Built of Living Stones 38-39: Cultural Diversity

Today, the Church does have more of an appreciation for applying the gifts of various cultures to worship. The rites, not as much as architecture and art:

§ 38 § The church building respects the culture of every time and place. The Roman rite respects cultural differences and fosters the genius and talents of the various races and peoples.(SC 37 and 119; CCC 1158) This cultural diversity can be expressed in architectural styles, in art forms, and in some instances in the celebration of liturgical rites with appropriate adaptations.

§ 39 § Just as each local community is different, styles and forms of churches will vary. The New Testament speaks of the upper room where Christ gathered the apostles for the Last Supper and appeared to them after the resurrection, and where the Holy Spirit descended on the Blessed Virgin and the Twelve at Pentecost. After the Lord’s ascension, believers gathered in homes for the celebration of the “breaking of the bread.”(Cf. Mk 14:15; Acts 2:42 and 17:16-34) Such homes evolved into “house churches” and became the Christian community’s earliest places for worship. The unique forms and architecture of the Roman and Byzantine world provided the Church with an architectural language in the form of the basilica. With its long nave and an apse for the bishop and clergy, the basilica quickly became a standard architectural form for churches of the West. The effect of these architectural forms is still reflected in the structure of our liturgical life today.

The biblical witness is the house church. Basilicas were a development of pagan Rome: a large building erected in a city or town in which to conduct business or politics. The first of them were built in the 2nd century BC, and were later coopted for Christian worship in the fourth century. The basic form was copied for the explicit purpose of Christian worship. I’m not sure the general form is optimal for the celebration of the sacraments, but the tradition is still with us.

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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One Response to Built of Living Stones 38-39: Cultural Diversity

  1. Liam says:

    Well, there is documentary evidence that Christians worshipped in large non-house buildings at least a few generations before Toleration, if not even earlier. In other words, the house church pattern was not necessarily what Christians themselves desired, but was a pragmatic solution to circumstances. It seems that, wherever Christians could worship freely (not just within the Roman empire but outside it), they soon gravitated to larger and more splendid worship spaces, so we need to get past the tired Whig-history-inspired trope of Constantine-to-Theodosius I being the serpent in the Garden of Eden for Christianity. It’s a very popular interpretation with a long history behind it, but it’s just a lot creakier as a historical theory than people understand.

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