In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Building a Catholic Church in the 21st Century: Tradition Observed, Part I Frank Mitjans This paper is a result of many discussions with fellow architects over the last few years. It also draws strongly on the book The Spirit of the Liturgy, by the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,1 now Pope Benedict XVI, and the two letters of Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April 2003) and Mane nobiscum Domine (7 October 2004). It is addressed to the promoters of new churches, and to the architects and artists who have to design and build them. What should we build? What ought our brief to be? In discussing the issues considered here with those interested in promoting new churches, and in attempting to define the brief, some have remarked to me that “modern churches” are less suitable than churches built in the past. So should we build “modern churches” or should we simply reproduce the “styles” of the past? Others seem happy with churches that lack ornamentation, and ask: why spend more if they work? Is it not enough to have proper heating and acoustics? Architects and artists seem to have more definite and – at times – fixed ideas. Of course – we seem to say – we need to follow the “modern idiom” and educate the client if he does not appreciate it! Others, however, consider that the forms of the past are required if we are going to have buildings that are conducive to piety and respond to the needs of the liturgy. It seems to be difficult to understand architects. Why is this so? Architects themselves need to understand what a church is. It is not enough to be a good architect in other fields, nor to take into 1 This book appeared in the Jubilee Year 2000. It has now been included as the central text in the first published volume of Ratzinger’s Opera Omnia. It is envisaged that the Opera Omnia will have sixteen volumes. Volume XI is the one that has been published first; it is entitled “Theology of the Liturgy” and it includes a Preface by Benedict XVI, dated 29 June 2008. References and quotations are from the English translation, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000). Antiphon 15.2 (2011): 102-127 103 Building a Catholic Church in the 21st Century: Tradition Observed, Part I account the specifications given, for instance, in the chapter on building new churches in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal,2 in the same way as they might take into account the rules and standards given in the local Building Regulations or the Metric Handbook of Planning and Design Data. John Paul II, in his letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (no. 49), wrote that the “architecture, sculpture, painting and music” used in churches came from an understanding of “the Christian mystery”, that “the faith of the Church in the mystery of the Eucharist has found historical expression […] in outward forms”. “The designs of altars and tabernacles within Church interiors were often not simply motivated by artistic inspiration but also by a clear understanding of the mystery .” And he concluded that “sacred art must be outstanding for its ability to express adequately the mystery grasped in the fullness of the Church’s faith […]. This holds true both for the figurative arts and for sacred music.” These notes have been motivated by a desire “to grasp the mystery ” that architects and artists – and indeed the whole Christian people – want to express in the building of a church, and with the hope of getting closer to answering the question of what we should build. I. Historical Introduction: From The Beginning To The 19th Century In the text just cited we were told that “the faith of the Church in the mystery of the Eucharist has found historical expression […] in outward forms.” It is therefore fitting that we look at the historical development of those outward forms. Since the 4th century, Christian churches in the West have followed in most cases the arrangement of the Roman basilica: a longitudinal nave in the direction of the altar, apse behind the altar, lighting through windows high up on the side walls...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 102-127
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.