is removed from a visible place in the main Church (in opposition to GIRM 314), the sanctuary abolished (against GIRM 295), and the priest seated with the assembly (310).

In stark contrast to this "modern" view (a look that is dated to the 60's and 70's) is the development of Christian architecture. As Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism, so is the Mass and the church a fulfillment of the Temple sacrifices and the synagogue. The design of the synagogue was based on the Temple and the Greek basilica style. The design for the Temple, the center of all Jewish worship, was based on the instructions God gave for the construction of the Tabernacle (the dwelling of God in the wilderness). Temple worship had two focal points: the Altar of Sacrifice, on which the priests offered sacrifices for the atonement of their sins and the sins of the people; and the Holy of Holies, where God dwelt upon the Ark of the Covenant.

Christians were not able to build public houses for worship for over three centuries due to various persecutions. After Constantine legalized Christianity, however, they started to build, basing their design on both the Temple and the basilica (from the Greek for 'house of the king') style. Very quickly the basic structure of Christian architecture was set, and it lasted 1600 years.

In this rough model there existed the sanctuary with the altar and the presider's chair, usually separated by height and/or a physical barrier (that became the iconostasis in the East and the rood screen or communion rail in the West) and the nave (where the people would stand or kneel). As the understanding of the importance of the Eucharist developed, the Tabernacle was introduced to hold the Sacred Species for when a priest was unavailable. As scrupulous ages passed, fewer people received the Eucharist frequently, and a new emphasis on adoring Christ in the Eucharist emerged, both within Mass (where the elevations at the Consecration began) and reserved in the Tabernacle.

By the time of the Protestant 'Reformation' form of the Church had been "perfected" in the Gothic form that are familiar with, from churches modeled on this style, including Our Lady of Good Counsel.