How To Guides

Where Do We Start? Building or Renovating Sacred Spaces - Part 2

May 06, 2008


Formation of the Building Committee Members

In Part I of this article, we looked at the make up of a Building Committee and the importance of representing the entire parish in the building process. In Part II, I will focus on the kind of formation the steering committee needs and why this information is so important for the overall good and success of the project. To begin with, I strongly encourage anyone with a building project to include the parishioners in the formation/education process. I call it “formation” because I believe it is a time of not only getting information but a time of letting it form our faith life. For a project as important as constructing a new worship space or renovating an existing one, people need to have a firm foundation out of which they make decisions. They need to make informed decisions, not ones based solely on personal preferences or taste.

What makes a space sacred?

To lay the groundwork for making decisions about a worship space, it is advantageous to talk about what makes a space sacred. Everyone has experienced places, both secular and religious that they hold as “sacred.” What qualities are they touching when they feel they have come in contact with a sacred space? Are the qualities of secular places the same as religious spaces? How can a parish make sure that those same qualities or attributes are included in their worship space?

People want their spaces to be sacred and beautiful. What is beauty? According to the U.S. Bishops’ Built of Living Stones, church architecture and the religious artifacts that beautify them are forms of worship themselves (no. 18). Different people have different perceptions of what is beautiful. Different cultures hold different appreciations of what is beautiful. A formation session on the aspect of beauty will call peoples’ attention to not only what they have in terms of artwork and the beauty of their architecture, but also, hopefully, to be able to have a vision of what is important in terms of art that they want to include in their project, not as peripheral but as integral to the space and to their worship.

Consideration of the Rites & the Space Needed for Their Celebration

The formation sessions cover a variety of topics that impact the use of the worship space. Such topics include gathering, seating, music, baptism, the celebration of the Eucharist, reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. Looking at these topics in light of the rites leads people to a better understanding of the kind of space that is needed to carry them out as the Church calls for them to be celebrated.

When looking at how the Eucharist is to be celebrated, the other sacraments that are done within the Eucharist need to be considered. Parishes need to look at the rite of marriage. Sometimes there are surprises within the rite that people have not paid attention to in the past. People naturally assume that the rite will be done in exactly the same manner as they have always done it in their parish. By starting with the rite, the space can be configured to allow for how you want to do the rite in its fullness, rather than having the space constrict how the rite is carried out. The rites of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), funerals, the celebration of Holy Week, especially the Easter Vigil all need to be considered in the needs for space.

The placement of the baptismal font and whether or not it allows for full immersion is a key issue. While the shape of the actual font is important to discuss, again it is the Rite of Baptism that needs to be foremost in the minds of the people as they make their decisions. . The theology of baptism today is very much that of a communal event, with the community having a vital role in the celebration of the sacrament. Many people have never experienced a baptism by immersion at the Easter Vigil. They have no concept of how this unfolds and therefore might not be aware of the needs in terms of space that is required to celebrate baptism by immersion. Questions about when baptism is celebrated in the parish, how many people are baptized at a time, whether they will be immersed, where they go to change clothes after they are baptized all need to be explored.

Becoming Familiar with the Church’s Documents

Another important area to be considered during the formation process is the documents of the Church that pertain to the environment of the Church and the liturgy. For example, Built of Living Stones, the guidelines of the U.S. Bishops, is a key document. The committee and the parishioners need to be exposed to the theology that guided the writing of this document. In it, the Bishops talk about the church building as a symbol of the gathered assembly (no. 22). Throughout the formation sessions, it is valuable to provide visuals for people to see of how other parishes have built their spaces and to critique the spaces in terms of sightlines, engagement of the assembly, and celebration of the rites.

The formation sessions are an opportunity for people to broaden their understanding of what the Church is teaching and to grow in their own faith life. Many people have not had the opportunity to really look at the rites of the Church and to ask questions. For parishioners who are given the opportunity to attend these sessions, they gain an understanding of why choices are being made for their worship space. While they may or may not agree with all of the decisions, they at least know why certain choices are made. They are also given time to become comfortable with the changes that all new building and renovation projects bring. The formation sessions afford people the opportunity to see things with new eyes. While it is true that some people will never accept changes, when people study the rites of the Church and reflect upon how they call us to celebrate them, our communities stand on a firm foundation building for future generations.

Photo provided by Marilyn A. Morgan, RSM.

Marilyn A. Morgan, RSM is a liturgical design consultant who lives in San Francisco, California, USA.


Where Do We Start? Building or Renovating Sacred Spaces (Part I)

[Return to top]