General and Introductory Materials

Chapter d46 Art and Environment

Preliminary Questions


Outline of Chapters V & VI

Outline of the BCL Statement

Outline of the NCCB Statement

General Considerations

Ten Finger History

Short History of Church Architecture

To Think About

Preliminary Questions


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Some things I have published on Art and Environment

Richstatter, Thomas O.F.M. "Your Parish Church: How Should It Look Today?" Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, November 1980.

Richstatter, Thomas O.F.M. The Environment for Worship. 60 min. audio cassette. St. Anthony Messenger Tapes. 1615 Republic Street, Cincinnati OH 45210. CAS 075. Cassette 5 of "Today's Liturgy: New Style, New Spirit." $5.95. (Set = 076 CAS. $29.75).

Richstatter, Thomas O.F.M. The Environment for Worship. 28 min Video Cassette. Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Office of Communications. Video Cassette Catalogue, "Visions" Fall 1979, Tape number 1.15.

Richstatter, Thomas O.F.M. "A Tour of a Catholic Church," Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, March 1991. C0391.

Richstatter, Thomas O.F.M. "Inside a Catholic Church: What's There and Why?" Youth Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, October, 1994. Y1094. 

The Challenge of Change. 16mm, VHS, or Betamax cassette. Available for purchase or loan from Maison Bouvrier, 391 Hanlan Road, Woodbridge, Ontario Canada L4L 3T1.

[Mother Angelica, "Deceit." Mother Angelica Live on EWTN.  Video from 2/11/92.]

The principal Church documents on Art and Environment

Second Vatican Council. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Chapter VII "Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings". (Note: Discursive section = 122. Dispositive 123-130.)

General Instruction on the Roman Missal, Chapters V and VI, TLD 95-104.

Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy. National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Environment and Art in Catholic Worship. Washington DC: Publications Office USCC, 1978. Number 563-1, 100 pp., $7.95. [Published, without the illustrations, in TLD 265-292.]  After an initial enthusiastic reception, in recent years there has been some opposition to parts of the statement and the opponants have indicated that the document does not have the force of law.  To which the BCL replied: 

What is the authority of the document Environment and Art in Catholic Worship?

Environment and Art in Catholic Worship is a 1978 statement of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy. The purpose of the document is to provide principles for those involved in preparing liturgical space. The committee statement received the approval of the Administrative Committee in keeping with Conference policy. Because the document was not proposed as a statement of the whole conference of Bishops, the full body of bishops was never asked to consider it.

Environment and Art in Catholic Worship does not have the force of law in and of itself. It is not particular law for the dioceses of the United States of America, but a commentary on that law by the Committee for the Liturgy. However, it does quote several documents of the Apostolic See and in that sense it has the force of the documents it quotes in the areas where those documents legislate.

The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy has appointed a task group to revisit Environment and Art in Catholic Worship. The revised document, entitled Built on Living Stones, was approved by the full body of Bishops at the November 2000 meeting.

National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Built of Living Stones:  Art, Architecture, and Worship.  Guidelines of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Approved November 16, 2000.  USCC Publication No 5-408.  ISBN 1-57455-4080-5.  Available on line at

Other helpful resources

Vosko, Richard S.  "God's House Is Our House:  Re-imagining the Environment for Worship"  Collegeville:  Liturgical Press, 2006.

Brown, Bill. Building and Renovation Kit for Places of Catholic Worship. Liturgy Training Publications: Chicago, 1984. $49.00. [A practical resource for planning new churches or renovating existing ones. The full text of Environment and Art in Catholic Worship is included. The kit includes five booklets in a three-ring binder with organizers.]

Locsin, Mario. "Ambo and Book." Modern Liturgy May 1992: 20-21.

Macaulay, David. Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1973. $5.95. ISBN 0-395-31668-5. This book has been televised by Unicorn Projects, written and produced by Mark Olshaker and Larry Klein and can be found in the St. Meinrad's Library on video cassette, number 76.

Mauck, Marchita. Shaping a House for the Church. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1990. $9.95.

Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. A House for the Church. A five part color/sound filmstrip series 1979. $149.95.

Slon, Thomas R., S.J. "What the Church Building Wants to Be." Modern Liturgy May 1992: 8-12.

White, James F. Architecture for Worship. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988.

Vosko, Richard S. "The Community Table." Modern Liturgy May 1992: 17-19.

Vosko, Richard S. Ph.D. God's House is our House:  Re-imagining the Environment for Worship.  Collegeville:  The Liturgical Press, 2006.  ISBN # 0-8146-6014-6

The Archdiocese of Armagh has launched its Web site which contains a 360-degree virtual tour of St. Patrick's Cathedral.  The site has 450 pages of information on the life of the archdiocese including a section on shrines and places of pilgrimage.  The site may be accessed at

Movies - Tv See: Fr. Ellwood Kieser (Paulist), the "Hollywood priest" produced the movie Romero and the long-running television series Insight.

Revision of the Cathedral in Milwaukee

Some fine downloadable art can be found at

And at

Christians in the Visual Arts

Vatican Art Exhibit

Art and Image Gallery

The Fine Art Directory

Hollywood Jesus

Vosko, Richard S., Designing Future Worship Spaces: Walking God's Paths (video) April 27, 2004 Available from the Saint Meinrad Archabbey Library.

An online tour of St. Peter's Basilica     St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican is arguably the most important church in the Christian world. This Web site, unaffiliated with St. Peter's or the Vatican, is a straightforward look at the storied structure's history and features. It contains a detailed floor plan explaining the church's highlights; links to books, articles and a walking guide of the church; maps; pages and pages of history; and beautiful images of the church's unparalleled artifacts.

A very useful source for free liturgical clip art can be found at


Use of Media in Liturgy

You can find some resources on this question online, at

I didn't read the articles listed there, but expect they should be helpful, coming from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Other Christian churches have been at this for a while and can speak from experience; even in regard to traditions where the theology and practice of worship might differ from the typically RC, there'd be cross-over applicability.

A book on this topic is Quentin *Schultz, High-Tech Worship? Using Presentational Technologies Wisely. (And he may be available for consultation - he's just on the other side of town, in the communication arts and sciences dept. at Calvin.) And you could check to see if there are any workshops on this at their annual worship conference, in late January - more info at

At the Yale Divinity School --- Sacred Space: Architecture for Worship in the 21st Century October 25-26, 2007

At the Yale School of Architecture -- Constructing the Ineffable:

Contemporary Sacred Architecture

October 26-27

sacred architecture

The Interfaith Journal on Religion Art and Architecture

The new web service from the Georgetown Center for Liturgy

The Episcopal Church & Visual Arts

The Center for Congregations

The religious architecture Knowledge Community of the American Institute of Architects



Outline of Chapters V & VI of
The General Instruction on the Roman Missal

Chapter V: Arrangement and Decoration of Churches for the Eucharistic Celebration
1. General Principles
2. Arrangement of a Church for the Sacred Assembly
3. Sanctuary [De presbyterio]
4. Altar
5. Adornment of the Altar
6. Celebrant's Chair and Other Seats
7. The Lectern for Proclaiming God's Word
8. Places for the Faithful
9. Choir, Organ, and other Musical Instruments
10. Reservation of the Eucharist
11. Images for the Veneration of the Faithful
12. General Plan of the Church

Chapter VI: Requisites for Celebrating Mass
1. Bread and Wine
2. Sacred Furnishings in General
3. Sacred Vessels
4. Vestments
5. Other Requisites for Church Use Outline: NCCB Environment and Art

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Outline of the BCL Statement (1978)
Environment and Art in Catholic Worship





9-Liturgy and Tradition; 11-A Climate of Hospitality; 12-The Experience of Mystery; 14-The Opening Up of Symbols; 16-The Person-communal Experience; 18-The Sacred; 19-Quality and Appropriateness; 24-The Serving Environment; 25-The Service of the Arts.


28-The Assembly of Believers; 29-The Action of the Assembly; 33-Contemporary; 34-Beautiful; 35-The Human Experience; 36-Sinful; 37-Servant.


40-Primary Demand: The Assembly; 44-Teamwork; 49-Visibility and Audibility; 52-The Scale of a Space; 53-Unity of Space.


56-Personal Gestures; 57-Posture; 59-Processions; 62-East of Movement.


67-Dignity and Beauty; 68-Benches or Chairs; 70-The Chair; 71-The Altar; 74-The Ambo; 76- Baptistery; 78-Eucharistic Chapel; 80-Tabernacle; 81-Reconciliation Chapel; 82-Sacristy; 83-Musical Instruments.


85-Duplicated and Minimized; 88-The Cross; 89-Candlesticks and Candles; 90-The Easter Candle; 91-Books; 93-Vestments; 96-Vessels; 98-Images; 100-Decorations; 104-Audiovisuals.


The text is followed by by 39 photos introduced by:  "In the following illustrations there is an attempt to give visual examples of principles found in the text.  While viewing the examples this fundamental truth should be kept in mind:  When the Christian community gathers to celebrate its faith and vision, it gathers to celebrate what is most personally theirs and most nobly human and truly Church."

General Liturgical Principles:  When reading this document continue to gather "general liturgical principles" for your file. This document is especially rich in giving the "why's" and principles of liturgical art and space. Many of these principles are applicable to other liturgical areas also.

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Outline of the NCCB Statement (2000)
Built of Living Stones:  Art, Architecture, and Worship

Chapter One:  The Living Church

Chapter Two:  The Church Building and the Sacred Rites Celebrated There

Chapter Three:  The Work of Our Hands:  Art and Artists Assisting the Church at Prayer

Chapter Four:  Building a Church:  Practical Considerations

The former BCL document Environment and Art... contains 39 photos of church architecture.  Built of Living Stones  has only six small photos on the cover and five photos in the text; all are architecturally neutral (i.e. they can be in any church anywhere): a priest signing a woman on the forehead;  a girl lighting a votive candle at the National Shrine; a priest using incense at Mass; a young boy praying; a woman lighting a candle. 

Note the evolution of the title of the document:  until the last and final draft, the document was to be named Domus Dei  (Latin for:  The House of God).  The title shifted from Latin to English, and from Domus Dei  (The House of God) to Domus ecclesiae (Built with Living Stones, i.e. a House for the Church).

On November 16, 2000 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved new "Guidelines" for Church art and architecture:  Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture, and Worship.   The guidelines were developed with the assistance of a task group chaired by Bishop Frank Rodimer.  They can be found at

The preface of the document describes its scope and purpose.   "Twenty-two years after the publication of Environment and Art, the bishops of the United States present a new document on church art and architecture that builds on and replaces Environment and Art and addresses the needs of the next generation of parishes engaged in building or renovating churches. Built of Living Stones reflects our understanding of the liturgy, of the role and importance of church art and architecture, and of the integral roles of the local parish and the diocese that enter into a building or renovation project." 

"This document has been approved by the bishops of the Latin Church of the United States and issued by the authority of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on November 16, 2000. Built of Living Stones contains many of the provisions of universal law governing liturgical art and architecture and offers pastoral suggestions based upon the experience of the last thirty-five years. The document presents guidelines that can serve as the basis for diocesan bishops to issue further guidelines and directives for their dioceses. Where the document quotes or reiterates norms from liturgical books and the Code of Canon Law, those prescriptions are binding on local communities and dioceses."


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General Considerations

1.  Why study church architecture? "I'm no architect. I'm not building a church. Why should I be concerned about environment and art?"  If liturgy is something we ALL do together as the Body of Christ, we must ALL be concerned about the space we do it in.  The church building is like the "skin" of the congregation. The skin of an animal (bird, fish) can tell much about how the animal lives. The church building reveals what the people think about themselves as Church.  Many of you will be involved in arranging and re-arranging worship space.

2.  This is is a very sensitive issue.  Church architecture is the "skin" of our Faith  Messing around with that skin is like cosmetic surgery on your face.  It is something to be done very gently, very professionally, and only when necessary, etc.

3.  Remember the "Two Steps of Liturgical Adaptation"  a)  Negative Step:   removing those things which cover and cloud the structure of liturgy. Like taking the paint off a good piece of wood furniture.  And then b) Positive Step:  adding cultural adaptations. Like refinishing a good piece of wood furniture.

4.  "You can only see what you expect to see." The artist changes expectations.

5.  Money to the Church or to the Church Building? -- "Do you want to honor Christ's body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: "This is my body," and made it so by his words, also said: "You saw me hungry and did not feed me," and "in as much as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me." What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication. ... Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. ... Of what use is it to weigh down Christ's table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? ... Do not, therefore, adore the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all." (Homily by St. John Chrysostom 50, 3-4  (Hour of Readings, Saturday, week 21).)

6.  The Church or the Church Building?  Christ is the dwelling place, the temple, the church and so
We are the Church.  Church is an assembly hall for the gathering of the People of God.  Is the building for us or for God? Is it our house or God's house? A decision has to be made as to which of these is primary. There is a sense that it cannot be our house and God's house at the same time.
Christian Church : Assembly Space :: Pagan Temple : Throne for the Divinity. (Note how many churches were built as a space in which the focus was on the tabernacle. Mass was offered in order to have consecrated Bread to be placed in the tabernacle. Mass was described at the turn of the century as the "words of consecration with prayers before and after.")

The Michael Himes Principle of Sacramentality: "That which is always and everywhere true must be noticed, accepted, and celebrated somewhere sometime." E.g. Sacred Place: A place (a church, Lourdes, etc) is not holy as opposed to other places which are not holy. All places are God's places. All places are equally present to God. But if all places are God's places, there must be a sacrament of God's place - there must be some place where we notice, accept, and celebrate God's Presence.

"Church architects seem to be letting more sun in. Church buildings were once stained glass heavens. The only sun that managed to come in arrived filtered through multicolored mosaics of Christ or a saint. This darkened the interior of the church and make it into a separate world, obviously more sacred than the outside. But in many churches today there is a combination of stained glass and clear windows. Often the stained glass sections are behind the altar and the clear glass section along the side or in the ceiling. Et seems to be saying that this is a sacred place, but so is the world outside. We do not leave the world by entering this church. We bring it in with us, and we see it differently. We do not block out the sun which lights the everyday world. Its rays will warm out sacred place ... In this life-setting, ministry is trying to find a balance between being environment-creative and environment-reflective." (Michael A. Cowan, "Foreword," Alternative Futures For Worship: Volume 6, Leadership Ministry in Community, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1987, p 18.)

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Ten Finger History

For an explanation of this historical grid memory aid, click here.

1. Apostolic [0-399]

2. Patristic [400-799]

3. Early Medieval [800-1199]

4. Medieval [1200-1299]

5. Late Medieval [1300-1499]

6. Reformation [1500-1699]

7. After Trent [1700-1899]

8. Before Vatican II [1900-1959]

9.  Vatican II [1960-1975]

10. Today and Tomorrow [1975-2050]

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Short History of Church Architecture
Rev. David Groller

The Teachings of Jesus

Jesus didn't ask his followers to build anything.
At the Transfiguration he persuaded his disciples not to build some shrines they thought were appropriate.

Worship involves persons, not places. Persons are the temples. They are the holy things. It is in them that the reign of God is present.

The Early Church

Evidence in the New Testament that there was disagreement in the very early church about the teachings of Jesus.

The universality of the Gospel was asserted -- a Gospel for Gentiles as well as Jews, for rich and poor, male and female, a faith committed to service. This is what we mean when we say we are Catholic--not that everything is the same--rather--we are open to everyone.

No N.T. hint that the Christians of the apostolic age built, or wanted to build, place of worship, or that they designated specific places exclusively for cultic uses.

They started to preach and teach in the synagogues, but they soon found themselves excluded. So they met wherever it was convenient.

This pattern continued into the page of the Church Fathers and Mothers. The Roman empire was filled with a variety of religions each with it's own shrine, temples, altars and holy places. The Christians saw themselves unique in that their faith was unattached to any place.

Hippolytus (230) "It is not a place that is called 'church,' nor a house made of stones and earth....What then is the church? It is the holy assembly of those who live in righteousness."

Clement of Alexandria (200) "It is not the place, but the assembly of the elect that I call the church."
By the time of the first empire-wide action against Christians (about the middle of the third century), Christianity had become the official religion in a Mesopotamian state. It was here at a place called Dura Europos, that we find the ruins of the earliest known ruins of a Christian Church. It was a family dwelling converted to be a small church building.

Dura Europos: The ruins indicate that a wall had been removed and two rooms joined to provide space for the eucharistic assembly. At one end appears a small platform, possibly for the altar-table and bishop's throne. A room at the opposite side of the house was probably used as a baptistery. It has a font covered by a canopy, and walls ornamented with frescoes. Early on there appears explicit allocation of spaces for different liturgical functions, a pattern reflected in almost all subsequent church buildings.

By the last part of the third century, we find some generalities in church buildings:
places of worship were domestic in character; places are called domus ecclesiae, the house of the church, rather than domus dei, the house of God; places were secular in character; the new buildings were patterned not after the forms of temples of shrines, but after the basilicas, which were places of civil assembly. The civil basilica served much the same functions as the country courthouse and high-school auditorium do in American towns. A rectangular building with a semicircular apse at one end. In this apse, there was a platform with a throne for the judge, who might be flanked by scribes. There was no seating, the mobile congregation moving wherever they could best hear and see.

The Religion of the Empire

 When Christianity became the religion of the empire--the buildings in which the church met--took on official status. The emperor's architects simply adapted a well-developed building type, the basilica, or Roman law court.

The word "church" becomes not only the designation for the community, but also the place where they met. The notion of holiness as a quality attached to things and places, which had been held by pagans, was not accepted by Christians.

The life of the Christian so bound up with everyday living, now begins to take on something separate from the rest of living. Three things contribute to the change: Converts came to the church in multitudes--the rich, the powerful instruction in the faith which demanded several years of preparation and possible martyrdom now only took a short time.

The swelling crowds caused the house churches to no longer be adequate; they begin to build special structures. [When structures are built to shelter a particular enterprise, that enterprise tends to be seen as disparate from other categories of life.]

Immense honor that came to be associated with the martyrs. We are no building monuments to their memory. We collect relics and saints and other "holy" objects and church buildings become the holding places of these things.

The Middle Ages

Build giant monuments - economic gains for the town - housing and parading of relics to draw people.

Buildings become giant theological textbooks for people. They are illiterate (except for the clergy) the windows and type of buildings continue the teachings of God as King and people as vassals. 

Church buildings tended to develop in a longitudinal direction, partly because of technology. This was due to the development of the gothic bay. It was also a result of complex developments in the forms of worship and the specialization of priests and lesser clergy plus those in religious orders. These influences can be seen most dramatically in the retreat of the altar-table from proximity to the assembly space until the sanctuary space becomes located at the farthest extremity of the building from the rest of the assembly space.

The Middle Ages saw the development of highly specialized types of churches: pilgrimage churches, churches for monastic communities, collegiate churches, cathedrals, preaching churches, and ordinary parish churches.

The pacesetters seem to have been the monastic churches revolved around saying and singing the office.

Large communities could include as many as a thousand members--a functional type of building evolved for monastic worship.

Most important space = choir stalls arranged in two parallel sections.--this provided a church within a church, often sectioned off by screens. [for a monastic community this was functional.] a high altar table in the sanctuary served for mass, and other altar-tables were scattered throughout the building for private masses.

Not surprising that these highly specialized buildings had a disproportionate effect on parish churches. The division between nave and chancel, so functional in the monastic church, was a disaster in parish churches but was imitated with zeal. The medieval parish church had become an excellent place for personal devotions (which was really how it had come to be used primarily) but a very poor place for genuinely liturgical worship with that "full conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy." (CSL,14).

The Reformation

Even though the reformers destroyed furnishings and art, the buildings still stood. Architecture is a more influential factor in the life of society than most people suppose. The buildings, standing for centuries continued to teach people that there ought to be such places as a "house of God." Despite what people read or heard of the words of Jesus or the apostles or the Early Fathers and Mothers, the silent voice of architecture spoke more persuasively.

The 19th century saw a reversal in church architecture. The romanticism of the Cambridge Movement led many churches in the English speaking world to see the Middle Ages by moonlight and to clamor for a return to a neo-medieval type of building. These can be seen in many of the church buildings built by our ancestors from Europe in the 19th century.  Revivalism emphasized pulpit personalities and massed choirs developed the concert stage arrangement. Roman Catholic churches of this period tended to be versions of this.  For the last four centuries, the environment for worship has been the child of the Middle Ages and not the Reformation. Most of the church buildings have continued to establish "holy places," more or less on Medieval patterns.

"If we are the Church, the church building is not only God's house, it is our house. The design and furnishings are to help us become Church. The primary symbol which speaks to men, women and children today about the nature of God is not the building but the living Church. Are the people inviting and warm, forgiving and joyful? Are they spooky and cold, distant and inaccessible? The building is a house for the Church; it must facilitate not only what God is going to do there, but also what we are going to do there." (Richstatter, p.2)

The Modern Period

Influence of modern architects: e.g. Mies Van Der Rohe.
Gathering Space

Participation -- space to DO something in

Door -- entrance to a new space and time
(Make a survey to see in how many parishes you enter by the main door and in how many you enter immediately into the worship space -- especially because of the placement of the door in relation to the parking lot).

Architecture - Space Design. Movement through a path to a point.

One assembly, one door, one tomb womb, [no holy water font].

One assembly: not a stage with an audience. In an auditorium the stage is the worst place for the altar and priest. Does your church look like an auditorium with a stage with audience and actors? Sren Kierkegaard wrote: "Many Christians tend to view the minister/priest as the actor, God as the prompter, and the congregation as the audience. But actually, the congregation is the actor, the minister/priest merely the prompter, and God the audience." (Sren Kierkegaard. Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing, New York: Harper & Row, 1956, pp 180-181. Quoted in Erickson, "Liturgical Participation" Worship 59 (1985) p 232.) This would mean that the whole congregation is "on stage."

One assembly composed of faithful, ministers, choir,
Are ministers (including priest presiding) clearly a part of the assembly?
Is the choir clearly a part of the assembly?

No Stage: Perhaps the greatest difference between a church and almost all other large public assembly areas that we are used to seeing (sports arena, opera house, theater, cinema, etc ) is that in the church there is no "stage." These other spaces have a place where the action takes place and a place for the spectators or audience. At Mass, there is no audience. Eucharist is a sacred action performed by the community together. All are participants; there are no spectators. This will make a church look different from the other assembly areas we are accustomed to. St. Paul uses the image of a human body to illustrate our unity in Christ. Just as our human body is one but has many members with different functions, so it is in the Body of Christ. The church is designed so that the unity of the body is evident, and so that the various members of the body can exercise their proper function: musician, reader, presider, etc. For example the choir is placed in such a way that they are clearly an integral part of the assembly, and in such a way that they can exercise their ministerial function.

Baptismal Pool -- As baptism is the door to the church, the first thing we see as we enter the church building is the place for baptism. When a church has more than one door or entrance, sometimes a small bowl reminding us of baptism is placed by each door so that the parish members can dip their hand in the water and renew their baptismal promises as they come to eucharist. (Multiplication of holy water fonts, similar to the multiplication of side altars.)
Baptism is the door to the Church -- the Tomb Womb is at the door of the church.
Ambry: display oils -- not locked in secret -- let people see the oils reverently stored -- in relation to the baptismal pool.
Can tomb womb serve as "holy water font"?

Seats and benches (Pews) -- "The inner participation of the faithful at the holy action has to be exhibited in a suitable bodily posture. the principal posture has always been a posture of standing. Before the higher Being whom we wish to honor, we stand erect, particularly when we recognize our obligation of service. Just as the priest at the altar stands before God in reverential readiness, so also the faithful." (Jungmann 239)

For the first thousand years, kneeling was very limited. Due to a change in the understanding of the Mass, in the thirteenth century people began to kneel at the "consecration".  Sitting down in church is an even more "recent" innovation. It is only at the end of the middle ages that we begin to churches with seats. At the time of the Reformation, the sermon took on ever greater importance in Protestant churches and benches were introduced for the congregation to sit and listen to the sermon -- which often lasted several hours.

Today in most churches you will see provision for sitting, chairs or pews. Sometimes there will be kneelers attached to the pews to facilitate kneeling.

The assembly is seated in such a way that they can see one another and the principal ministers of the sacred action.
Principle: Heavy, fixed seating will foster heavy, fixed liturgy.

Needs assembly to complete it
If it is an assembly hall -- it should look strange and empty when no one is there; like a frame without a picture in it; like an amusement park in winter. It is a space for doing.

Like the skin of an animal, it reveals the nature of the beast. Also like skin -- to keep out rain, cold, noise, etc....But exterior skin reveals inner life.

Chair for the Presider, not a throne in continuity with the assembly.
Does the Chair separate the Presider from the assembly?
Does it look like a throne?
Is it placed so that it is not evident that the Presider also is under the Word?
The chair is not in the same relation to Presider as tabernacle is to the bread. The Presider, is self-moving. There are many ways in which presidency is indicated. If the habit does not make the monk, a fancy chair does not make a president.

Choir -- no choir loft -- not background music -- but with the assembly.

Hospitality -- a welcoming space.

Light -- candles -- practical function -- to symbolic function. Easter vigil, when the church is lit only by candle light. Votive candles. [Candle before the tabernacle.]

Vestments -- originally every in church looked alike, everyone wore an alb and chasuble, ordinary Roman clothing. Priest looked like everyone else in church. Styles changed, conservative clergy kept the older styles, now we call them vestments. Pope Saint Celestine I, in the year 428, condemned the abuse of priests and clergy dressing differently from the laity. (Pope Saint Celestine I, in the year 428, wrote to the bishops of the province of Vienne and Narbonne to tell them: "J'apprends que quelques prêtres ont commencé à s'habiller de manière différente de celle du commun des gens. Que signifie cette plaisanterie? Le clergé doit se distinguer des autres par la vertu et la doctrine et nullement par la façon de s'habiller." He then recalls the tradition of the Fathers of the Church in order to condemn this innovation.)

What does it say when lay people dress like clerics for the ministries of lector or Eucharistic minister, choir etc. On the other hand "In assemblies where only the presider is vested (or only the Presider and any other clergy present), we see the old clericalism run amok." (Robert Hovda, Worship, 1990.)

Sacristy -- dressing rooms and storage space.

SC 2. At liturgy we express in our lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.

Forming the People of God -- Importance of the Assembly Space

Narthex -- church vestibule leading to the nave
Decorated for the season -- environment
(Make a survey of Narthexes -- are they decorated for the season or decorated with collection baskets, bingo signs, and lost gloves.)
(Perhaps the Kiss of Peace turns into a "Hello" because there is no other time or SPACE to say hello.)

Bishop - Presbyter - should assemble with the Body. From sermon 340 by Saint Augustine; PL 38, 1483-1484; Second Reading for September 19, St. Januarius. Hours IV pp 1414-1415.)

The day I became a bishop, a burden was laid on my shoulders for which it will be no easy task to render an account. The honors I receive are for me an ever present cause of uneasiness. Indeed, it terrifies me to think that I could take more pleasure in the honor attached to my office, which is where its danger lies, than in your salvation, which ought to be its fruit. This is why being set above you fills me with alarm, whereas being with you gives me comfort. Danger lies in the first; salvation in the second.

To be honest with you, my obligations involve me in so much turmoil that I feel as though I were tossed by storms on a great ocean. When I remember by whose blood I have been redeemed, this thought brings me peace, as though I were entering the safety of a harbor; and I am consoled, as I carry out the arduous duties of my own particular office, by the blessings which we all have in common. By finding my chief joy therefore in the redemption, which I share with you, and not in my office, which has placed me over you, I shall the more truly be your servant. [These are dangerous times; do not make them even more dangerous by over-emphasizing Orders at the expense of our common Baptism.]

If liturgy is something we all DO, then we need to plan. If this planning (announcements, music practice etc) is IMPORTANT the bishop-presbyter must sign this importance by being in the SPACE where this is happening.

What are we assembling for? The space has other uses besides Sunday Eucharist. Look at the space you have designed and see how it works for
private visits to the blessed sacrament
Confessions Rite I and Rite II

Story Telling Space

Eye/Ear -- "If the eye sees too much, the ear doesn't really listen." Quote from an interview with Thornton Wilder after the WNIN production of Our Town on November 6, 1989. I think this says much about "Faith comes by hearing" and how many statues you can have in a church.

Stained Glass -- One of the functions of stained glass was to supply to the eye the biblical stories that could not be understood by the ear. For example, the Sainte Chapelle in Paris contains 1,134 illustrations from the bible in its thirteenth century windows! Besides their function of beautifying the light which bathes the assembly space, the windows can also supplement for the eye what the ear can hear.

Acoustics -- seeing and hearing are the primary considerations -- microphones, music, reading. Sound requirements for speaking and preaching usually mean NO CARPET. That is why carpet is one thing that we do not see in older churches and also in most newer churches. Carpet however is economical and is sometimes all a poor parish can afford.

Lectern -- Ambo - Lectern - Pulpit -- a place from which to proclaim the Word of God.

Book -- beautiful, worthy.
The bible, or LECTIONARY. More and more frequently today the parish will have a special book for the proclamation of the Gospel (Gospel = evangelium; book of the gospels = Evangelary) In former times the Lectionary and especially the Evangelary were bound in the riches of leather and sometimes decorated with jewels and precious stones. These books were among the "treasures" of the parish.

The book the presider uses for the Sacrament is the SACRAMENTARY. "Sacramentary" the prayers for the sacrament -- eucharist.
Service books for the people. (Hymns, longer prayers that not everyone knows by heart, Glory to God in the Highest, We Believe in One God).

Carpet -- Sound requirements for speaking and preaching usually mean NO CARPET.

A space to HEAR the living Word
The Word of the Lord. = not the book, but the living word.
With what reverence we should read the scriptures in church! SC 7: "Christ is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the church."

Meal Sharing Space

Change from watching to doing -- In the past twenty years the words we use for what we do on Sunday have changed: Go to mass, hear mass, attend mass, fulfill our obligation.... Seldom did we say "celebrate Mass" or think of the Eucharist as something that we do and not merely watch. This change in function has caused a change in form. "Form ever follows function."

"Form ever follows function." (Louis Henri Sullivan, 1896)
e.g. "How is this space to function?" "What are we going to do here?" These questions are prior to "What do I want this space to look like?" Function questions are prior to form questions; form ever follows function.

Space for Movement -- aisles -- sharing in the meal -- setting the table, bring the food and drink to the table. space to allow a large number of people to move to the altar area to eat and drink.

A place to DO Eucharist. Diagram of Real Presence - from SC #7.
people to assemble
word to dialogue
meal to eat and drink
Note: the space is used for other things besides eucharist: e.g. weddings, funerals, baptisms, Hours, -- These activities need their own kind of space.

Balance the Image of Holy Thursday with Good Friday (and Easter Sunday)

Cross - Crucifix -- Formerly the central image -- explaining what Mass was about.

Table -- Holy Thursday - Table: Good Friday - Altar of Sacrifice. Both. Not always easy to say both.

Objects for the Meal
TABLE CLOTH - Altar cloths, corporal (place mat)
WINE GLASS - Chalice
BREAD BASKET - Ciborium, paten

Communion Rail -- each symbol reveals and conceals: Says some things and conceals others. The communion rail was a place to reverently kneel to receive the eucharist and a way to divide the space for the "doers" from the space for the "watchers." In places where this element of the symbol seemed to speak louder than the other, many parishes decided to remove this symbol so that the assembly space would be one unified area.

We leave the Eucharist to go out to the world. -- The Disciples at Emmaus rushed back to tell the other disciples in Jerusalem.

Our space is rooted in the world and will take account of the world around it.
clear windows
seasonal evocation
Flowers -- natural of course -- of season
architectural style - Style of architecture reflects the world of the church: modern, gothic, Romanesque -- we have a very long history -- we accept and cherish the art of each century. Often when a new church is built it will reflect the style of the artistic values of this parish, today.

Common entrance for worship, business, hall, etc.

dressing room -- real dressing room as vestments are real garments. Needs to be close to entrance and exit.
work room and storage -- close to altar etc.

No flags, USA, Papal, etc.

Statues and Shrines -- how the eucharist is carried out into daily life. Faces of the saints help us worship, today the faces of the living saints, we are facing each other, we can see each other. Heros and heroines who carried the message of the eucharist out into the world of their time and place.

Devotional Space -- Way of the Cross. History of the devotion. Enables a person to walk around the church and to take possession of the space.

Confessionals -- [Confessionals -- disappearing. Reconciliation Chapels -- a transitional development which will soon disappear --]
"Chapel" not "Room"
Penance = second baptism -- relation to baptism area
use of tomb womb Jordan river during Advent Reconciliation.

Exit to Justice -- We go forth to justice. Space to stay and visit, coffee, etc, to encourage one another and then WE GO FORTH TO DO JUSTICE. (One of the specifically American contributions to the liturgical movement has been and will continue to be insight into the relationship between the call to social justice and the Eucharistic presence. How can we continually experience the radical equality we have at the Eucharistic table (i.e., no matter what our needs, problems and hungers, we receive enough in Christ Jesus) and the radical inequality we have when we step outside the liturgical assembly to the world's table? How many times can we "who share this bread and wine be gathered by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise" (Eucharistic Prayer IV) and then, only moments later, turn from that table of unity to pursue our wars and divisions?)

Eucharistic Chapel

Tabernacle -- Early custom to save some of the eucharistic bread to take to those community members who were not presence because of work, prison, sickness, etc. A devotional space -- can war against the space of dynamic presence. Formerly the central focus point when entering a church. Mass was understood in terms of getting Real Presence in the Tabernacle more than food to be eaten. This change in function has changed the shape (form) of our churches. (The firm belief that Christ is present in the Eucharist has been and will continue to be a hallmark of the liturgical assembly. The dynamic way in which Christ is present in the minister, word, and assembly will help us to understand the dynamism of presence in the Eucharist. Christ is actively present: not merely there but there for a purpose. It is the ongoing challenge to the assembly to discover that purpose.)

Blessed Sacrament Chapel
Reservation for
The Sick
Quiet for private prayer
Accessible during day when rest of church is locked for security reasons.
Heated (cooled) when rest of church is not.
Is it a space for private adoration, tabernacle for communion to be distributed at all the masses (most of the masses) or a weekday mass chapel? These are separate functions.

Another important area of a Catholic church is the Eucharistic Chapel which contains the tabernacle. The tabernacle is the receptacle for the reservation of the Eucharist. The word comes from tabernaculum, Latin for tent or little house. The tabernacle serves several purposes: "The tabernacle was first intended for the reservation of the Eucharist in a worthy place so that it could be brought to the sick and those absent, outside of Mass. As faith in the real presence of Christ in his Eucharist deepened, the Church became conscious of the meaning of silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic species." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1379)

The tabernacle is first of all the place where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved so that the Eucharistic Bread may be taken to those who are sick and those who are dying. In addition, the tabernacle has become the focus for the adoration of Christ under the eucharistic species. Catholics have a long tradition of praying "before the tabernacle." The tabernacle is usually found in a specially designed chapel adjacent to the assembly area. "It is highly recommended that the holy eucharist be reserved in a chapel suitable for private adoration and prayer." (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 276)

We have seen that Christ becomes present at the Eucharist in several ways. He is present as the assembly gathers; he is present in the person of the priest; he is present in the scriptures; he is present most especially under the forms of Bread and Wine; and as we are commissioned to go out into the world, we find Christ present there also. At different times during the Eucharistic celebration our attention is directed to these different ways in which Christ is really present. Christ is also present in the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle.

The reason the Sacramentary recommends that the tabernacle be in a special chapel apart from the assembly area is because the Church feels that it is perhaps too difficult for us to focus on these different modes of presence all at once. For example, have you ever been listening to your favorite music while doing your math home work and your parents tell you to turn off the music so that you can concentrate on mathematics? Or have you ever taken a test in school with the picture of your favorite movie star sitting next to the test paper and the teacher suggests that you put away the picture so you can concentrate on the test? There is a human limit to the number of things we can think about all at once. The way in which Christ becomes present at Mass and the way in which Christ is present in the reserved Sacrament cannot claim our attention at the same time.

Whereas the assembly space is designed for gathering, story telling and meal sharing, the Eucharistic Chapel is designed for private prayer and adoration and it is "constructed in such a way that it emphasizes and manifests the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1379)

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To Think About

"Form ever follows function." How does this architectural principle apply to church architecture?

State five "General Liturgical Principles" which have particular application to the environment for worship.

"If the eye sees too much, the ear doesn't really listen." How does this theatrical principle apply to church architecture?

Draw the floor plan of the parish church where you made your First Holy Communion. Indicate the placement of the pews, altar, tabernacle, furnishings, etc. Describe how this church might be remodeled giving reasons for your remodeling by supporting your plans with quotes (= general liturgical principles) from the BCL statement Environment and Art in Catholic Worship. Draw the new floor plan.

Explain the developments in "Church Architecture", and "Liturgical Art" during the ten periods of the historical grid. Relate these developments to the history of the Mass.

The following diagrams illustrate several of the arrangements of a Catholic church.
A= Altar; L = Lectern; P = President's chair.
How would each design help or hinder your prayer at the Liturgy of the Hours? At Eucharist? How would each design help or hinder your presiding at the Liturgy of the Hours? At Eucharist?

"Form ever follows function." List ten ways in which the church building functions differently now than it did in 1958. (e.g. more people go to communion, communion under both species, active lay ministry, active participation, etc)

What is the relation between space and gesture? How are gestures different at a home Mass than at a Cathedral liturgy? Give specific examples.

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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 12/11/14 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at