Monday, July 13, 2009

Church building : a tent or a tabernacle

A fellow Maryknoller, Fr. John Cioppa, who celebrated his 50th Anniversary of priesthood has a book of reflections on his years of work in Hong Kong. I found his thoughts In His Own Words to be very wise and could translate many of them very easily into the Korea situation which I will do in coming blogs.

Sometimes in conversation with Catholics they complain, "Wouldn't it be nice if we had a real church here?" I am not so sure. I am convinced more than ever that having a small temporary "church" or Mass center ... has many advantages. Let me explain.

I guess we should start with a consideration of just what a church building really is. The church building is the place where a group of believers come together to pray, worship God and through the liturgy it transforms into the "true presence of Christ". Vatican II has made it very clear that the "Church" is the people of God, a community which accepts Christ as their Lord and Savior. The church (building) is the home of the Christian Community.

For Many centuries churches were designed with the Blessed Sacrament as the focal point. They were constructed in such a way that the Blessed Sacrament was placed in the most prominent place in the building- usually in the middle of the main altar. This was to accommodate the principal devotion of the people, namely the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Have you noticed that in all of the churches today , both old and new, the Blessed Sacrament is now placed on a small side altar like those in ...

The emphasis now in church design is to create a favorable environment for the Christians to gather and pray. Both church design and the liturgy itself are reminders that we are a community on a journey and that this earth is not our permanent home. So the best symbol of our "Church" is not a massive, beautiful structure of marble and stone, not a place that is fixed, secure and solid, but rather a TENT, a symbol of travel, impermanence, change and simplicity. This is the primary image of the Church of the millennium: a TENT not a tabernacle.

The church is a place for people to gather. The liturgy is not a state. It is a series of feasts in dynamic relationship. We begin with Advent and Christmas, move through Lent and Easter to Pentecost and finally to the end of the year with the feasts of All Saints and Souls reaching a finale in the celebration of Christ the King. In the liturgy we bridge the world of the present and the world to come; earth and heaven; the secular and the sacred. We come to the liturgy not as passive observers, but as active participants to be transformed. We come to church not to feel comforatable, secure and "at home". We come to church to realize that this world is not our permanent home, that we are people on pilgrmiage with our feet on the ground, but with our eyes fixed on the Kingdom...
From reading the above we can see that Hong Kong is less traditional in viewing the liturgy. I personally prefer the tabernacle in the sanctuary at the main altar or very close to the main altar. I would see our Churches both as TENTS and TABERNACLES. However the point that I like is the idea of temporary. I do think that we spend too much time and money trying to make our churches into monuments and miss what is most important. This obviously is an area of much discussion and difference of opinion but a fruitful area for debate.

1 comment:

  1. One could also argue that not only is too much time and money spent in making our churches into monuments, but too much effort has been spent on expensive and ornate vestments, and other objects, perhaps appropriate in the age of kings and queens but now out of sync with the modern world. The panoply of monarchy, especially evident when there is a gathering of cardinals and bishops, along with the Holy Father's "kingly" emblems of office, should be relegated to the scrap heaps of history. A shepard's simple garb, more like the tunics of our monastic orders, might be a good way to shed a habit (in both senses of the word) that tends to send the wrong message to many, both inside and outside the Church.