|ML has never been to a meeting of the National Conference
of Catholic Bishops, but a bishop or two has let it be known that — like
most business meetings — it is usually a ponderous affair. Not many of
the bishops get involved in the floor discussions.
However, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune, a significant
number of bishops (33, including 5 cardinals) made their way to microphones
at their November meeting to get in on the discussion of the Bishops’ Committee
on the Liturgy’s proposed new document on church architecture, Domus
Domus Dei started out as a revision to the popular and widely
read Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy statement, Environment and Art
in Catholic Worship (1978). In the early stages of the project, though,
the BCL decided to write an entirely new document. During the three years
the project has been in progress, discussion about the text has been limited
The bishops have had their chance to comment on Domus Dei, but
the document is still not widely available for public discussion. ML contacted
several people to comment on the proposal. Many who have seen it have seen
only “borrowed” copies and did not feel free to speak on the record. Others,
including directors of liturgy offices for major dioceses, have not seen
a draft at all.
The Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy was prohibited by the National
Conference of Bishops from sending out electronic copies of the draft to
anyone but their brother bishops.
ML was able to collect the following reactions to Domus Dei from
a handful of experts around the country who have read the document. Richard
Vosko is a nationally recognized liturgical design consultant. Paul Turner
is pastor of St. John Regis Parish in Kansas City, Mo., and a widely published
author on liturgical and sacramental topics. Lois Paha is the director
of worship for the diocese of Austin. Jane Bernard is the director of worship
for the diocese of New Ulm, Minn., and a frequent speaker on art and environment
issues. Stephen Obarski is the director of worship for the diocese of Kansas
City, Mo. Nathan Mitchell is the director of research for the Center for
Pastoral Liturgy at Notre Dame University.
The decision to make copies of the draft available is up to each bishop
within his own diocese. You may be able to get a copy from your bishop’s
office or your worship office. However, if your bishop is not making the
document public in your area, you may need to wait for the final version
to be promulgated or “borrow” a copy from a neighboring diocese. The bishops
were originally scheduled to vote on the final text at their June 2000
The language of the document is technical and “churchy,” lacking the
poetry one would hope for in a document concerned with art and aesthetics.
What is significant about Domus Dei?
Richard Vosko: Environment and Art in Catholic Worship
is more poetic, artistic. The drafts of Domus Dei seem more legislative
in spirit than Environment and Art in Catholic Worship. In this
regard, it could correct some errors in the references cited in Environment
and Art in Catholic Worship.
Lois Paha: Upon reviewing the October 1999 draft copy of Domus
Dei, I am grateful for the extensive documentation that has gone into
this work. However, I hope that if and when this document is ever promulgated,
it will advance our theological understanding of the meaning of the celebration
of the Eucharist, the center of our Christian life. The placement of the
tabernacle for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in relation to
the altar for the eucharistic sacrifice must be studied in the light of
the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
Paul Turner: Some church documents unveil a dramatic new vision
of what it is to be church. Others can best be summed up as follows: “It
doesn’t break any new ground.” I believe Domus Dei will land in
the second category. Its greatest contribution is that it compiles the
church’s thinking on a wide range of topics relating to art and architecture.
It faithfully presents the tradition. For those wanting to know the answers
to questions both vexing and trivial, Domus Dei will provide a guide.
Dei does not call for a revolution in the design for our houses of
worship. If it had, it would have been another kind of document.
Jane Hanson: While Environment and Art in Catholic Worship
may be short on footnotes and references, Domus Dei has so many
that it is often cumbersome and sometimes confusing. I cite as an example
the section on the cross. I also appreciate the references to those with
disabilities and the importance of making the environment for worship accessible
for members of the assembly and ministers of the word.
Stephen Obarski: I realize that Domus Dei is the draft
title. I would strongly prefer the balance afforded by using Domus Dei,
Domus Ecclesiae. The document itself makes the point that “church buildings
are holy because they are the house of God but also because they are the
house of the Church” (187). I do expect the final draft to be a helpful
tool in working with parish building and renovation committees.
My hope is that committees willread the ritual books, historybooks,
and theology books along with various commentaries on the environment for
worship in order to get a bigger picture ofthe issues.
If it is approved, what impact will it have on local parishes?
Richard Vosko: Some parish committees have not yet heard of Environment
and Art in Catholic Worship. If approved, Domus Dei could become
their main reference. A lot will depend on the weight local ordinaries
give to Domus Dei. My hope is that committees will read the ritual
books, history books, and theology books along with various commentaries
(books, articles, videotapes, etc.) on the environment for worship in order
to get a bigger picture of the issues.
Lois Paha: The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy called
for the diocesan liturgical commission to assist with the implementation
of the reforms. My hope is that the local church will look to the diocesan
liturgical commission as one of its significant resources for the building
and renovation of churches. This does not diminish the importance of the
artists, liturgical consultants and architects needed for the building
and renovation of these sacred places. The combined wisdom and lived experience
of liturgical commission members provide additional insights from their
reading of the people’s experience to ensure the best possible outcome.
Jane Hanson: The language of the document is technical and “churchy”
(e.g., “nave” and “narthex”), lacking the poetry one would hope for in
a document concerned with art and aesthetics. For example, the first section
of Domus Dei sets out a good theological reflection on art and environment;
however, it is long and technical, dense and deep. My sense is that the
average building committee may walk into it, find it ponderous, scamper
out again and go directly to the more practical sections.
Paul Turner: Some Catholics use documents like weapons in the
battle of religion. The faithful do so as if civil war were raging within
the church. Pace Pogo, the enemy is not us. Documentarian fundamentalism
has made it difficult for the spirit to get beyond the letter.
Stephen Obarski: In collaboration with a capable consultant,
parish committees will be called to the principles set forth in universal
law and Environment and Art in Catholic Worship. They will also
encounter a renewed emphasis on the commissioning of art and objects for
worship “capable of bearing the weight of mystery.”
What will be the status of Environment and Art in Catholic Worship
should this document be approved?
Richard Vosko: I am not sure. Some say it will no longer be printed
by the United States Catholic Conference. I suspect that, for those who
have read it, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship has already
made an irreversible impact on the life of the Church not only in the United
States but in other countries as well.
Jane Hanson: I have used and appreciated Environment and Art
in Catholic Worship for many years. Its theology is understandable
and in harmony with Vatican Council II and the tradition of the church.
Its language is poetic and quotable. It is succinct yet inspiring. More
footnotes and pictures representative of a greater variety of styles would
have been helpful. Although I understand that Environment and Art in
Catholic Worship is problematic for some, I have found nothing in it
that contradicts or undermines the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,
the General Instruction of the Roman Missal or the spirit of liturgical
renewal set out by the Second Vatican Council. I understand that many are
convinced that we need a new document. I number myself among those who
would rather see a revision of Environment and Art in Catholic Worship
or an updated companion to that document along the lines of Liturgical
Nathan Mitchell: Clearly, it is time to “revisit” Environment
and Art in Catholic Worship — though it is not clear, to me, that it
is time to discard it in favor of another (and quite different) document,
that is to say, Domus Dei. The committee responsible for the draft
of Domus Dei would have done well to consult with our neighbors
to the north. The Canadians’ Our Place of Worship is a model of
clarity, brevity and sound pastoral process. It sees the building (or renovating)
of a church as an act of pastoral care (like initiating a catechumen or
witnessing a marriage) — not as an act of ideological revenge.
Does Domus Dei promote anyparticular ecclesiology (e.g.,People
of God, Church Militant, etc.)?
Richard Vosko: I do not believe the intent of Domus Dei
is to promote any particular ecclesiology.
Jane Hanson: I appreciate the discussion on cultural diversity,
but I find it odd that no examples are given of architecture influenced
by the Hispanic culture. The three churches mentioned are all on the East
Coast and represent primarily white European culture. These three churches
look pretty much alike — big, basically gothic, with a long center aisle,
many rows of pews facing the sanctuary. The document does state that “no
divine blueprints have been given” concerning the design of church buildings
or the art that adorns them. However, because these three churches are
mentioned specifically, people could assume that they represent what a
Catholic church should look like. This could, by default, exclude a myriad
of other styles and configurations.
If you were advising the bishops about this document, what would
you tell them?
Richard Vosko: The draft needs a lot of work. It is not organized
well. There are contradictions within the text. It is too long. It is couched
in language that I believe many will not want to plow through. Some key
references are listed only as footnotes while others are given prominence
in the body of the text. On the other hand, some primary references are
nuanced in the text. What will the bishops say to pastors who faithfully
followed Environment and Art in Catholic Worship?
Lois Paha: I trust that the process of preparation will continue
to include wide consultation to provide a document that will assist the
life of the church now and in the future.
Jane Hanson: Domus Dei is a long document. It feels like
it was written by a committee, which of course it was. It needs the crafty
touch of a skillful editor to give it the cohesiveness and flow that it
lacks. The preface mentions “universal law” and “particular law.” This
is again technical, church language that will likely mean little if anything
to that same building committee. These are, however, important issues warranting
an understandable explanation, and I can find none. It would be helpful
to have a section that deals with the design and building of new churches
and another section dealing with the renovation of existing churches.
Stephen Obarski: Concerning a place of reposition as a consideration
for a church well appointed to celebrate the Triduum: In a church being
prepared with proper provisions for eucharistic reservation, a second suitable
place for adoration following the Mass of the Lord’s Supper seems redundant
because the presumption of the rite is that the Eucharist will be reserved
and adored in the chapel. This section really should be omitted.
Nathan Mitchell: Drafters of Domus Dei, take note. Why
reinvent the wheel? What harm could come if the U.S. bishops simply asked
the Canadian Catholic Conference to “adopt” Our Place of Worship
as our own “update” of Environment and Art in Catholic Worship?
The Domus Dei drafting committee could then vote itself out of business,
and we could all move forward with the important pastoral work of building
faith environments that “share the quality of ‘transparency,’ revealing
the Creator behind the created object” (Our Place of Worship 9).
What a refreshing change that would be from the endless politicking and
posturing that seem to surround every document that comes before the NCCB.
What do YOU Think?
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or post an entry on the ML Current Issue
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