A BANDON false ideas of what a church should look like 11 and remember that quite simply that it is the meeting place of God's people. To design a church to express some abstract theme, is mere showmanship and triviality.
For anyone who went to the Architectural Conference at Leeds University last week with preconceived ideas on "churchy" buildings, there were some rude shocks.
The three-day conference for clergy and architects was organised by the New Churches Research Group, an inter-denominational association founded in 1958 to promote the study of church architecture within the wider context of the whole life and activity of the Church in the modern world.
For Catholics the highlight of the conference was an address by Fr. Charles Davis, Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Ware. "Church Architecture and Christian Liturgy" was his theme. The church of to-day. he said, must be in our language; too often do we find that those we build are weak anachronisms, reflecting the fossilized state of our faith.
To demand that a church "should look like a church" is simply asking for titillation of the emotions. On the other hand, false aestheticisms, a creative seeking after effect, can also distract from the main object of a church which must in fact be dictated by the requirements of the Liturgy.
The Church is hierarchical, emphasised Fr. Davis, so the church will be divided into two main spheres: one for the celebrant and his ministers, another for the faithful, yet in such a way in which this division will not destroy the essential unity of the assembly, but reflect adequately the relationship between Christ and His members.
Within the sanctuary, the altar will provide the focal point for the whole building, being a symbol of Christ's person. It is not a shelf under a shrine or statue, nor a throne for the tabernacle. Unnecessary side-altars disrupt the unity of this symbolism.
We should beware too of an excessively stark notion of sacrifice. The Mass is Calvary, but it is also the Resurrection and the Parousia, a joyful meeting with the Risen Christ and an anticipation of heaven.
The nave, or space for the faithful. presents many problems; its shape must help them to realise their unity and draw them into the action of the Liturgy. Every day churches are being built on the Continent in which the altar is designed so that Mass can be said facing the people. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a special chapel used on weekdays: this system avoiding the confusion between the primary and secondary purposes of the Eucharist, between the sacrificial and sacramental aspects.
Three of the six main speakers at the conferonce were Catholics, but there were only two Catholic priests among the audience.