Book Review: Environment & Arts in Catholic Worship

Environment & Art in Catholic Worship from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy

The second of my (current) forays into Roman Catholic theological materials.  This is a short statement on art and environment in Catholic worship released in 1977.  In the wake of Vatican II, it became necessary to clarify and guide the increased freedoms available to congregations and worship leaders & planners.   What does it mean – in terms of worship environment and art – to interact as Roman Catholics with the modern world?

This is a very brief (under 50 pages, not including photos) introductory guide to considerations for  worship space and the use of art.  This includes the design of a worship space, the kinds of objects within it, artistic embellishments, etc.  As might be expected from a statement on the topic to a worldwide organization, the guide is rather thin, you might say.  It doesn’t make proclamations about what can and can’t be done, as planning a worship space in Africa is probably a lot different than planning one in Finland, as  far as aesthetics  go.  But there are underlying principles applicable to both environments.

There is a strong emphasis on the use of qualified professionals, whether in terms of planning a worship space (architects, etc.) to obtaining or creating the items that will fill that worship space (artists, design experts, etc.).  This guide attempts to reiterate the importance of doing things well, as opposed to doing things quickly or inexpensively.  Worship is a fundamentally different act than any other human act.  It is both individual and corporate, human and divine.  Holding together these various tensions requires careful thought (and prayer), and shouldn’t be plunged into without appropriate forethought.

Again, there is an emphasis on quality and authenticity,  ensuring that those items which fill a worship space are appropriate for such a space and of such a quality to bear their symbolic purposes.  If you’re in the process of designing or redesigning a worship space, or just updating artistic or liturgical elements within that  space, this is a helpful read-through.  It provides good theological reminders of both the gravitas and joy that worship embodies, and the unique attentions necessary to physical objects  in order to facilitate those things.

 

 

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