The Hospitable Environment for Liturgy

November 12, 2007


Child in communion processionThe virtue of hospitality is at the center of Christian life, and is one of the most important values in the liturgical life of a parish. The expressions and gestures of hospitality are many:the welcome extended by ushers and greeters, the exchange of peace, and the ministry of those sent forth from our assemblies to take Eucharist to those who are unable to gather at the community’s Sunday celebration, etc.

Church of the Ascension in MinneapolisOne of the areas of liturgical environment that can express hospitality to members and visitors alike is the area surrounding the church building. The document of the U.S. Bishops, Built of Living Stones, states “the external environment with its landscaping, artwork, and lighting can contribute to a gracious approach to the place of worship.”

Some implications of this principle might be:

»  Signage that provides information and offers a welcome and an invitation to enter the space for worship.
»  Landscaping that is creative, colorful and well maintained.
»  Outdoor shrines or grottos that provide a place to pray.
»  Walkways that are well lighted and accessible for all who wish to enter the church.
»  Courtyards that can be pleasant gathering areas for folks, or can be used for some rites, e.g. for the beginning of the Palm Sunday procession and the lighting of the Easter Vigil fire.
»  Colorful seasonal banners, wreaths for the doorways, places to put luminari, benches and bikeracks.

communionBuilt of Living Stones devotes 4 paragraphs (n. 211 - 214) to the important issue of providing accessibility for people with different abilities who are members of our communities. This issue goes hand-in-hand with the principle of hospitality. Not all areas of a church building are governed by the prescriptions of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), but the imperative of Christian hospitality is our guide in this regard.

The first two sentences of this section state: “Every person should be welcomed into the worshipping assembly with respect and care. It was the prophet Isaiah who announced the Lord’s message: for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

In addition to this section, the document refers to 4 specific areas that need to be accessible:

»  the sanctuary, so all ministers can approach the altar (par. 59);
»  the ambo, which must be “accessible to everyone” (par. 61);
»  the place where the tabernacle is located should allow “easy access for everyone” (par. 74);
»  the reconciliation chapel, which should provide for those who have “hearing or visual disabilities (par. 105);

The goal is always to make the entire church building accessible to all God’s People.

10th stationThe language of symbol can reveal and express our sense of liturgical hospitality.  Built of Living Stones is especially concerned that the objects, gestures, actions and symbols of the liturgy be such that they clearly assist worshippers to “express and deepen their relationship with God.” (par.22- 26)  In a new building or a renovation project, a parish has the unique opportunity to address the issues of beauty and integrity of its objects, furnishings, appointments and artwork used for worship. At other times, it may be the responsibility of the E&A committee to assess the appropriateness of existing items, and recommend the replacement of those pieces that no longer have value or beauty or honesty of material for use in liturgy.

The principle in paragraph 26 can be a helpful criterion for discussing and deciding: “Effective liturgical signs have a teaching function and encourage full, active, and conscious participation, express and strengthen faith, and lead people to God. Poorly utilized or minimal signs do not enliven the community’s faith and can even diminish active participation.”

Some helpful sources for E&A committee members:

Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture and Worship. Guidelines of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2000.

A Walk Through Our Church. Written and illustrated by Gertrud Mueller Nelson. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1998.  A delightful book to teach children about the areas and items in a church.

Theology and the Arts: Encountering God Through Music, Art, and Rhetoric. Richard Viladesau. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000.  A scholarly work.

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

Photo credit: Mike Jensen, Minneapolis


Building and Renovation Projects: A Conversation in Four Parts

Ten Key Principles for Arranging an Environment for Worship

The Environment and Art Committee: A Parish Ministry

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