Almost forty years ago now the Fathers of the Vatican Council gave the whole Church an enormous agenda for the renewal of our worship. The principle aim of renewal, they told us, is the continuing development to the fullest degree possible of the participation of everyone present whenever the Liturgy is celebrated.
When they turned their attention to church architecture, the Fathers gave a very simple directive – an application of that principle: When churches are to be built, let great care be taken that they are well suited to celebrating liturgical services and to bringing about the active participation of the faithful. That has been the underlying principle in the design of most Catholic churches in the last thirty-five years.
Of course to a particular Catholic community the opportunity to build a new church normally comes only once in several generations. That is the reason why such tremendous care is taken in the design of a new church. We all have a responsibility to do the very best we can, not just for ourselves, but for all those who come after us – the generations of Catholics for whom this church will be spiritual home in the future.
Parish priests and architects have derived two significant conclusions from the directive of the Council Fathers; the first – that no-one’s vision of the liturgical action should be impeded in any way; the second – that no-one should be any further from the sacred action than is absolutely necessary. As the parish community settles down in its new church, you will be able to appreciate how well those two conclusions have been translated into its design.
The principal sacred action that takes place in any church, of course, is the celebration of the Eucharist. Above all the church must be so designed so that everyone present whenever the Eucharist is celebrated feels that they are completely involved in what is happening – included, uplifted and motivated. The requirements of each ministry must be carefully considered and provided for properly.
But the celebration of the Eucharist, although by far the most important activity that will take place in the church, is by no means the only one. The celebration of the sacraments – Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Matrimony, even Holy Orders, and funerals too – must be provided for in such a way that these important spiritual moments can be celebrated with the whole parish community participating whenever possible. More than that, they should be celebrated not only with great dignity, but in such a way that their full meaning is clear to all those who take part in them. A church is also a place of prayer, not only when the liturgy is being celebrated, but apart from those times as well. Individuals and small groups will come together to pray – before the Blessed Sacrament or before the different images of our Lady and the saints that will adorn the church. It will become a wonderful place of quiet devotion, where we can be at peace with God in Silent recollection.
When all that is considered, the design of a church is always a tremendous challenge to the designer. He must design a building that will meet all these many demands. He must place all his expertise and artistic gifts at the service of the project, so that his art may truly aid faith and devotion. As the parish community becomes accustomed to the new church, you will no doubt appreciate how well the architect has carried out his commission.
At first the new church may seem a little stark. That may well be true, but the former church of St Patrick’s parish must have been quite stark at first – especially when one remembers the works of art that were, for one reason or another, placed in the church long after it was built. The parish community of the future may want to place new works of art in the church for worthy reasons. The Council Fathers encouraged that, but also encouraged us to allow within our churches only works of the highest artistic standard that truly express our faith and promote our devotion. A mature Catholic community will heed that advice and will wish to include only the very best in a church that you will, I am sure, find very beautiful from the very day you first come together to celebrate the Eucharist there.
It has been a wonderful privilege to work with Father Chris Willis and his architect, Michael Bateson, and to help them realise a dream. My wish for you all is that the liturgy you celebrate in your new environment will really uplift you all and motivate you in the building of God’s kingdom in your own part of the city.
Revd Monsignor Anthony B Boylan
Episcopal Vicar for Worship
Solemnity of St Joseph
19th March 2001