How To Guides

Journeying to a Vision of a New Church Building

January 13, 2009


ConstructionThere are many ways to prepare a faith community for the renovation or new construction of a church building. Being that the building will be the center for the community’s liturgical life, it will profit the community to develop a deeper understanding of the parish worship life by spending time learning about the liturgical rites of the Church. This catechesis can then lead the community to the question, “In light of the Church’s vision for celebrating these rites, how will our worship space accommodate the ritual actions?”

This process will require an attitude of listening and openness to expanding the present understanding of Church rituals, especially as celebrated by the given faith community.

This is a process of growth in liturgical formation that first requires the facilitator, i.e., a liturgical design consultant, to experience firsthand the faith community’s liturgical rituals. This participation will enable a broad understanding of the community’s worship life by the facilitator. From this interaction, the facilitator can present to the faith community an encompassing breaking open of the ritual celebrations and their impact upon the worship life of the community.

There are various methods that can be used to facilitate such a breaking open process. The following was implemented with the faith community of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Lansing, Kansas, as they journeyed to envision the construction of a new worship space.

St. Francis de Sales Parish’s Generations of Faith formation process was used as the basis for the journey. The following framework was used for the parish presentations:

» All the parishioners were invited to the presentations through announcements at Sunday Mass and in the bulletin. These sessions also replaced the weekly religious education sessions so the students could attend with their parents.

» The parishioners gathered for a potluck meal in the parish multi-purpose worship space.

» The meal began with a prayer reflective of the liturgical rite being discussed on that day.

» The parishioners enjoyed the meal and socializing with one another. Then the space was prepared for the presentation. Due to space constraints, the children and adults were all present.

» After the presentation, each family was given a set of materials to take home with instructions on how to continue the discussion of the liturgical rite.

In light of the fact that children and adults would be present for the presentations, it was important to focus on:

» Knowledge of the present parish liturgical practices and how these developed during the life of the parish (This information was obtained through speaking with parishioners and attending their liturgical celebrations.);

» Theology of the rites and the principles of liturgical celebration;

» Preparation of the presentations that would engage the children and adults through parishioner participation in prayers, children’s skits, and many questions/answers;

» As the series of presentations developed, there was always a recapitulation from the previous session’s focus on the needs in the new worship space.


The sessions included the following:

» The Liturgical Year (including separate presentations on celebrating Advent/Christmas, Lent/Easter, and All Saints/All Souls);
» Celebrating the Triduum;
» Celebrating each of the Sacraments;
» Celebrating Funeral Rites;
» Liturgical Art and Popular Devotions;
» Dedication of a Church (presented as the parish began plans for the dedication of the new church building).

Each presentation followed a basic outline constructed to convey the Church teachings on the Sacrament or liturgical element being presented. Inasmuch as the celebration of the Eucharist is central to the life of the parish, the presentation on this celebration was the core of the parish formation in developing their vision of the new church building. An outline of the sessions on the Eucharist follows.


A Hymn began the presentation to help center and focus the parishioners after their meal and socializing.

A question/answer session focused on the question, “How do we celebrate the great mystery of the Eucharist?”

This was followed by an exploration of the images of Eucharist as praise and thanksgiving, reconciliation, and the preservation of the deposit of faith.

Next, a brief overview of the history of the Mass (through adults/parents sharing their childhood experiences and understanding of the Mass with the parish children) focused on the major time periods of the tradition, e.g., Early Church, Middle Ages, Post-Reformation period until Vatican II.

The reforms of the Second Vatican Council were then highlighted:

» Celebration of the Eucharist is the center of the whole Christian life;
» Full, active and conscious participation at Mass;
» Participation is motivated by faith, hope and charity;
» The Eucharist is a sacred meal (focusing on the meaning of sharing a meal through adult/children dialogue);
» Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is known through faith;
» The liturgy is source and summit of the Church’s life; and
» Christ is present in the assembly, the word, the presiding minister, and the Eucharistic species of bread and wine.

Construction 2The next part of the formation and renewal process focused on giving the faith community an opportunity to explore the history and present understandings of the Eucharist, which was achieved through dialogue, modeling, and images. Generally speaking, our journeying through the Eucharist followed the major movements of the celebration: Gathering/Introductory Rites, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and Dismissal Rites. For each of these movements, the assembly experienced on ritual element (either through modeling or PowerPoint images). A brief discussion followed (in family or age groups), which featured the question, “How do we participate in this movement of the Eucharist?” Parishioners were then invited to name the liturgical items/furnishings/artwork and/or other considerations that would facilitate each of the ritual actions in the new worship space.

This is an example of a process that provided a faith community with a deeper understanding that gave a vision to how they would celebrate the Sacraments and other rituals in their new worship space. As each celebration was “unwrapped,” the list of items and needs for the worship space expanded, including consideration of ancillary spaces (reconciliation room, for example) and exterior features (such as quality landscaping and exterior lighting).

As the parish began working with the architect, the intergenerational formation gatherings established the foundation for the development of the design of the new church building. Additionally, the true value to the parish community was a deeper understanding and renewal of their faith and liturgical life, which reflected their journey to this vision.

As a liturgical design consultant, I have found that this formation process has influenced my own liturgical and faith life. Reflecting with a faith community on their celebrations of the Church’s rites has enriched me in the following ways:

» Celebrating the rites with the parish community has enabled me to “see” with different eyes the value of a formative worship space.

» Listening to the adults and children sharing how they live their faith has broadened my view of the impact of the liturgical life of a parish and on the parish’s ability to witness to their call to action.

» Preparing each formation session demands attention to expanding the scope of my style of presentation to reflect the intergenerational participation in the process.

» Balancing the delivery of information with various paradigms engages the adults, children, and me in various levels of assimilation.

» Assessing the material gathered at each session expands my own vision of a new worship space.

This method of assisting a parish community on the journey to a vision of a new church building has many possibilities for those ministering as liturgical design consultants, limited only by our imagination.

Sr. Sharon Stola, OSB is a liturgical consultant and serves as the Director of the Office of Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois, USA.

Photo credit: Mary-Theresa Madill, Lansing, Kansas

[Return to top]