The Constitution on the Liturgy was concerned with what it called « Sacred Art», which pertained to fìelds such as music, architecture, etc.
There are numerous normative documents on the subject which have been gathered together in Msgr. Crispino Valenziano’s recent book Architetti di chiese. The book is presented in this issue of Ecclesia Orans. There are 24 such documents, some of them rather lengthy, highly detailed and precise. These documents have had a great, if subtle, influence on the construction and furnishing of new churches; they are not much concerned with undoing some of the mistakes found in churches already built, especially ancient ones or those going back to the Renaissance.
Speaking only of churches in the vicinity of Rome, we are obliged to emphasize the fact that in the great basilicas nothing has been done for 30 years to correct the defìciences or flaws caused by the cultural, theological and pastoral mentality of times past. Just to mention the four major basilicas, which may well have some forty million visitors in the year 2000, nothing has been done since the changes mandated by Vatican II. At the time of its reconstruction according to the taste of the day, the pope’s own cathedral, St. John Lateran, lost its ambo which was carted off in pieces to the church of St. Cesareo for various uses.
St. Peter’s never had an ambo; everything is centered on the altar, and there is no proper place for the word, a practice that corresponded to the theological tendencies of the time in which it was built. The readings are proclaimed from a portable reading stand, which is folded up and removed after the readings. Nor is there a candelabra for the paschal candle, a permanent sign of the Resurrection beside the ambo. We do not even mention the pope’s cathedra, which is nowhere to be seen.
In the basilica of St. Paul, Preacher to the Nations, the ambo was not rebuilt after the fire, and the splendid paschal candelabra has not yet been found a proper place.
We say nothing of the basilica of the Holy Cross, where no sign of the proclaimed word is to be found. In the basilica of St. Mary Major the foundations of the ambo can be seen but no ambo.
We could continue our inquiry and reach more unhappy conclusions.
How many churches in the last 30 years have temporary altars, often wretched and lacking any real significance! Even what stili exists is often inaccessible: the worst example is certainly in the basilica of St. Lawrence. Its splendid ambo, which is so often mentioned in art books, is in fact crammed with mops and buckets! On the top of its magnificent paschal candelabra there is a spotlight aimed at the crucifix. There is a temporary altar and a banal lectern. Ali this after 30 years!
To cite an example farther afield: Many watched on TV the memorial service of former President Mitterand at Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral. The liturgical celebration was modestly splendid, the relatively recent arrangement of altar and presbytery admirable. The procession with the Book of the Gospels was carried out with great dignity. The Word of the Lord to be proclaimed passed through the assembly, and I was much impressed. Then the procession stopped before a pulpit, perhaps permanent, but one completely lacking in any sign value, and the Book was set down.
A brutal psychological shock! The place was not worthy of the proclamation of God’s Word.
In pointing out these serious defects some might think that I am suggesting a refresher course for architects that would clarify the function of certain elements. It would be the same as suggesting that it is enough for a celebrant to know and observe the rubrics to bring about a vibrant celebration. No, the problem goes much deeper.
In the last 1995 issue of Ecclesia Orans there was a review of Eric Palazzo’s Les sacramentaires de Fulda: Etude sur l’iconographie et la liturgie à l’époque ottonienne (Aschendorff, Münster 1994). Highlighted was the methodology proposed by the author. He writes that one cannot apply scientifìc critical methods to a liturgical work of art without considering the celebration for which it was made. The same must be said of the contents of a sacramentary. Using an interdisciplinary methodology the author confronts and causes the codilogical, paleographic, iconographic and liturgical aspects of the sacramentaries to interact with each other. He thus discovers many new features.
Church architecture should follow the same procedure. The interdisciplinary approach is absolutely necessary if church architecture is to be relevant. Furthermore it is not enough simply to juxtapose the liturgical and architectonic arts. What should give birth to an overall plan for building or reconstructing a church is a serious, practical involvement in celebration on the part of the planners. They should be aware of ali the implications in a celebration – biblical, historical, anthropological and psychological. In a word, planners should create a harmonious blending of the divine and human realities inherent in celebrating. To approach the task solely from a functional point of view is inadequate; all of the component parts of a liturgical celebration must be taken into consideration.
The Liturgical Institute sees an urgent need for an interdisciplinary strategy on the part of architects and liturgists. Responding to this need, the Institute has decided to inaugurate a programme that will concentrate not on quick remedies but on fundamental problems. The details do not concern us here. We must first have the reaction of architects; then we can design the essential elements of an interdisciplinary plan which goes far beyond concern for functionality.
This type of Editorial should not startle our readers. Neither this review nor the Institute itself is explicitly pastoral. But it does seem proper to call attention to a venture which at first sight might seem pastoral and thus beyond our scope; scientific research both establishes our agenda and verifies it.