Essentials

Ten Key Principles for Arranging the Worship Environment

December 29, 2007

PHIL HORRIGAN

Before those who are engaged in the ministry of arranging an environment for worship go about their tasks, it is important to reflect on essential principles of liturgy and of the liturgical environment. I have identified ten such principles:

1. All liturgy is rooted in the Paschal Mystery, the event of Jesus Christ's life, death, resurrection and ascension, as it unfolds in every liturgical event in a particular time and place.

2. Liturgy is also rooted in the events of our human journey; it arises out of the intersection of those events with faith -- and all are placed in dialogue with the Paschal Mystery. Liturgy is always a celebration of praise offered to God by the Body of Christ.

3. Liturgy is the proclamation of the community about its belief in God, its conviction of who God is, and its acceptance of who God says we are. This proclamation is expressed in a variety of symbols, including words, actions, objects, music, ritual gestures and architectural forms.

4. The presence and promise of God, and the many ways that God is announced to us in liturgy, cannot be contained in one form or place. God's presence is known first in the assembly, the people gathered, the ecclesia, the Church. All other forms, made by human hands, are incomplete but necessary.

5. Since God is present in the assembly, the Church, then liturgy is properly the prayer of the community. It is public ritual: all are celebrants, engaged in full, active and conscious participation.

6. Patterns of worship will gradually and subtly shape our understanding of God. The vision of Vatican II was not simply a change in our forms of worship but in our perception of God, as well. All forms of worship are rooted in faith, and all ritual expresses faith, or at least the struggle of faith. Liturgy proclaims faith and challenges faith.

7. Liturgical symbols have the power of language that can be significant or meaningless. They affect our ritual engagement, so our attention to symbols in public prayer is important. They nurture our faith, evoke feelings and insights, and place a particular interpretation on the moments of our human journey.

8. Where two or three are gathered together, things are simple to arrange. When the number increases, things can get complicated. A group of people have different needs than one person engaged in private prayer. Those needs change because we are involved with living praying as a community. Therefore, space needs to change, to "breathe," to stay alive in order to inspire and nourish our faith and our spiritual imagination.

9. The environment in all its elements must ultimately serve the ritual action, not inhibit it. Furniture is not in charge of ritual or of the people who assemble for worship.

10. The liturgical environment makes a theological statement. It can be a metaphorical text about God, Christ, Church. Sacred architecture is not an innocent religious statement. It can "give a clue" as to what kind of community gathers within, what they care about, whom they care about, what their Christology is, what their sense of their place in the world is -- basically, what their self-identity is as a community of prayer and witness.

Rev. Phil Horrigan is the Director of the Art and Architecture Department in the Office of Divine Worship, Archdiocese of Chicago.

READ OTHER ARTICLES BY PHIL HORRIGAN:

Building and Renovation Projects: A Conversation in Four Parts
The Environment and Art Committee: A Parish Ministry
The Hospitable Environment for Liturgy

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