USML | A Proposed "Church for 2010"

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A Proposed "Church for 2010"

These images display a draft version of a proposed "Church for 2010"  which was exhibited by James McCrery of the firm of Franck, Lohsen, McCrery, Architects of Washington, D.C. at a conference sponsored by the Liturgical Institute called  "Building the Church for 2010: Continuity and Renewal in Catholic Liturgical Architecture" held in October of 2001. Msgr. M. Francis Mannion and Dr. Denis McNamara served as liturgical and architectural consultants.

The classical architectural language in this sketch of a church building dedicated to Saint Joseph combines artistic models taken from the liturgical arts movement that flourished at the beginning of the twentieth century with the enduring viability of the classical tradition as a means for serving the Catholic liturgy revised by mandate of the Second Vatican Council. The classical architectural language connects the proposed new church to a tradition largely abandoned in the twentieth century, but being renewed and reappropriated today in new building. Classical architecture allows for poetic expressions of structure, the clear explication of use and importance, and the possibility for creative flexibility within a long-standing system of conventional signs and recognizable symbols.

The renewal of representational liturgical art, by reference to iconographic traditions, serves to articulate the unity of the earthly liturgy with the cosmic, and to state more fully the catholicity and apostolicity of the church.  Such art facilitates the active participation of the worshipping Christian assembly with the heavenly company in adoration of Christ who reigns in glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This reappropriation of traditional forms in new ways and in new circumstances provides a design that grows organically from the past, is recognizable in the public realm, and is most capable of serving the liturgy of post-Conciliar Catholicism.



The Program


This church design provides a solution for a very particular set of circumstances not found in every church program.  As such, the “Church for 2010” is not meant to be seen as a “best” or “model” liturgical arrangement, nor are the arrangements presented here advocated for all situations. An individual congregation may well want to make different choices concerning the arrangement of the liturgical furnishings and seating according the norms set by the ordinary of their diocese and the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal.


The architects of this particular church design were given a complex and difficult program, one which mirrors requests often made by design and building committees. The architects were asked to design a church which provided: seating for 1000 people with maximum proximity to the altar, a full immersion baptistery, devotional and penitential chapels, and a Blessed Sacrament chapel separated from the main body of the church. At the same time, the architects were instructed to provide a worthy and dignified building which spoke of continuity with Catholic tradition, included a rich iconographic program making the liturgical realities of the cosmic liturgy present to those in the building, gave a clear prominence to the altar, and which provided a truly fitting and prayerful place of repose for the Blessed Sacrament.



Classical Architecture

The way of building commonly called "classical" architecture is formed from a widely varied and flexible vocabulary from which architects have drawn to embody their religious, cultural, and civic aspiration.  From its earliest origins in Grecian culture, its development in Roman antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, to the civic buildings of the modern United States, classicism has absorbed and represented the local accents of cultures and regions within a framework of poetic expression of structure and content. Accordingly, classicism represents not a style, but the "deep structures" of greatly varied architectural expressions of diverse peoples and cultures. The canonical features of architectural classicism may be read like an alphabet, wherein letters come together to form words; or like a vocabulary, wherein words form units of speech, as with a poem.  The proportional systems of classicism reveal the harmonic patterns in nature and mathematics, and its ready assimilation of inscriptions and sculptural detail make for artistic expression rich in cultural and religious reference.  The revival of classicism evident in recent years is not a retrenchment into nostalgia; rather, it involves reconnection with rich sources deliberately set aside in the Modernist architectural movements of the twentieth century.  This architectural ressourcement of classicism represents the recovery of a rich and enduring vocabulary of architectural expression in the modern world.



Choice of Art

Many of the images used in this computer-generated model are taken from a 1998 exhibit of Beuronese art held in 1998 at the museum of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.  They are presented to suggest possibilities for an iconographic program that a parish or architect might consider when planning a new church building. They were chosen to highlight the central sacramental realities of the liturgy, an interest typical of the Beuronese movement. They also reflect concern for the careful arrangement of art in in the sacred buildings of Eastern Christian church whereby the central mysteries of faith are always kept to the fore and in proper hierarchical order.  Several of the images shown were unfinished studies for larger works. They are used here only as models.  Should a church of similar design be constructed, new works would be commissioned.


Beuronese art takes its name from the Benedictine Abbey at Beuron, Germany, founded in 1863 as part of a revival in monastic life, art and liturgy.  Admiring the early 19th century art movement of a group called the Nazarenes, several Beuron monks developed a highly stylized and deeply liturgical mode of artistic representation that spread quickly to many Benedictine monastic communities throughout the world. The various strains of Beuronese-inspired art reveal the influence of the Greek, Egyptian, Byzantine and early Renaissance artists. They share an interest in a highly stylized, figural, iconic, form of representation based on mathematical and geometric underpinnings which shies away from overly-naturalistic representation. 


The devotional chapels to the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph feature iconic representations, one Beuronese, and the other a modern icon of St. Joseph by Robert Lentz of Washington, D.C.. With the gracious permission of St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, St. Joseph’s Abbey in Covington, Louisiana, and Mr. Lentz, these images have been placed in an architectural setting to suggest the close connection between liturgical art and architecture and the devotional elements of churches.



The Design


General view: A bird's eye view makes evident the Latin cross plan of  the Church for 2010. Following the model of early Christianity, the design shows an atrium which evokes the garden of paradise. The atrium is open, but could easily be glazed and used as a gathering area in colder climates. The central nave of the church is expressed by the large oval dome with a large cupola which floods the building with natural light. Four smaller domes on the corners mark the presence of small devotional and confessional chapels. The octagonal roofline to the rear of the dome marks the chapel for reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. A tall campanile announces the presence of the church the surrounding community.




North and South entrances: The south side of the building shows one of  the two lateral entrances to the nave with their monumental columned surrounds, clearly marking the entrances as important features of the design.



View from the atrium: The view from inside the atrium shows the main entry to the church, with its inscription from the Rite of Dedication of a Church, inviting worshippers into the building. The round window above provides natural lighting for the organ loft.  



The font and narthex: The font takes its inspiration from a fifth-century example at Mariana, Corsica.  Placed in a large room which also doubles as a narthex, the baptistery is provided with its own room yet remains visible from the body of the larger church for the Easter Vigil ceremonies.   It provides for immersion of adults as well as a font for infant baptism.  Following early Christian models, the baptistery is articulated by a ring of columns set on a circular plan and capped by an open crown of entablature.





The narthex also provides two niches, one of which serves as an ambry for holy oils, clearly visible upon entrance to the church.  The other niche forms a small shrine dedicated to the sacredness of life, symbolized by an image of the Visitation of Elizabeth to the Virgin Mary in which the tender embrace of Elizabeth to her cousin’s fruitful womb points to the Incarnation and Nativity of Christ.

A quote from the Book of Matthew around the narthex reads: "Come. You have my father's blessing! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me." I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me." The quote begins on the nave side of the baptistery, so that coming into the building, worshippers see the words of invitation at the beginning of the quote, and upon leaving read the admonition to go out and serve.



The ambulatory and Stations of the Cross: The ambulatory, which circles the entire perimeter of the main church, is formed by the large Corinthian colonnade that defines the nave proper.  It provides a processional route around the church to the shrines and penitential chapels as well as access to the Blessed Sacrament chapel.  Since the walls of the ambulatory are largely covered with iconic representations of the twelve apostles, we have elected to form beautifully lettered Stations of the Cross set into the floor of the ambulatory without pictorial representations.  The ambulatory path emerges as a via dolorosa, leading one past all of the liturgical features of the church — font, altar, and confessionals ¾ finally finishing at the entrance to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.



Confessional chapels: The confessionals are located in chapels with dedications based on themes of penitence and forgiveness: the Penitential Chapels of the Good Shepherd and  the Prodigal Son.  They provide for both screen and face-to-face confession, and offer a spacious waiting area with seats and kneelers, which may also serve as a location for special devotions.




A quotation from the Book of Revelation is inserted along the frieze of the main body of the church, reminding those gathered of the eschatological and cosmic dimensions of the liturgy in which they participate:


"Then I heard the voices of every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea; everything in the universe cried aloud: 'To the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, be praise and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.'" (Rv 5:13)


The entablature of the architectural backdrop behind the altar bears the inscription:

                                          “Holy, holy, holy.”






The rear apse: The rear apse contains a tall architectural element which breaks away from the nave’s colonnade and strengthens the prominence of the sanctuary by providing a visual setting for the altar. This feature frames an image of the salvific and liturgical realities of the crucifixion, and establishes a link between the ritual action of the altar and its nature as sacrifice.  In addition, this feature works in three dimensions, containing an arched tunnel which continues the ambulatory and provides access to the Blessed Sacrament chapel behind.  Those who wish to enter the Blessed Sacrament chapel enter figuratively into the crucifixion by means of this device which itself has connotations of a triumphal arch, thereby establishing in architectural terms the victory of Christ in his crucifixion and His continuing presence in the eucharist.  



The upper level of the apse shows Christ, the Lamb, in His heavenly glory surrounded by the angels and elders described in the Book of Revelation.


Altar and sanctuary: The altar is designed to serve as an icon of the banquet table of the heavenly Jerusalem, thus to be noble, beautiful, and inspiring.  The altar is designed so that by its location, design, level of craftsmanship, and materials, it reads immediately as the centrally-important object in the church building. With its location on the center axis, raised three steps on a richly patterned octagonal platform (mirrored in the shape of the Blessed Sacrament chapel), and clearly delineated by the presence of the large floor candles and hanging lamps, the altar receives the treatment worthy of its importance. The model for the altar is that of Saint Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  



The Blessed Sacrament chapel: The Blessed Sacrament chapel is located on the central axis of the building, behind the altar and on axis with the baptismal font.  Its octagonal shape recalls the ancient symbolism of using centralized plans for buildings meant for objects of veneration (tholoi).  The tabernacle tower is a highly finished object worthy of the reserved Eucharist, and surrounded by seating and kneelers for private prayer.  On three sides of the chapel, large painted angels cover their eyes in evidence of their ability to see the otherwise invisible reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. In the dome, angels play heavenly instruments in celebration of the same sacramental reality.  One door leads back to the main body of the church, while two others provide direct exterior access for prayer at hours when the main body of the church may be closed.  Two other grilled openings align with the doorways of the apse to provide direct lines of sight from the nave of the church to the chapel of reservation, clearly marked by hanging tabernacle lamps.

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