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Online Edition - Vol. V, No. 8: November 1999

EACW re-do "seriously flawed", says expert

by David Aaron Murray

Although it is an improvement over Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, a draft document to replace EACW remains seriously flawed and lacks key perspectives that would make for a balanced treatment of church architecture.

That is the view of architect Duncan Stroik, editor of Sacred Architecture magazine and professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame, frequent contributor to the Adoremus Bulletin, and a board member of the Society for Catholic Liturgy.

The draft, called Domus Dei (house of God), is the work of a Task Group of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy [BCL] headed by Bishop Frank Rodimer of Paterson, New Jersey.

Domus Dei is the ninth draft the committee has produced, but the first to be seen by the bishops. It will be discussed, but not voted on, at the November meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. A vote is not expected until next year.

According to the introductory notes in the draft, the project began in October 1994 when one bishop submitted a special request (varium), to the BCL asking to have EACW made more timely and that its authority be clarified. One month later, thirty-four bishops who had just come back from consultations in Rome submitted a second varium, asking that EACW's preference for austere interiors and its policy on reservation of the Eucharist be reconsidered to better reflect a sense of the liturgical action as an action of Christ and of the priest in persona Christi.

In 1996, Erie Bishop Donald Trautman, then chairman of the BCL, appointed the Task Group to review EACW.

Domus Dei''s most serious failure, in Stroik's view, is that it "does not give an adequate description of the theology of the church building". Completely missing is any understanding of the church building as an image of the New Jerusalem or a holy place of pilgrimage, he said.

Historically, says Stroik, churches of many styles have been understood as images of the house of God, and architectural "languages" of proportion and organization of space have reflected this understanding. Modernism, however, takes a functional view of buildings that continues to be reflected in this document, which, he says, "tends to describe [the church] as a functional house for liturgical rites." The document promotes the new and original without giving proper consideration to traditional symbolic languages and motifs.

Also troubling, he finds, is the document's assumption that a completely separate Eucharistic Chapel "is always the best solution for the placement of the tabernacle" in spite of the fact that "most recent documents, such as the Code of Canon Law, Inaestimabile Donum and the Catechism do not evince a preference or an encouragement for such a chapel." In architecture, significant objects are always located in the main axis of a building, Stroik says, and asks rhetorically whether the priest's ambo or chair is really more important than the tabernacle that houses the Real Presence of Christ.

Stroik recommends a complete revision of Chapter One, "substantial" revisions of Chapters Two and Four, and "careful emendation" of Chapter Three. While he believes that the document is "helpful in pushing forward the discussion of issues concerning the future of Catholic architecture", ultimately it needs to "more carefully reflect the teaching of the Church on this matter as well as the treasury of art She has brought into existence".

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