Built of Living Stones 31: Participation

Liturgical participation is the hallmark of the conciliar reform of Catholic worship. It’s not a surprise it figures so highly in BLS.

§ 31 § The church building fosters participation in the liturgy. Because liturgical actions by their nature are communal celebrations, they are celebrated with the presence and active participation of the Christian faithful whenever possible.(canon law 837 § 2) Such participation, both internal and external, is the faithful’s “right and duty by reason of their baptism.”(SC 14; also 1 Pt 2:9, cf. 2:4-5) The building itself can promote or hinder the “full, conscious, and active participation” of the faithful. Parishes making decisions about the design of a church must consider how the various aspects and choices they make will affect the ability of all the members to participate fully in liturgical celebrations.

Buildings indeed are aids or obstacles to participation. Acoustics are the primary consideration, probably even more important than overall design elements. If a church doesn’t sing and allow the people to easily sing, it remains gravely flawed, no matter how well it hews to the other four principles. Fortunately, there is good counsel awaiting those who are serious about acoustics.

Accessibility is also important, especially for communities with a number of older believers. It is also important to consider those whose movements or senses are impaired in some way. While ADA compliancy isn’t foisted on churches, ADA guidelines are still helpful for those genuinely concerned with all members.

All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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5 Responses to Built of Living Stones 31: Participation

  1. Liam says:

    My favorite, even hobby-horse, over-ignored design issue (because it does not lend itself to written chatter).

    This is one area the Hermeneutic of Continuity is very weak. Over the course of the First Millennium, there was a shift from smaller worship spaces to larger ones. There was also a shift from not-merely-interior-and-sacramental-participation to almost-entirely-interior-participation by most of the faithful at large, and there was a shift in liturgy that was intertwined with this (the causal relationship, if any, is mostly lost to the sands of history). In the ages that followed, huge churches could be built without regard for the faithful at large to say or hear much distinctly (let alone in their own mother tongue). There was some push-back with the preaching mendicant orders in the High Middle Ages, and the Jesuits and Oratorians in the post-Tridentine era – pushbacks that tried to recover the ability of congregations to hear preaching well, at least – but the addiction to gigantism remained vigorous.

    When Vatican II extend Pius X’s revolution in sacramental participation with a derivative emphasis on active-and-not-merely-interior-and-sacramental participation in the liturgy, there have been consequences for building new churches. At least for parish churches (cathedrals always being a special case, due to the need to host diocesan-wide events), the premium on gigantism is no longer opportune. Mind you, that doesn’t mean smaller is necessarily more perfect per se. It just means one needs to think about how the worship space functions *naturally* (that is, without electronic crutches) for people to sing and participate in dialogues and prayers, et cet. A certain warm resonance is very desirable (so a measure of height and breadth is good), but not a diaphanous nimbus of sound effected by deep domes on drums (shallow domes without drums – think shallow Byzantine dome or even the work of John Sloane in London 200 years ago – can work if very carefully designed) and/or by complex vaulting. The smaller late Antique Roman basilicas offer some good examples (Sta Sabina for a large parish church, Sta Maria Maggiore for a cathedral-size church), with warm, superlative acoustics. (By contrast, the current St Peter’s is an acoustical nightmare.)

  2. Jimmy Mac says:

    This one might meet most if not all of your criteria:

    MHR-Easter-Celebrations--35

    Seats about 350 in antiphonal seating. Very good acoustics. The only reason for a mike for most presiders is that it feeds into earphones for the hard-of -hearing.

    The building was built in 1907 and refurbished in 1989.

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