Built of Living Stones 4-6: Challenges and Opportunities

Building a church presents opportunity for a Catholic community, but also potential challenges. How do we give an appropriate expression to the many different styles and forms, even perhaps within a single parish?

§ 4 § Catholics who live and worship in the United States in the twenty-first century celebrate a liturgy that is the same as that of earlier generations in all its essentials but significantly different in its language, style, and form. Recent shifts in the visual arts and in building styles as well as the development of new materials and sound amplification systems have created both opportunities and challenges for those engaged in the building and renovation of places for worship.

New materials will provide some answers. But not all of them.

§ 5 § To be able to make specific recommendations about building and renovation projects, parish members need to understand the nature of the liturgy, the space it requires, and the ways in which the physical building can help or hinder worship. Because of the spectrum of ideas, opinions, spiritualities, and personal preferences present in every parish, the assistance of church documents and teachings and of consultants and facilitators is beneficial in the processes of learning and making decisions. With such assistance, parish leaders and members can develop the skills needed for building consensus and resolving conflicts.

BLS 5 presents a very wise ideal, that parishioners need to understand the basic principles of liturgy, then apply them to the building project. In a way, it’s more challenging than the task of building a church, then fitting everyone’s spirituality into a finished product. BLS outlines here in brief the role of the liturgical design consultant. Such a person must be knowledgeable about the theological and pastoral possibilities. But the consultant also needs to be a skilled facilitator. Building concensus and good decision-making is not unlike building a structure. It needs a plan. It requires care.

§ 6 § The challenges of building or renovating church buildings increase as the Church grows. The richness of ethnic and cultural groups in the Church in the United States today presents opportunities as we strive to become truly “catholic.” The Church seeks to integrate and utilize each culture’s strength in accomplishing Christ’s mission to bring the Gospel to every person and to proclaim—through all the concerns of daily life—the abiding love and presence of God in the world. (Lumen Gentium 17, Varietates Legitimae 18)

Things are more difficult now that American Catholics have moved past ethnic communities modeling their church buildings on the religious aspects of their mother culture. BLS suggests that we need to become more “catholic,” and less German, Irish, or Italian. I would say we also need to be more Catholic, less traditional/progressive/left/right/old/new.

I admire the bishops for addressing these big problems upfront, for suggesting that a consultant is often a useful piece of the process, and that the human relationships of a faith community need just as much attention as the building materials.


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

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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