Let’s wrap up the document …
§ 257 § Church architecture embodies the Gospel and awakens true liturgical piety in all believers, drawing them into the life of the Triune God.(Catechism 1079-1109) The eucharistic piety around which churches are built is always Trinitarian, Christological, Scriptural, and communal, and builds upon the Church’s liturgical tradition lex orandi, lex credendi. Without such well-grounded liturgical piety, the church building will lack the essentials for which it was constructed. The most technically brilliant architecture can lack a Christian soul if it does not house a community with the mind and heart of Christ.
It’s good to be reminded there is no magic formula. Aspiring to the mind and heart of Christ is hard work. Not a cookbook recipe.
§ 258 § Decisions about what is considered appropriate Christian art, while they should be informed by expert taste and opinion, are best made after consultation with the whole liturgical assembly under the leadership of the pastor. When the Church’s buildings and artworks engender a contemplative attitude toward God’s creation, toward Christ’s redemption of history, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they proclaim her faith in visible signs and evangelize the neighborhood, the city and the nation. Non-believers point to them as stunning examples of art as well as mysterious, public symbols of Christian piety. Without a meditative dimension, Christian architecture risks reducing the mystery of divine presence to either social action or to a comfortable domesticity.
Meditation is not to be easily found in all aspects of what is perceived as tradition. We can be informed by the genius of European architecture; we need not be slaves to imitating it.
§ 259 § Prayer and liturgy both arise from communities of faith and, at the same time, help to create those communities. The eucharistic assembly enters into a dialogue initiated by God and continued among brothers and sisters. Without a commitment to the building of community, a parish may create a church building that is architecturally refined but stark and oppressively distant.
§ 260 § The process of building a church calls the People of God to the unfinished business of the community; it alerts the eucharistic assembly to the fact that complacency is destructive and that Christ’s redemption of the universe is incomplete until God is truly all in all. Without the prophetic challenge of the Holy Spirit, church buildings could be merely triumphalistic monuments, a confirmation of comfortable opinions. The Spirit’s prophetic gift reminds the assembly of the poor in the midst of plenty, of the homeless living on the streets, and of the abused and battered whose faces can be so easily avoided. These members of the Communion of Saints must be welcome at the Table of the Lord, and their concerns and needs must guide all building decisions. “What makes a church different from any other building is not its form or shape but rather how it facilitates for a particular community of believers a regular unfolding of the Christian mystery, the eternal divine plan for humanity as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.”(The Place of Worship: Pastoral Directory on the Building and Reordering of
Churches) Eucharistic assemblies, housed in church buildings, have Jesus Christ at their center. He is the Word spoken by divine mystery, the beloved Son of the Father, the head of the community of believers, and the prophet who challenges and inspires them to live for God and neighbor. Every church built for the People of God unfolds his presence.
§ 261 § A characteristic of Christians is how they love one another even while they meet the challenge of building a new place for worship. It may be difficult and the fabric of the assembly may fray and even tear. But the Spirit’s work in the assembly of God’s People encourages cooperation so that each can perform a task for the building up of the Body of Christ. During a building process, the community works together with the diocese and with the universal Church as another way of building up the Church with the “living stones” from which God’s assembly is made. If the community looks upon its work with the eyes of faith, then it can be assured that God will bring the good work to completion.
A good conclusion.
Between you and me, I feel exhausted by the completion of this document. I will say the bishops have a few good moments, but otherwise give us a mostly pedestrian and well-referenced document. I think an American parish must review this piece, perhaps as a number two after the universal Church document on the rites.
All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.