The Christian Assembly and its Location in the Church Building

INTRODUCTION

The assembly is the living symbol of Christ in the world, and in the Church. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1Cor. 12:27). The primary symbol of Christ in the church is the people, because the people embody Him. Therefore, the Christian assembly in a liturgical space has primary place. Liturgy and space are intimately related to each other.

In 2000, the Church celebrated two millennia of Christian worship. As James F. White expresses, “twenty centuries of relationships between worship and space have produced an amazing array of possibilities but experimentation still continues.”[1] The location and disposition of the gathered assembly in a church building reflects the image on which that Christian community was founded at any given time.

As the liturgy is renewed, so are spatial needs; as the architecture is developed, so are forms to accommodate worship. The Vatican II in its constitution on the Sacred Liturgy asks for the active participation of the assembly.[2] Under this request there is a new ecclesiology. Liturgists and architects have since adapted old churches and built new ones accordingly. After 50 years of experiencing different kinds of church models, there is no one single layout that is defined as the right one.[3]

To address this issue of which is the appropriate place for the assembly in the church I will bring into conversation the new Ordo dedicationis ecclesiae et altaris,[4] prepared by the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship and approved by pope Paul VI; the reflections upon liturgical ecclesiology done by Gordon W. Lathrop in his book Holy People;[5] and an architectural case study designed by Heinz Tesar, the church Christus Hoffnung der Welt Wien — Christ Hope of the World — located in Donau-City east of central Vienna, to see if the latest thinking can be meaningfully translated into this architectural example.

This project will show how the Ordo puts its emphasis on the people of God instead of on the church building. It will examine the notion of Church that the rite brings about the Church, and put it into dialogue with the notion of Church that Gordon Lathrop, a Lutheran theologian, provides in his book Holy People. This first part will give us the insight for the liturgical space required for the assembly. Then, we shall move on to the church building selected, Christ Hope of the World, to demonstrate if this liturgical space helps to highlight the holiness of the assembly and the enacting of its liturgy properly and conscientiously.

PART ONE: THE RITE FOR DEDICATION OF A CHURCH AND AN ALTAR

The Ordo Dedicationis Ecclesiae et Altaris, a fruit of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council, is itself — in its texts, signs and ritual — a mystagogy of the Church. For many liturgists, this rite is the most complete and effective icon which the Catholic liturgy can offer of the Church after the Second Vatican Council.[6] This revised rite for the dedication of a church and allied services was promulgated by the Vatican Congregation of Sacraments and Divine Worship on Pentecost Sunday 1977.

It is unfortunate that one of the best of the post-Vatican II liturgical revisions of the Roman Rite is one that of its very nature will very rarely be celebrated. Nonetheless, this rite has tremendous importance for any local Christian community, since the dedication of a church offers a splendid opportunity for pastoral catechesis on the nature of the Christian assembly. The purpose of this section is to explore the image of the Church as reflected by the new rite. I am going to concentrate on the focal chapters of the rite, namely those dealing with the order of dedication of a church and of an altar.

The word dedication comes from the Latin verb dicere — to speak, it means “to speak out, or to announce, or to proclaim,” or more specifically dicare — to consecrate. The rite was also called consecration, which comes from the Latin verb consecrare, to dedicate to the service of a god, to set apart. There is no difference in meaning between the words.

This rite is rooted in early practices. The first document dates from Eusebius describing the dedication of the cathedral of Tyre in 314, and since then this tradition has been kept in Eastern and Western traditions.[7] The Codes of Canon Law of 1917 and the revised edition in 1983 required that a church be dedicated or at least blessed as soon as possible after the building was completed. As can be seen, this rite is extremely important in the Roman Catholic Church, so it had to be updated without losing its symbols or meanings.

Challenges in the New Rite

The eucharistic celebration by a bishop constitutes the summit of the rite.[8] This is the first element that the new rite has confirmed: “The celebration of the eucharist is the most important and the one necessary for the dedication of a church.”[9] Therefore, all the symbols and rites were inserted in the liturgy of the word and eucharist and not as a separate liturgy. The new rite avoided accumulation and repetition of signs that characterized the Medieval Ordo. Following the indications of the Vatican II, “The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation.”[10] Hence, the rites and prayers of the new rite shape a theology in action of the mystery of the Church.

The Church Building and the Image of the Church

Eastern and Western traditions have more than fifteen hundred years of building churches to gather the ecclesia for worship purposes. In different times, architects and builders have designed spaces for the Christian liturgy and have tried to imprint in those buildings an image that represents the character of the Church. However, the Council’s Fathers of the Church, before suggesting how the appropriate building to worship should be, have preferred to respond to a basic question: what is a church? According to the British liturgical writer, J. D. Crichton, we can find this answer in the New Ordo, “with a number of theological statements that seem to have nothing to do with a building,”[11] such as:

Through his death and resurrection, Christ became the true and perfect temple of the New Covenant and gathered together a people to be his own.

This holy people, made one as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one, is the Church, that is, the temple of God built of living stones, where the Father is worshiped in spirit and in truth.

Rightly, then, from early times “church” has also been the name given to the building in which the Christian community gathers to hear the word of God, to pray together, to receive the sacraments, and to celebrate the eucharist.[12]

This is the vision that the new rite offers to us. The Church is Christ, united in the Holy Trinity. It is among the people where the Father is worshipped in the spirit and in the truth. The people of God through Christ gathered in His name are the temple of the living God. As Peter said in his first letter: “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…” (1 Pet 2:4).

The first prayer address to the people puts clear emphasis on the assembly gathered in the name of Christ, as its visible sign:

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is a day of rejoicing: We have come together to dedicate this church by offering within it the sacrifice of Christ. 

May we open our hearts and minds to receive his word with faith; may our fellowshipborn in the one font of baptism and sustained at the one table of the Lord, become the one temple of his Spirit, as we gather round his altar in love.[13]

The new church is the visible sign of the assembly gathered there, and both together are the sign of the Church: “The church is a visible building, it stands as a special sign of the pilgrim Church on earth and reflects the Church dwelling in heaven.”[14] That is where the building received the name ecclesia, as it is both the place of assembly and the place where holy people gather for worship. This primordial symbol is expressed at the beginning of the “Prayer of Dedication:”

For today we come before you, to dedicate to your lasting service this house of prayer, this temple of worship, this home in which we are nourished by your word and your sacraments.

Here is reflected the mystery of the Church.[15]

This strong affirmation is followed by a series of images which try to reveal what the mystery is referring to – the concept of Church.

The Church: a Vast and Complex Reality to Express

The new rite unfolds the nature of the Church, with many implicit and explicit references to the Bible, through the “Prayer of Dedication:”[16]

The Church is fruitful, made holy by the blood of Christ: a bride made radiant withhis glory, a virgin splendid in the wholeness of her faith, a mother blessed through the power of the Spirit.

The Church is holy, your chosen vineyard: its branches envelop the world, its tendrils, carried on the tree of the cross, reach up to the kingdom of heaven.

The Church is favored, the dwelling place of God on earth: a temple built of living-stones, founded on the apostles with Jesus Christ its corner stone.

The Church is exalted, a city set on a mountain: a beacon to the whole world, brigtwith the glory of the Lamb, and echoing the prayers of her saints.

These images are not theological definitions, however they give us in a metaphorical and liturgical way, a profound understanding. This theology of images has its roots in biblical typology and in the Fathers of the Church. Symbols mean more than a concept. When we try to express different kinds of realities, the use of symbols is more appropriate.

The Church is fruitful. Through the power of the Spirit it is capable of producing abundant fruit, a parallel image of being apostolic. The Church is holy. This expression is more than an image; it is a “mark,” one of the notes that describe the church in the Nicene Creed. The Church is a vineyard that has trespassed the limits of one parcel of land to embrace the whole world and it is in union with the heavenly city. The Church is exalted. It is the Light of the World, a symbol of hope to the World. Through all of these images the rite gives us a full picture of the Church.

The rite transfers this vast and complex image to the building: “Here is reflected the mystery of the Church.” As Crichton asserts, “such status seems impossible to achieve.”[17] How can a symbol represent adequately the reality of which it is also a symbol? A church building may or may not represent the whole Church, but it can still be hallowed and dedicated:

Lord, send your Spirit from heaven to make this church an ever-holy place, and this altar a ready table for the sacrifice of Christ.

Hence, this place will be or will symbolize a holy place, because it will be the image of the whole Church. The second part of the prayer of dedication goes deeper into this concept:

Here may the waters of baptism overwhelm the shame of sin; here may your people dieto sin and live again through grace as your children.

Here may your children, gathered around your altar, celebrate the memorial of the Paschal Lamb, and be fed at the table of Christ’s word and Christ’s body.

Here may prayer, the Church’s banquet, resound through heaven and earth as a plea for the world’s salvation.

The church is the place for baptism where God’s grace abolishes sin and gives new life. It is the place where the assembly celebrates the eucharist around the altar. In it, the liturgy of the hours is made in a continual prayer for the salvation of the world. Indeed, “the church is holy because it is the place whence sanctification flows.”[18]

The prayer then shifts focus to show the congregation that the building is also the symbol of the redeemed, the place of loving service to those in need.

Here may the poor find justice, the victims of oppression, true freedom.

From here may the whole world clothed in the dignity of the children of God, enter with gladness your city of peace.

The dedication prayer addresses two aspects of the Church: one, its nature and the other, its mission. These aspects become polyvalent symbolism in a church building: the place where the assembly is gathered is related to its nature, and the place where the oppressed can find support is related to its mission. Crichton points out that if its mission is ignored, “it seems that the building can be as complete a symbol of what the Church is and does.”[19] In any event, can we consider any church building a wholly adequate symbol of the Church?

Worship: the Paradigmatic Symbol in the Church Building

The Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship says, “a church is the place where the Christian community is gathered to worship.” The new rite is the result of the post-Vatican II liturgical revisions of the Roman Rite.

The worship concepts in this Ordo are the some ones that are presented in the Sacrosanctum Concilium. However, the concept that we can find within the entire rite is the promotion of “active participation.”[20] Therefore, the prenotanda, mentioning the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, says, “the general plan of the sacred edifice should be such that in some way it conveys the image of the gathered assembly. It should also allow the participants to take the place most appropriate to them and assist to carry out their individual functions properly.”[21] As far then as is possible, the design of the church should speak of the gathered people who assemble as a community “to hear the word of God, to pray together, to receive the sacraments, and to celebrate the eucharist.”[22] This is the paradigmatic symbol: the worship assembly. The basic design of the building has to embrace the people for whom it is intended. Moreover, the location of the assembly in the church and its layout may suggest that the people are the community of Christ who are related to one another.

I want to show which parts of the rite are different in order to highlight how the assembly is taken into account from beginning to end. The rite of dedication is rich in symbolism. There is a gathering of the people in a nearby church, a procession to the new one and the local bishop presiding.

The meaning of the rite and the nature of the Church are set out from the beginning:

  • The dedication is done by the celebration of the eucharist.
  • It is the assembly gathered there who is the real temple of God.
  • The dedication of a church is a celebration of the people of God.

The outdoor procession is accompanied by the singing of Psalm 122, “I rejoiced when I heard them say ‘Let us go to God’s house’.” This Psalm gives an insight that the new church is the local and partial image of the New Jerusalem. When the procession arrives, representatives of those who have been involved in the building of the church “hand over the building” to the bishop (RD 33), offering him the keys. Once the doors are open, the bishop invites the people to enter singing Psalm 24, “Lift high the ancient portals. The King of glory enters.” Then, the bishop goes to his chair (RD 48), and blesses the water that is to be used in the rite. The blessing and the sprinkling of water is a sign of repentance and of baptisms, by which Christians are made members of the body of Christ.

The rite is always orientated to the people, they are the first to be sprinkled and after them the walls and the altar (RD 50):

As it is sprinkled upon us and throughout this church make it a sign of the saving waters of baptism, by which we became one in Christ, the temple of your Spirit.

By readings, symbols, prayers and sacrament, the people are to enter into a closer union with God, to live the experience that they are the true temple in which God dwells.

May God, the Father of mercies, dwell in this house of prayer.

May the grace of the Holy Spirit cleanse us, for we are the temple of his presence.

Then the Gloria is sung, and the bishop says the opening prayer, which recalls the power of word and sacrament once again and prays that they will strengthen the faithful people.

The opening of the Liturgy of the Word, as Crichton asserts, is a developing of the thoughts of the Constitution on the Liturgy (SC 33) that when the scriptures are read in church, God is speaking to his people: [23]

It provides what seems to be official support for a theology of the word… that the proclamation of the word in the liturgy is a kairos, a privileged moment, when God, through his word, is active, when his word is redemptive, if the assembled people are willing to take the word to themselves and receive it into their minds and hearts.[24]

The rite continues with the prayer of dedication, and the anointing of the altar and the walls of the church. The rite of anointing is intended to create the symbolism of the altar, that in a sense is Christ the Head of the body; and of the walls we can infer they represent the people, who the Ordo tells us over and over again, are the Church. The symbolism of this part of the rite is given in no. 16. The whole Church — the people of God — is being dedicated.

Then, the celebration continues with the incensation of the altar, the church and the assembly (RD 66-68). After that, the illumination of the altar and church (RD 69-71), which is a symbol related with Christ as the light of the world.

The rite of dedication arrives to its maximum climax with the celebration of the eucharist. The rite in no. 17 emphasizes the unity between the dedication and the eucharist. The celebration of the eucharist is the most ancient part, “for the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice achieves the end for which the church was built and the altar erected and expresses this end by particularly clear signs. Furthermore, the eucharist, which sanctifies the hearts of those who receive it, in a sense consecrates the altar and the place of celebration…”[25] The congregation has tried to find the balance between rites, symbols and actions to enhance principal aspects of this celebration, and bring enough clarity so that it is only through the celebration of the eucharist with the presence of the local assembly and its bishop that the dedication is done.

The next part of the Eucharistic prayer is a beautiful definition of the church building:

The whole world is your temple, shaped to resound with your name. Yet you also allow us to dedicate to your service places designed for your worship.

With hearts full of joy we consecrate to your glory this work of our hands, this house of prayer. 

Here is foreshadowed the mystery of your true temple; this church is the image on earth of your heavenly city.

The church building is a symbol of the whole of created reality and also the image of the New Jerusalem. From this mystical notion the prayer moves to the concrete reality of the Incarnation:

For you made the body of your Son born of the Virgin, a temple consecrated to your glory, the dwelling place of your godhead in all its fullness.

Then, the prayer again insists that the Church is people:

You have established the Church as your holy city, founded on the apostles, with Jesus Christ its cornerstone.

You continue to build your Church with chosen stones, enlivened by the Spirit, and cemented together by love.

This final part of the prayer, together with the rest of the rite, presents what the Church is in all its mysterious depth and extent. The rite concluded with the inauguration of the Blessed Sacrament chapel, final blessing and dismissal with a last strong reminder:

May he make you his temple, the dwelling place of his Holy Spirit.

Summary

The symbols and the prayers of this rite constitute a true liturgy, a theology in action. In the course of this celebration the assembly incarnates the mystery of the church. As it was presented, the rite focuses not primarily on the church building but on the people of God, as the place of the Church, the body of Christ. We have remarked that a church building becomes a holy space because of the activity of the people of God, but the people do not become holy through the space. The rite brings a new ecclesiology in consonance with the lineaments of the Council and an appropriate way to dedicate a church building is through an understanding of its meaning and function as a house for the Church. That is the principal meaning of dedication according to the purpose of the new Ordo. It is a rite that permanently sets apart a building for the assembly of the Christian people and for the worship of God.

PART TWO: HOLY PEOPLE

Gordon W. Lathrop proposes in his book, Holy People, to strengthen the notion of Church through the liturgical actions done by Christian worshipers. His uses of Liturgical Ecclesiology allow us to see the Church from a liturgical perspective. The first question of Lathrop: “What do you need in order to have church?” and his answer, are the core of the rite. However, many of his reflections upon the Church will illuminate and clarify on a deeper level the core of the rite for dedication of a Church, focusing on the actions of that celebration.

For the rite, the Church is: “This holy people, made one as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one…”[26] For Lathrop, an expansion of the same idea:

The God whom [the faith of the Church] confesses is triune, a community of being… This Trinity, this God for us, is also know in a social way: God has created humankind as a race of social beings; Jesus has been at the center of a movement, a meal-fellowship, that still continues; and the Spirit enlivens community today. From the liturgical point of view, that faith in the triune God comes into existence and comes to expression as the assembly meets, as the [C]hurch which is the meeting for worship happens.[27]

Throughout his book, Lathrop emphasizes the idea of “to interpret the meaning of the assembly is to interpret the meaning of ‘[C]hurch’ and the [C]hurch’s faith.” If the assembly has such an important connotation for HP, its location and its proper place in the church building is an important issue. Subsequently, to find this place, we are going to concentrate on its practice.

The Liturgy speaks of God

For some people, to have or to experience Church, it is necessary to have a certain kind of building, a particular environment, candles, icons, or a tabernacle. However, these do not match with the notion experienced in the New Testament, that the Church is the people gathered in the name of Jesus. Hence, do we need to have Church as the gathered people surrounded by certain kinds of rites, the practicing of some services, or the structured organization under designated ministers? None of these questions are going to bring us the proper answer. Perhaps, the proper answer is to speak about the people of God. In any event, through both written and spoken discourses we will attempt to find words for the liturgical experience of the Church as a life-giving source of the knowledge of God.

The assembly does not meet to find its own identity, says Lathrop, “only a degenerated [C]hurch will have its own identity at the heart of the meeting. Liturgy is about God, and the God to whom Christians confess comes to expression in the Scriptures — read, preached and prayed — in the meal of Christ, and in the bath that welcomes newcomers to this assembly.”[28] In the same tune, the bishop addressing the people says: (RD 30)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is a day of rejoicing: we have come together to dedicate this church by offering within it the sacrifice of Christ.

May we open our hearts and minds to receive his word with faith; may our fellowship born in the one font of baptism and sustained at the one table of the Lord, become theone temple of his Spirit, as we gather round his altar in love.

The assembly, enacting the central things of Christian faith that are proper to it, finds its own identity. For Lathrop, more specifically, “The meeting for worship is the church becoming church.”[29]

The Symbolic Importance of Assembly

The confident statement of the symbolic importance of assembly, which was evident in Early Christianity, cannot be taken for granted in present times. Both, the Ordo and Holy People aim to recover this concept through the liturgical ecclesiology. In our daily practices, personal worship has been strengthened by postmodernism to the detriment of communal liturgy.[30] Christian worship is an encounter with God, but the God of the community.[31] We can see this concern in the entire RD. Further, the selection of the readings for this celebration re-enforce this idea. The first reading from the Book of Nehemiah 8, says:

All the people assembled as one man… Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand… Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

The readings from the epistles of the New Testament are all concerned with the Christian people as the true building: “You are God’s building” (1 Cor 3:9-13, 16-17); “You are part of a building… and Jesus Christ is its main cornerstone” (Eph 2:19-22); or “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood” (1 Pet 2:4-9). There are four gospel passages to choose from. I consider that the most appropriate are Luke 19:1-10 “Today salvation has come to this house” and John 4:19-24, the true worshippers worship “in spirit and truth.” The readings call believers to gather into assembly. Therefore, “assembly continues to be the context in which we receive the Scriptures today.”[32]

The Local Assembly

The whole Church is represented in the local assembly. This affirmation is present not only in the rite, but also in Lathrop’s book. The rite has recognized this calling for the major presence of people of this particular Church: “A day should be chosen for the dedication of the new church when the people can be present in large numbers, especially a Sunday.” (RD 7) Lathrop totally agrees with that: “The best practice today always has that whole assembly there.”[33] Since, the liturgy cannot be the practice of a solitary priest or a lonely worshipper, the rite also has to be orientated to that whole assembly.

As the local dimension of the assembly is very important for the new rite, it would be good to mention the meaning of that. However, the Ordo does not define the meaning of the local Church. Nevertheless, the Ordo remarks on this local character, and makes this particular community as the first responsibility of the bishop: “Since the bishop has been entrusted with the care of the particular Church, it is his responsibility to dedicate to God new churches built in his diocese.” (RD 6) Lathrop goes in the same direction, but he explores this meaning deeply: “In the first place, church has a quite concrete, local accessible meaning. It is a real assembly of people, gathered in a real place, face-to-face, to carry out the agenda of the ekklesia.”[34]

The Meaning of the Assembly

On one hand, Lathrop explores the central actions of the Christian assembly to define the Church. On the other hand, the rite in itself is not an ecclesiological reflection like Holy People, but it is through its liturgical actions that we can understand what it means to be a Church. Lathrop starts comparing the concept of assembly and ekklesia, but puts more emphasis on the former.

Assembly is rooted in the Old Testament; the Hebrew word used is qahal, translated by Lathrop as “a convoked gathering.” The Septuagint translates it as ekklesia. According to our author, these words were used as “the assembly of God” or “the assembly of the people of God.” Furthermore, the assembly of the people of God “came to stand for the hope that God would once again convoke the people.”[35] This is a strong eschatological aspect that can also be found in the new rite. The Ordo attaches the meaning of the assembly to the belief about the events in the end time of the world.

Bless † this water; sanctify it.

As it is sprinkled upon us and throughout this church make it a sign of the saving waters of baptism, by which we become one in Christ, the temple of your Spirit.

May all here today, and all those days to come, who will celebrate your mysteries in this church, be united at last in the holy city of your pace. (RD 48)

There are many allusions to the New Jerusalem along the rite, an eschatological aspect that is fundamental for Lathrop.[36] The participation in the assembly is participation in Christian eschatology.

The text and the actions of our liturgies, if they are faithful to the great tradition of liturgy, will show us that we are here as before God’s own face. Those texts and actions will also seek to tell the truth about us and our world… In the power of the Spirit of God, this assembly will then be made a community around him, as he is present in Scripture and in the breaking of bread.”[37]

This is going to move us to a greater mystery: the participation of the assembly.

The CVII found in the active participation the beginning of any reform, not only because of pastoral matters, but also because of theological reason. As Lathrop asserts the Church is the local assembly “who are participating in the mystery of Christ and so are being formed into the holy assembly.”[38] This participation is grounded in the universal Church. However, for Lathrop, who brings the tradition into new practices, it started in the local Church:

The local church-assembly is itself, as gathering, the primary symbol. By its participation, by its communal mode of song and prayer around Scripture reading, meal keeping, and bathing, it is being transformed into a primary witness to the identity of God and the identity of the world before God.[39]

Therefore, the universal and local dimension of the Church is present in both. 

Different Ways to Define the Church

The understanding of Church in the Ordo and in Holy People has different approaches. This is because their raison d’être are different. The primary aim of the rite is to “express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community,” (SC 21b) and “remind the people that the structure built of stone will be a visible sign of the living Church, God’s building that is formed of the people themselves.” (RD 1) This liturgical perspective of RD, articulated in a series of images, gives us the Ordo understanding about the Church: the Church is fruitful, a bride, a virgin, and a mother. The Church is holy and favored. The Church is exalted. It is a city set on a mountain, a beacon to the whole world.

            Lathrop explores the central actions of the assembly to identify the Church. His book is a theological reflection focused on the actions of Christian liturgy. He defines the assemblies with the same categories as the creed does with respect to the Church: the assemblies are one, are holy, are the catholic Church and are apostolic.

The assemblies[40] are one, because they are gathered into the life of the one triune God, “by the use of Baptism, the hearing of one Word, the celebration of the table.”[41] For the rite: as a Church “we are nourished by your word and your sacraments.” (RD 62b)

The Church is holy. Our author says that the assembly is holy because “they are being called as the holy assembly of scriptural promise by that Word of God they are hearing and because, in their nakedness and need, in their union with all the needy people of the earth, they are eating and drinking and speaking to each other the very forgiveness of God.”[42] For the rite, the Church is holy, because it was “made holy by the blood of Christ…its branches envelop the world, its tendrils, carried on the tree of the cross, reach up to the kingdom of heaven.” (RD 62e)

The assemblies are the catholic Church. Lathrop gives us one of the richest definitions about Catholicism: “they do these things in ever new cultural situations, according to the dignity of each local place, bringing the gifts of lands and people into the unity that links all the assemblies across time and space.”[43] The rite expresses a similar idea in the Prayer of Dedication: “Here may your children, gathered around your altar… Here may prayer, resound through heaven and earth as a plea for the world’s salvation… Here may the poor find justice, the victims of oppression, true freedom… From here may the whole world clothed in the dignity of the children of God.” (RD 62) The Eucharistic Prayer also says: “Father, accept the prayers of those who dedicate this church to you. May it be a place of salvation and sacrament where your Gospel of peace is proclaimed and your holy mysteries celebrated.” (RD 77) And in the Final Blessing: “God the Father wills that all his children scattered through the world become one family in his Son. May he make you his temple, the dwelling place of his Holy Spirit…” (RD 84)

The assemblies are apostolic. For Lathrop, in the midst of the life of the assemblies reverberates “the apostolic witness, made with apostolic, God-sent, authority, that Christ is risen and that in his resurrection all things are becoming new.”[44] The rite in the Eucharistic Prayer also remarks on the distinct apostolic characteristic of the Church: “You have established the Church as your holy city, founded on the apostles, with Jesus Christ its cornerstone. You continue to build your Church with chosen stones, enlivened by the Spirit, and cemented together by love. In that holy city you will be all in all for endless ages, and Christ will be its light for ever.” (RD 75)

Here, we have found the point of encounter between the rite and Lathrop: the images of the Church brought by the rite and the notes of the Church reflected by Lathrop. These notes are marks of communion, therefore liturgical gifts manifest in the practice of the assembly itself. In the rite of dedication, these signs become tangible, visible expressions of this assembly.

Summary

“Holy People” explores what it means to order the life of any congregation, and reflects on how the assembly gathers around Christ. Lathrop affirmed that, the purpose of worship is to constitute the Church.[45] Lathrop goes directly into the central actions of the Christian assembly focusing on those who perform those acts: “the search for words adequate to what the actual worship of that assembly says about God.”[46] He considers that with his liturgical ecclesiology it is possible to interpret the real meaning of the assembly, thus the full meaning of Church and its faith.

In our dialogue between the Ordo and Holy People, it is important to mention that the former converges with the later liturgically, through its expression of worship, and theologically with the ideas that were shown previously. Our author is concerned with ecumenical issues, as we can see in his introduction and in Part Two — On People. However, the new Rite does not address this important issue as part of its sources of inspiration.[47] Its understanding of the Church as a universal community is implied, but it does not specifically mention other Christian denominations.

Now, I am going to move to a contemporary building to analyze whether the location of the assembly in this church is according to the recommendation of the Ordo: “The general plan of the sacred edifice should be such that in some way it conveys the image of the gathered assembly. It should also allow the participants to take the place most appropriate to them and assist all to carry out their individual function properly.” (RD 3) Finally, I will examine whether this location of the assembly in the church building coincides with Lathrop’s ideas.

PART THREE: CHRIST HOPE OF THE WORLD

In the middle of Donau-City[48], which consists mostly of gigantic UN offices and international conference buildings, there is a black chromium cube, a small church: Christus Hoffnung der Welt — Christ the Hope of the World .[49] This hardcore minimalist structure claims its presence by being much darker and austere than anything along the adjacent walkways with only a white marble cross in the black bluish façade indicating the function of the building, “because the church is a visible building, it stands as a special sign of the pilgrim Church on earth and reflects the Church dwelling in heaven.” (RD 2)

The Building

The strict geometry of the building is emphasized by the chromium steel panels cladding the façade and roof. The form of the church — an abstract cross — is cubist, and the roof is treated as a fifth façade, the iconography of its plan signaling to the surrounding high buildings. Each corner has a glazed window. According to the architect, the different dimensions of the windows refer to the iconography of the number eight, viewed in the Church as the symbol of the eighth day of the week and the return of Christ. The timber ceiling is pierced by a “wound of Christ” from which exterior light floods in above the altar.

The meditation of the archbishop of Vienna for the dedication of the Temple in 2000, called “From the service, the hope,” gives us a profound reflection upon this church building:

“… What does this church mean that is located between highest buildings it is the lowest, that covered with its dark steel skin it is assimilated to the ground? It is such a contrast with the “old” Vienna, where the Dome with its roof exceeds all the houses and all under its protection hold them! Such diversity from what we see in New York, where beside the enormous skyscrapers of 5th Avenue, the neo-gothic cathedral of St. Patrick, in spite of its not indifferent size, appears nearly lost.

…What does “plastic language” say, the new church of Donau-City? At the threshold of the Third millennium from the birth of Christ, in the roof, over the altar, there is an opening, that recalls the wounds of the heart of Jesus. And, it says to those who watch from adjacent higher buildings, those that the Prophet has shown to the ancient Israel: “Through its wounds you will be saved” (Isaia, 53, 5). In a world that bleeds from many wounds, it recalls the hope: that the Lord dries all the tears and heals all the wounds.”[50]

The homily of the archbishop corresponds to when Lathrop is taking the ordo, the long history of liturgical practice, and setting it next to our cultural moment in worship to transform our meetings so we can see what God is doing in our midst.

Fig. 1: Christ Hope of the World.
Fig. 1: Christ Hope of the World.

The Liturgical Place

Inside, the atmosphere is totally different from the severe external presence. Pale birch panelling on the walls and ceiling is echoed in the pews, giving the whole place a gentle, luminous warmth, which changes in intensity and emphasis with the weather and time of day:

The small round windows, set at different angles through the walls, focus sunlight in varying configurations. At night, escaping shafts of light accentuate an idea of the church as a glittering gem embedded in the city. And in daylight, the iridescent, polished carapace is more perfect than the skin of any of the surrounding modern buildings.[51]

Behind the almost black rock altar, rough-hewn in contrast to the smooth birch, is a gently emphasized circle in the panelling, pierced in only one place, at the crux of the quietly incised cross to mark the axis from congregation to altar to priest to the emblem of Christ.

Fig. 2. Christ Hope of the World. Interior. From Current Architecture Online.
Fig. 2. Christ Hope of the World. Interior. From Current Architecture Online.

The ceremonial functions of the church are organized more traditionally with the entrance to the south next to an exit facing west while some small service spaces also to the west are hidden behind softly bent convex plywood plates. The position of the altar and the seating are arranged due to the so-called circumstantum principle, meaning an almost circular arrangement with the priest being within the circle of the surrounding congregation.

The disposition in semicircle of the pews around the altar shapes one inclusive situation. According to Peter Davey, even though the altar is prominent, it is totally integrated with the liturgical space. The liturgical design of this place is a good correlation with the topics discussed in the Ordo and Holy People. This central setting of the liturgy allows the mass to function as a contemporary, non-hierarchical celebration in which each member of the congregation is able to engage directly on an equal footing

Fig. 3: Christ Hope of the World. Main Floor. From From Ume 2003, 40
Fig. 3: Christ Hope of the World. Main Floor. From From Ume 2003, 40

This plan helps to convey the image of the gathered assembly as the Ordo mentions talking about the nature and dignity of the Churches. (RD 3) If the Church, as Lathrop defines, is an assembly for worship, its physical location definitively is a real concern, because it can show how unity, or lack of, is manifested in worship.

Fig. 4. Christ Hope of the World. Interior. From Current Architecture Online.
Fig. 4. Christ Hope of the World. Interior. From Current Architecture Online.

If a liturgical space can represent the universe, here, at the altar, a clear and defined centre is differentiated and the assembly is gathered around in a motion of splendid harmony. This church as the archbishop says is “a Place of Silence in the midst of the breathlessness. A place for the community, to celebrate around the altar the eucharist, because they have found in Christ the Hope of the world.”[52] This is the central practice that Lathrop insists to renew any local assembly: “The first agenda item for a renewed interest in worship accessible to local [C]hurch will be renewed scriptural knowledge and strong biblical preaching, new clarity about the baptismal ordo, and the establishment of the Lord’s Supper as the principal service in all of the churches every Sunday.”[53]

Summary

Christ Hope of the World, the church building chosen to verify if these ideas are possible to be materialized shows us that its basic design embraces the assembly for whom it is intended. Its disposition suggests that this assembly is the community of Christ who are related to one another face to face, instead of seeing only backs of heads. The articulation of its various parts, such as the altar, ambo, presidential chair and of course the assembly, accommodate the different functions of the “celebrants” who together may collaborate for the enactment of the rite, without losing the hierarchical nature of the Christian assembly. This assembly located around the altar demonstrates Lathrop’s ideas of “entering into the assembly around Christ, coming into the meeting around the central things.” Finally, behind the altar, on the wall is the image of Christ, the symbol that the assembly is gathered by Christ and pointed toward something beyond itself.

CONCLUSION

Liturgy has inevitable theological implications, and it is intolerable that it should convey wrong impressions. We have seen that the new rite and Lathrop highlight that worship is the response to the transcendent God, and is also the embodied response of the assembly whom God has approached through the embodiment of his Son. Therefore, a church building in its turn has to be the embodiment of that people who give an embodied worship to the Father.

They also point out that worship is the expression of the love that the holy people have for one another. They are a community of love and that love must be expressed in our liturgies, as in the sign of peace, and above all in the eucharist. Consequently, the location of the assembly must be the sign and symbol of the reality that it represents: “The very sign of the church should speak of the gathered people who assemble as a community for the celebration of the eucharist.”[54] I can affirm that this assembly gathering in Christ Hope of the World practices the search for words and gestures adequate to what the actual worship of an assembly may say about God.

WORKS CITED

Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship. “Ordo dedicationis ecclesiae et altaris.” In The Rites of the Catholic Church, ed. International Committee on English in the Liturgy, II. Collegeville, Minnesota: Pueblo Pub. Co., 1991.

Crichton, J. D. The Dedication of a Church: a Commentary. Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1980.

Di Baio, Editore. “La grandezza dell’umiltà.” Chiesa Oggi, Sep 2002.

Dudley, Martin. “Consecration of Churches.” In The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, ed. Paul Bradshaw, 131-133: Louisville, Kentucky, 2002.

Jounel, P. “Dedicación de iglesias y altares.” In Nuevo Diccionario de Liturgia, ed. Domenico Sartore, Achille M. Triacca and Juan María Canals, 531-548. Madrid: San Pablo, 1987.

Lathrop, Gordon W. Holy People: a Liturgical Ecclesiology. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1999.

Martimort, Aimâe Georges. La Iglesia en oración. Indroducción a la liturgia. Translated by Joan Llopis. 4 ed. Selección de liturgia. Barcelona Editorial Herder, 1992.

Sweet, Leonard. “A New Reformation: Re-creating Worship for a Postmodern World.” In Worship at the Next Level: insight from Contemporary Voices, ed. Tim Dearborn and Scott Coil, 206 p. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004.

Tesar, Heinz. “Christus Hoffnung der Welt Church, Donau City, Vienna, Austria.” Ume2003, 40-47.

Vatican II. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” In Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner, II, 820-843. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990.

White, James F. “The Spatial Setting.” In The Oxford History of Christian Worship, ed. Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, 793-816. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

ABBREVIATIONS

HP                        Holy People: A Liturgical Ecclesiology by Gordon W. Lathrop

LG                        Lumen Gentium: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church

PO                        Presbyterorum Ordinis: Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests

RD                        Ordo dedicationis ecclesiae et altaris: The Rite of Penance

SC                        Sacrosanctum Concilium: Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

Notes


[1] James F. White, “The Spatial Setting,” in The Oxford History of Christian Worship, ed. Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 793.

[2] Vatican II, “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium,” in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990), 14.

[3] Currently, a new tendency tries to return to the Tridentine liturgy and to the traditional layout, but this is not the topic of this paper.

[4] Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, “Ordo dedicationis ecclesiae et altaris,” in The Rites of the Catholic Church, ed. International Committee on English in the Liturgy (Collegeville, Minnesota: Pueblo Pub. Co., 1991).

[5] Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy People: a Liturgical Ecclesiology (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1999).

[6] Aimâe Georges Martimort, La Iglesia en oración. Indroducción a la liturgia, trans. Joan Llopis, 4 ed., Selección de liturgia. (Barcelona Editorial Herder, 1992), 248. and P. Jounel, “Dedicación de iglesias y altares,” in Nuevo Diccionario de Liturgia, ed. Domenico Sartore, Achille M. Triacca, and Juan María Canals (Madrid: San Pablo, 1987), 541. and J. D. Crichton, The Dedication of a Church: a Commentary (Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1980), 5.

[7] Martin Dudley, “Consecration of Churches,” in The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, ed. Paul Bradshaw (Louisville, Kentucky, 2002), 131-132.

[8] Jounel, 533-534.

[9] Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, no.15.

[10] Vatican II, no.34.

[11] Crichton, 3.

[12] Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, no.1.

[13] Ibid., no.30.

[14] Ibid., no.2.

[15] Ibid., no.62.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Crichton, 6.

[18] Ibid., 7.

[19] Ibid., 10.

[20] Vatican II, n.14.

[21] Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, no.3.

[22] Ibid., no.1.

[23] The first reading is from the Book of Nehemias 8:1-4a, 5-6, 8-10. Psalm 19B:8-9, 10, 15. The second reading could be 1 Cor 3:9-13, 16-17; Eph 2:19-22; Heb 12:18-19, 22-24; or 1 Pet 2:4-9. The gospel could be Luke 19:1-10 or John 4:19-24.

[24] Crichton, 31.

[25] Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, no.17.

[26] Ibid., no.1.

[27] Lathrop, 8.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., 9.

[30] Leonard Sweet, “A New Reformation: Re-creating Worship for a Postmodern World,” in Worship at the Next Level: insight from Contemporary Voices, ed. Tim Dearborn and Scott Coil (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 110.

[31] Lathrop, 24.

[32] Ibid., 25.

[33] Ibid., 26.

[34] Ibid., 43.

[35] Ibid., 42.

[36] Ibid., 33-37.

[37] Ibid., 44.

[38] Ibid., 49.

[39] Ibid. Certainly, these are the principles of the liturgical movement.

[40] The use of the plural form is in the context of the marks of the Church regarding the catholic unity.

[41] Lathrop, 56.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., 8.

[46] Ibid., 5.

[47] The new rite is based more on SC than the document of ecumenism.

[48] “Donau, east across the Danube and the Donaukanal from the old city of Vienna, is intended to relieve some of the pressures on the traditional centre, in the way that La Defense has clearly saved Paris from some of the more horrid attentions of twentieth-century developers. But Donau City is even more crass than La Defense. At least in the French version, the vulgar caperings of coarse commercial buildings are given some degree of order by the huge formal space they enclose, and by the visual dominance of poor von Spreckelsen’s Grand Arche (AR August 1989). Donau City has no civic sense at all. It is an incoherent jumble of pathetic but sinister and scaleless object-buildings feebly gesturing at each other over a civil engineer’s lunch of writhing roads and a suburban railway. Pedestrians are compelled to use vacuous, shelterless walkways without local incident or relief. It could not be more different from the complex gradations of place and scale in Vienna itself. Donau City was generated by 1960s and 7 0s planning at its worst.” Peter Davey, The Architectural Review, Sept. 2002.

[49] Architect: Heinz Tesar. Construcion: May 1999- Nov 2000. Liturgical furniture: Marc Tesar. Floor area: 1143 m2.

[50] Editore Di Baio, “La grandezza dell’umiltà,” Chiesa Oggi, Sep 2002.

[51] Heinz Tesar, “Christus Hoffnung der Welt Church, Donau City, Vienna, Austria,” Ume 2003, 40.

[52] Di Baio.

[53] Lathrop, 197.

[54] Crichton, 14.


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