Sacred building

Image

Notre-Dame Basilica, Montreal by James O’Donnell    Photo: Neil Howard

Before making any comment on the state of present church architecture, I would like to take a brief look at the essential aspects that make an ordinary building a church.

Canon Law defines the church as “a sacred building intended for divine worship, to which the faithful have right of access for the exercise, especially the public exercise, of divine worship”. As simple as this definition may sound, it implies a number of points far more difficult to apply in practice than to explain.

First of all, the same Canon Law explains what a sacred building is a place where only things serving or promoting worship, piety and religion are permitted to and where “anything out of harmony with the holiness of the place is forbidden” or “anything which is discordant with the sacred character of the place is excluded”. This means that even the needs of the liturgy itself are subsidiary to the needs of the faithful (“Sacramenta propter homines”) and that the church should first and foremost be aimed at turning man’s mind to God.

Next, the main form of divine worship is the liturgy representing the exercise of the priestly office of Christ. The culmination of this sacrificial action is the Eucharist which is the source of Christian life and the sublime cause of the union with the divine. Therefore in church architecture, the tabernacle, that is the place where the Eucharist is reserved, should be positioned in a distinguished location easily identifiable, clearly visible, suitably adorned and conducive to prayer. Canon law also gives indication on the nature and the properties of the material of which the tabernacle should be built: immovable, made of solid and non-transparent material.

The altar on which the eucharistic sacrifice is celebrated also has a special place within the church building. It is usually to be attached to the tabernacle, expressing the relationship between the Eucharist and sacrifice. Traditionally the table of the altar is made out of a single natural stone while the base can be made from any material.

There are many other aspects to consider in ecclesiastical architecture, however I believe it is best to analyse them against built examples. This I hope to cover in my next posts.

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One thought on “Sacred building

  1. UNIVERSAL CHURCH ICONOGRAPHY
    Illustrated Creed
    “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, … And was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary and was made man; was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again … and the life of the world to come. Amen.”1

    1. IMAGE/ICON OF GOD AND THE CREATION OF THE WORLD → AT CHURCH ENTRANCE2
    2. SCENES FROM THE COMMON SACRED HISTORY → ALONG ONE WALL/ICONOSTAS, E.G.:
    FALL OF ADAM AND EVE
    NOAH AND THE FLOOD
    SACRIFICE OF ABRAHAM
    MOSES AND THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
    NATIVITY OF CHRIST
    FLIGHT INTO EGYPT
    JESUS IN THE CARPENTER SHOP
    CRUCIFIXION
    RESURRECTION
    DESCENT OF HOLY SPIRIT ON THE APOSTLES / APOSTOLIC COUNCIL OF JERUSALEM
    CONSTANTINE’S EDICT OF 313 / COUNCIL OF CARTHAGE IN 397 AND THE BIBLE CANON
    CHURCH OF SAINT PETER’S IN ROME / OUR LADY OF KAZAN IN SAINT PETERSBURG
    3. SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF A FAITHFUL INDIVIDUAL → ALONG OTHER WALL/ICONOSTAS, E.G.:
    GOOD WORKS – GOOD SAMARITAN / ZACCHAEUS
    PRAYER – REPENTANCE PRAYER OF THE PUBLICAN / THE GOOD THIEF
    SEVEN SACRAMENTS – SAINT LEOPOLD MANDICH / SAINT PIO IN THE CONFESSIONAL
    4. ALTAR RAIL / ANCIENT STYLE LOW ICONOSTAS → IN FRONT OF APSE AND ALTAR
    5. LECTERN PORTABLE → IN FRONT OF ALTAR
    6. IMAGE/ICON OR STATUE OF MARY WITH THE CHILD → LEFT OF ALTAR
    7. THE FIFTEEN SCENES OF THE ROSARY → LEFT WALL OR ICONOSTAS
    8. IMAGE/ICON OR STATUE OF CHRIST THE TEACHER → RIGHT OF ALTAR
    9. THE WAY OF THE CROSS, INCLUDING DESCENT INTO HADES → RIGHT WALL OR ICONOSTAS3
    10. TABLE OF PREPARATION → LEFT OF ALTAR
    11. ALTAR → CENTRE OF APSE
    12. TABERNACLE → CENTRE OF ALTAR4
    13. CRUCIFIX → ON ALTAR
    14. IMAGE/ICON OF LAST SUPPER, THE FIRST EUCHARIST/MASS IN JERUSALEM → IN FRONT OF ALTAR5
    15. IMAGE/ICON OF ETERNAL LIFE DEPICTING THE SAINTS AND GOD → IN CHURCH APSE6
    REFERENCES. Abbreviation: e.g. – for example. 1 Illustrated Creed is a depiction of the entire Creed, from the beginning to the end, thus proclaiming Christian Faith in pictures, including pictures in stained glass windows – a synergy of faith and art, good and beautiful, and a perfect and unsurpassable artistic masterpiece of Christian civilization. The ideal church building, the house of God’s people, is a sacred functional/practical symbol of timeless form and proportion, containing images of sacred persons and events from the beginning of creation to the glorification in heaven. The shape of a church dome may be symbolic of the rainbow from Genesis 9:16 and the cross on its top is a sign of the New Covenant. Simplicity of design in parish churches is helpful for their economical maintenance; symmetrical and well-proportioned design gives beauty to a church building in which Eucharist/Liturgy/Mass and other Sacraments are celebrated for the glory of God and for human sanctification, e.g., churches in Jerusalem, Constantinople, Kiev, Saint Petersburg, Rome, Montréal, Washington, San Francisco and Mexico. 2 This is an original 2013 Slavic synthesis based on Genesis 1:1-31, Exodus 3:14, Colossians 1:16, and Church Tradition, and a correction of theologically-deficient, though artistically excellent, Renaissance painting in the famous Sistine Chapel in Rome, which also lacks scenes from the Rosary and the Way of the Cross, popularized after the 16th century; see Santa Sofia basilica in Rome. 3 The 15th station of the Way of the Cross, Christ’s descent into hell on Good Friday, is an original Slavic-Italian sequel (final) published in 2006. 4 See: Saint Francis of Assisi church in Mississauga, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield, and others, http://ewtn.com/ library/curia/cdwinoec.htm – the centrality of the tabernacle. 5 See: Saint Francis of Assisi church in Toronto and a multitude of others. 6 This picture, like the 15th station of the Way of the Cross, beautifully and perfectly rounds out the illustrated Creed into a fitting and irreplaceable whole; see: apse of San Vitale in Ravenna, painting of Domenico Ghirlandaio, and many others. See also: http://newadvent.org/cathen/05257a.htm; http://sacredarchitecture.org; Pope John Paul II’s letter commemorating the 12th centenary of Nicea II, Rome, 1987; Paul Evdokimov, L’Art de l’icône: théologie de ta beauté, Paris, 1972; Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Rome, 1963; Pope John Paul II (promulgator), Catéchisme de l’Eglise catholique, Rome, 1992; Josef A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman rite, New York, 1951. Prepared by Slavic Christian Society / Société Chrétienne Slave / Slăviansko Xristianskoe Sŏbranie, Mississauga http://slavxrist.org 1999; originally published in Polish as Uniwersalna Ikonografia Kościoła: Ilustrowane Credo, Mississauga http://kolbe.ca 1999. English edition: (1) Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Polish Roman Catholic Church, Mississauga, 1999; (2) revised according to the 2013 Croatian edition Univerzalno Crkveno Slikarstvo: Ilustrirano Vjerovanje – blessed by Bishop Bogović, published by Knights of Columbus, Council 12922, 1883 King St. E., Hamilton, ON L8K 1V9 https://kofc.org/en 12.2.2016.

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