Aug 15, 2000

Displeasure at Domus Dei draft delays new document

Online Edition –

Vol. VI, No. 5: August 2000

Displeasure at

Domus Dei

draft delays new document

by David A. Murray

The liturgical establishment has apparently reached a consensus: Domus Dei is bad news.

Domus Dei (House of God) is the working title of a draft document on architectural norms for churches still being shaped in meetings of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy.

The new document is intended to replace Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, a committee statement that has served as the charter for many sweeping church renovations for more than twenty years.

The draft was initially discussed by the bishops last November, and unlike EACW, is intended to be a statement of the entire body of bishops.

Though a revised draft was originally scheduled to be presented at the June 2000 meeting of the bishops, disputes over liturgical principles delayed the process. It is now expected to be re-introduced to the bishops in November.

An early sign of dissatisfaction with the original draft surfaced in an article, "Domus Dei: Breaking new ground or just rearranging furniture?", in the March issue of Ministry and Liturgy magazine (Vol. 27, No. 2; formerly Modern Liturgy). It featured questions and answers from liturgists, including Father Richard Vosko, who commented that he thought Domus Dei was "more legislative in spirit than Environment and Art in Catholic Worship". He said he is "not sure" what the status of EACW would be after the new document is approved (it would be completely superseded by the new document).

Father Vosko, a priest from Albany, NY, has supervised dozens of church designs and renovations around the country. He is considered "America’s leading expert on church design" by the National Catholic Reporter (April 14, 2000).

Canada plan proposed
Nathan Mitchell, former Benedictine priest, columnist for Worship magazine, and a director of Notre Dame’s Center for Pastoral Liturgy, proposed that Domus Dei be replaced by a document recently published by the Canadian bishops’ conference entitled Our Place of Worship. Said Mitchell,

Clearly, it is time to "revisit" Environment and Art in Catholic Worship – though it is not clear, to me, that it is time to discard it in favor of another (and quite different) document, that is to say, Domus Dei.

Why reinvent the wheel? What harm could come if the U.S. bishops simply asked the Canadian Catholic Conference to "adopt" Our Place of Worship as our own "update" of Environment and Art in Catholic Worship? The Domus Dei drafting committee could then vote itself out of business, and we could all move forward

Our Place of Worship was written by architect Michael Boreskie and theologian Mary Schaefer. It was mentioned by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles during last November’s meeting of the American bishops. While praising the book as "user-friendly", Cardinal Mahony admitted it was "quite thin in [its] theological and liturgical underpinnings" (see AB, Vol V, No. 9; Dec. 1999/ Jan. 2000).

Our Place of Worship is a virtual replay of EACW, except where it extends its guiding concepts even further.

New pastoral letter on liturgy?
Father Vosko amplified his response to Domus Dei in a March 31 talk at Notre Dame University (published in Worship, May 2000). About thirty people gathered to hear Father Vosko present his plan for American Catholic liturgical life.

He proposed that the US bishops issue a new pastoral letter on liturgy, using Cardinal Mahony’s "Gather Faithfully Together" as a model.

This proposal was the first step in what he described as a five-point plan for liturgical renewal. The other points were:

­ A "Catholic think tank on creativity and imagination" should be founded which would publish a journal.

­ Education in the arts should increase in Catholic seminaries. (Father Vosko praised a program in place at the Union Theological Seminary in New York which, he said, exposes students to design, literature and music.)

­ Catholic colleges should develop interdisciplinary degree programs in architecture and liturgy.

­ A "national media network", sponsored by the bishops, should be formed, which would "terminate the advancement of extreme viewpoints on all issues of importance to the Catholic community".

Certainly no one could dispute that the idea of exposing seminary students to more art, music and literature has merit. But the new liturgical institute at Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary, set to open this fall, may not be what Father Vosko had in mind.

It is not clear what Father Vosko’s fifth proposal has to do with art or liturgy. Ordinarily such networks are intended to air viewpoints, not "terminate" them.

In its April 14 article on his talk, the NCR noted that "though he did not mention it by name, Vosko’s proposals would mean shelving Domus Dei".

Divine assembly
Father Vosko, said the NCR, "noted that some of his critics believe the focus of any act of worship should be on God, not people". The "new focus on the assembly", he says, comes from "recovered role of the people of God during acts of worship and not because of any subversive movement to discount the presence of God in the church". Thus it is the assembly, not the church building, which must "transcend the ordinary", in Vosko’s opinion.

This view was taken up and extended in the July 2000 issue of Worship, as criticism of Domus Dei continued. In essence, the Church is the "assembly", according to doctoral candidate Edward Hahnenberg, in an essay, "Who Is at Work? Ecclesiology and Domus Dei". He, too, cites Our Place of Worship as a yardstick by which Domus Dei comes up short by making too much of the complementarity between priest and people. He says that the drafters of Domus Dei were responding primarily to warnings that EACW’s statements regarding the divine-in-the-assembly border on Pelagianism; then complains that the draft

tends to envision two kinds of people doing two kinds of things… the claim of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy that the liturgy is the work of all the people is confused as the document differentiates between the "rites" done in the sanctuary by the priest and the "worship" of the liturgical assembly.

While "a healthy ecclesiology and a healthy liturgical theology need to recognize diversity and distinctions in ministerial roles", Hahnenberg thinks "there is a danger when this distinction removes the ordained minister from the context of the community". He eschews complementarity, and proposes "an ecclesiological model of concentric circles, where the ordained leader functions at the center of a community with all of its diverse and active ministers".

But the complementarity of priest and people ultimately reflects the nuptial relationship between Christ and His Church. This model of the Church as "concentric circles" projects an image of a collective ego focused on itself in the person of the "presider", whose role is merely to show the community to itself. Paradoxically, this "target" model focuses attention on the priest, even as it demotes him.

Clearly, theological opinions such as these profoundly affect the liturgy, and go far deeper than architectural style.



David Aaron Murray