Friday, November 17, 2006

Heaven on Earth: A report on the Liturgical Institute's recent liturgical conference

The Liturgical Institute’s fourth conference on Catholic architecture commenced on October 25, 2007, bringing speakers and over 100 participants from around the United States and Canada to discuss the intersection of sacramental theology of the liturgy with the practice of church building. Entitled “Heaven on Earth,” the conference sprang from the idea emphasized at the Second Vatican Council that liturgical art and architecture should make known the “signs and symbols of heavenly realities” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 122).

Keynote speaker David Fagerberg, Associate Professor of Theology and Director of the Center for Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame, spoke on the topic of liturgy as heaven on earth. He claimed that there are not two liturgies, one in heaven and one on earth, but one liturgy which joins the two in praise of God. He challenged the architects and building committees in the audience to think of art, architecture and all of creation in terms of its “liturgical end” to give glory to God and bring about the divinization of humanity. It is the role of artists and architects, he said, to use liturgical art and architecture to “visual-ize” the liturgy in the same way the liturgy itself “symbol-izes” the Kingdom. (The full text of his talk is available: Sacramental Nature of Church Art and Architecture)

Other speakers in the conference combined theoretical and practical material, helping architects and parishes to think sacramentally about their designs and plan for the real-life contingencies of church construction. Liturgical Institute faculty member and architectural historian Denis McNamara offered a talk entitled “Good Traditional, Bad Traditional” in which he explained the structural and ornamental theory behind traditional architecture, urging congregations which desire a traditional building to hire an architect who specializes in that sort of design.

Architect Ethan Anthony, of HDB/Cram and Ferguson Architects in Boston, followed with a talk entitled “Affording the Tradition” which explained that traditional architecture is affordable, and how careful design and material selection can dramatically lower the final cost of a building. With images and examples from his own church projects, he showed real-life examples where creative use of both modern and traditional materials could not only keep the budget numbers in line, but make a more beautiful church building.

Christopher Carstens, Director of the Sacred Worship Office of the Diocese of Lacrosse, addressed the architectural legislation found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, explaining the theological basis for the Church’s rules. Cistercian monk Mark-Daniel Kirby’s address, “More Than A Sound Meter,” tackled the topic of the theology of church acoustics, discussing the need for a building which supports the sung liturgy. Professional fund-raiser Rita Perret of Century Philanthropy Group then explained how to launch and manage a capital campaign, and how a beautiful church design will assist in the process of raising funds.

Byzantine-rite Catholic priest, radio personality, and noted iconographer Fr. Thomas Loya explained the “Theology of the Image” in the Eastern and Western traditions, urging participants to see the world in liturgical terms and understand the church building in particular as an image of heaven made known sacramentally to the earthly congregation.

The conference finished with two practical talks, one by Jeff Greene, president of Evergreene Painting Studios, and the other by William Buckingham of S/L/A/M Architects of Boston. Greene showed images displaying the revival of craft in ecclesiastical work today, discussing how a parish may want to proceed in commissioning artistic work in renovation or new construction, showing examples of his firm’s work and that of other artists and craftspeople. Buckingham, who specialized in Catholic church design while working for Keefe Associates Architects, walked the participants through a “beginning to end” church building project, explaining how one may want to choose a contractor as well as placate the zoning commissions and fire safety boards.

(A work in progress)

(A new stained glass window by Willet Hauser)

(A new Eucharistic chapel in Kansas City by Evergreen Studios)

(A painting for the Sacramento Cathedral renovation)

The conference sessions were punctuated by sung Lauds and Vespers using tones from the Institute’s forthcoming Mundelein Psalter, as well as sung Mass with Fr. Mark Daniel Kirby as principal celebrant. Several of Mundelein’s seminarians acted as servers, masters of ceremonies, and cantors. Participant comments were overwhelmingly positive, praising the balance between theoretical and practical information and the opportunity to meet and network with peers in the field of sacred art and architecture.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: