Monday, August 20, 2012

Steven Schloeder: "The Myth of the Domus Ecclesiae"

The August edition of Adoremus Bulletin is now online, and I see it includes an interesting sounding article from architect Steven Schloeder, The Myth of the Domus Ecclesiae -- and how this has influenced modern Church architecture. Here is an excerpt:

In the last century we have seen a steady devolution of Catholic sacred architecture from grand and formal edifices to decidedly more residential-scale and casual buildings. This was not accidental, but rather a deliberate effort to return to what mid-20th century liturgical scholars considered the true character of Christian worship as understood in the early Church.

The intention of the ressourcement (return to the sources, i.e., the early Church) movement was to recover the true meaning of the Christian liturgical assembly and the true meaning of Christian assembly space. Some interpreted this to mean that the Church should emulate the early Christian Church in their liturgical practices and its surroundings — that the architecture should be simplified to heighten the symbolic expression of the gathered community, and architectural “accretions” through the centuries should be removed as nonessential, distracting, and counterproductive to the goal of “active participation.”

Active Participation

It is historically curious that the desire to promote active participation of the faithful came to imply a radical reductionism in the majesty, beauty, iconography, and symbolism of church buildings. The notion of “active participation” as the genesis of the twentieth-century liturgical reforms was first articulated by Saint Pope Pius X (d. 1914) in his 1903 exhortation on sacred music, Tra le Sollecitudini. Pope Pius X reminds the faithful of the importance of the church building in the formation of the Christian soul through the Christian liturgy:

"Among the cares of the pastoral office … a leading one is without question that of maintaining and promoting the decorum of the House of God in which the august mysteries of religion are celebrated, and where the Christian people assemble to receive the grace of the Sacraments…. Nothing should have place, therefore, in the temple calculated to disturb or even merely to diminish the piety and devotion of the faithful, nothing that may give reasonable cause for disgust or scandal, nothing, above all, which directly offends the decorum and sanctity of the sacred functions and is thus unworthy of the House of Prayer and of the Majesty of God."

For Pius X, “the sanctity and dignity of the temple” was important so that the faithful might acquire the proper spirit for true “active participation” in the holy liturgy. Active participation properly understood is the goal of worship in the liturgy — it is the end not the means. Among other things, the means include that the liturgy is done well in a place aptly designed for worship. In the mind of Pius, the church building ought to be constructed to express the majesty and dignity of the House of God.

Given the clear intent expressed in this motu proprio of Saint Pius X as the point of departure for the 20th-century Liturgical Movement, how are we to explain the subsequent diminishment of the church building as a sacramental sign of the heavenly realities?

Mid-Century Liturgical Arguments

The typical rhetoric of the mid-century liturgical authors was that we ought to build churches for the “modern man” or “constructed to serve men of our age.” Styles and forms from previous ages were declared defunct or no longer vital. One even finds the condemnation of wanting a “church that looks like a church” as being nostalgic — an unhealthy yearning for a past Golden Age that really never was.

Read the entire article.

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