Dec 31, 2007

Bishops back "Built of Living Stones"

Online EditionVol. VI, No. 9
December 2000 – January 2001

Bishops back "Built of Living Stones"
Liturgy menu includes "Age of Confirmation", Mexican texts

Bishops’ discussion of new guidelines on architecture

by Helen Hull Hitchcock and Susan Benofy

At their November 2000 meeting, the US bishops faced a packed agenda, with issues ranging from restructuring the conference, to the situation in Sudan, to procedures for granting approval to theologians who teach in Catholic colleges and universities.

Liturgy items on the agenda included approval of Mexican translations for Spanish-language liturgical texts, an American "implementation" of Canon law concerning the age of Confirmation (they approved an age range of from "the age of discretion to about the age of 16") and guidelines for church architecture to replace the controversial 1978 statement, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship.

The bishops approved the new guidelines, Built of Living Stones, by voice vote, in the final hours of the conference. The document was available on the conference web site ( the following day, November 17.

The new guidelines reflect the bishops’ extensive discussion last November of a draft, Domus Dei [House of God], as well as the liturgical regulations in the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani [IGMR], released by the Holy See in July. Although this is not mentioned in the text, the new title is from I Peter 2:4-6:

Come to Him, to that living stone rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in Him will not be put to shame".

"The document is not perfect, but it is a good document, incorporating the wisdom we have gained over the last 30 years", said Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, introducing Built of Living Stones to the bishops.

The Mobile archbishop is chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy that produced the replacement for Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, a committee statement that has influenced church construction and renovation in America for more than two decades. Bishop Frank Rodimer of Paterson (New Jersey) headed the sub-committee on the architecture document.

Archbishop Lipscomb said,

It addresses some of the concerns we have voiced over the years, and helps us to approach some areas that were not even envisioned at the time of the Council. As many of our parishes are engaged in the renovation of their churches or the construction of new buildings in an ongoing manner, the publication of these guidelines is timely and much needed. Therefore, on behalf of the Committee on the Liturgy, I present Built of Living Stones for your approval as national guidelines for Church art and architecture in the United States. As guidelines the text requires a simple majority of bishops present and voting, and does not require any confirmation by the Holy See.

The role and authority of the document is clearly stated and it is limited. Built of Living Stones was described by the Committee on the Liturgy, as "a series of guidelines approved by the Latin rite bishops of the United States to assist diocesan bishops in the building and renovation of churches. It replaces Environment and Art in Catholic Worship. Where the document quotes liturgical books, those norms are binding on all communities".

The BCL also noted the new version’s major differences from Domus Dei:

The needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in a specific section as well as in sections throughout the document which describe spaces that need to be accessible to ministers and the entire community. The four chapters have been edited and rearranged.

The first chapter contains the theological basis for all that follows and incorporates the liturgical principles originally found in chapter two. The second chapter on the liturgical and devotional spaces needed in a church has been shortened and reordered.

The most notable revision in chapter two is the discussion on the place of reservation for the Blessed Sacrament. The current text reflects the provisions and language of the revised Institutio Generalis, which gives the diocesan bishop primary responsibility for the decision about the placement of the tabernacle.

In the new Institutio there are two possible locations for the tabernacle: 1) within the body of the church (but not on the altar of sacrifice) or 2) in a separate chapel. The new third chapter is the former chapter four, which addresses the importance of the arts in worship.

The final chapter is the former chapter three, which deals with the practical work of building or renovating a place of worship, including the people who should be involved and the processes to be followed. A new section has been added to address the special issues surrounding renovations and care for historical buildings. The Committee on the Liturgy decided to include the full text of citations in the footnotes so that readers would have ready access to the primary source material.

The footnotes reflect the new content and numeration found in the revised Institutio Generalis issued in July.

Initial plans are to produce a loose-leaf format that would allow diocesan bishops to insert local provisions and guidelines for their own dioceses within the text itself.

Discussion of the revised document was principally confined to two of the amendments proposed by bishops that had been rejected by the committee: one on the placement of the tabernacle, and the other on the use of the crucifix for veneration on Good Friday.

Excerpts from the discussion of the new guidelines follow.

Tabernacle placement
Bishop Raymond Burke
(LaCrosse): I thank Archbishop Lipscomb and Bishop Rodimer and the Committee on the Liturgy for their work on this important document for the Church in our nation.

My immediate objection to the proposed text (lines 615 to 628 on page 169), is that it does not respect the directive of the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which specifies that the tabernacle be located in the sanctuary or in a special chapel. The proposed text extends the possible location to include the body of the Church. Locating the tabernacle outside of the sanctuary, unless of course there is a special chapel, in my judgment, conveys the wrong message about the reserved Sacrament. I’m not much comforted in my concern by the amended text, which suggests placing the reserved Blessed Sacrament in a place where there was formerly a side altar, or in some other devotional space.

On a deeper level, I am confused by the suggestion in the proposed text that the placement of the tabernacle in the sanctuary in close visual relationship with the Altar of Sacrifice distracts from the Eucharistic celebration and its components. I refer especially to the recommendation that "distance, lighting, or some other architectural device" be used to separate the tabernacle and reservation area during Mass.

I am unable to find in our liturgical tradition, apart from the practice in some places over the past thirty years, this insistence on distancing visually the reserved Sacrament from its origin in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Such insistence does not seem to have been the mind of the Second Vatican Council, for the post-conciliar liturgical norms on the placement of the tabernacle made every effort to keep the tabernacle on the Altar of Sacrifice or very near to it.

In most churches which do not have a Eucharistic chapel, it is important to locate the place of the reserved Sacrament in proximity to the Altar of Sacrifice in order to keep clear the essential relationship of Christ’s abiding presence with us in the Blessed Sacrament after He becomes present for us through the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

The reserved Sacrament is also a constant witness to the profound reality of the Eucharistic Sacrifice through which Christ faithfully renews the outpouring of His life for us on Calvary.

Whatever the intent of the text in question, we must honestly recognize that it will be used to confirm and further the unfortunate, in my judgment, recent practice of removing the place of the reserved Blessed Sacrament outside the sanctuary.

At a time when we witness a loss of faith in the Holy Eucharist and a corollary loss of love of the Blessed Sacrament, it is especially important, I believe, to express clearly our faith by the place given to the tabernacle.

Therefore, I ask that the text state clearly that if there is not a special Eucharistic chapel the tabernacle be placed in the sanctuary in a place and manner which manifests the relationship of the reserved Sacrament to the Eucharistic Sacrifice represented by the altar. Thank you.

Bishop Joseph Fiorenza (Galveston-Houston, NCCB president): Thank you. Archbishop?

Archbishop Lipscomb: The Committee considered these and other considerations, and felt it wise to leave some latitude.

We’re obviously speaking renovated churches; we’re not speaking of new construction. In that case, there would only be the one altar and the tabernacle appropriately arranged in keeping with the present or the previous plan. But where there is an older church, there can be circumstances that would almost place the Blessed Sacrament, at times, in a chapel in an altar outside the sanctuary that is almost like an altar, a chapel of reservation. We excluded alcoves; we excluded those kinds of coincidental reservations of the Sacraments that would be unworthy and would be inappropriate.

Here, where one is dealing though, with a renovated church that might have particular cause and reason for the parish community to want something like this. You’ll notice it begins "ordinarily", so that we’re not anxious to have this as a rule, but we felt it should remain as an option depending upon, first of all, the determination of the diocesan bishop as to whether or not such an arrangement would be possible, and then the intent and purpose and desires of a congregation that may or may not wish to have this minor exception made.

Bishop Fiorenza: So Bishop Burke, you wish that whole paragraph to be eliminated. Is that correct?

Bishop Burke: Yes.

There was no further discussion, and the motion failed on a voice vote by a fairly narrow margin.

Cross or Crucifix?
Bishop Robert Baker
(Charleston) asked that his rejected amendment about the veneration of the crucifix on Good Friday be reconsidered.

Bishop Baker: Archbishop I commend you and your committee for a wonderful document, and I just have a concern on that #27 [altered by the committee]. I was comfortable with your first suggestion, of the insight of your committee.

I know you discussed that issue of veneration at great length, and the original document, I think, gives a thrust that I think really would meet the pastoral needs of our people best of all. And I just refer to the statement you had originally.

It was showing a preferential option for the crucifix (#643 on page 170): "the entire assembly rises to venerate the cross which should be a crucifix, if possible".

My change was to suggest the word preference; a preference for the crucifix.

And I’d just like to mention, this past year in South Carolina we discovered how sensitive the issue of symbols can be as we anguished over the issue of the Confederate flag over our state capitol. And in coming up with some directions with that we reflected on factors that lead to choice of symbols. Sometimes you have to choose. First of all, what the meaning or the reality a symbol conveys; secondly, the person or persons to whom the symbol is being related; and thirdly, the context in which that symbol is used. (I’m using here Charles Morris’s information theory triangle that he addresses to communication.)

A fourth characteristic and this is one I think comes to play here very significantly, as we discussed the flag controversy is that symbols should be used to unite, not divide. I tend to think that if we don’t take a stand one way or another we are, on this very sensitive symbol, causing some concern regarding division during the Triduum, a time when we should be looking to uniting our symbols.

I would say it would be helpful to have our committee suggest a preferential option. I say "option" meaning that, yes, there are two options here, but one that is preferred. Two translations, but one that is preferred.

One symbol can be good and another better. And in all your deliberations over the where and what and how and when of symbols throughout this text, you’ve already made some selective decisions over what is better.

What is the meaning behind crucifix and cross?

Well, my own feeling is that of all days and of all times this particular symbol of the crucifix should be considered the Good Friday service. We have the option, certainly, of using a cross before, during Lent, and we have the option of using a cross during the season of Easter, draped in white, but there’s a special significance of a crucifix on Good Friday.

Now whether this is voted up or down, I think it would be wise for us, as bishops, to invite our faithful to indicate their own opinion on the relevance of this symbol in that they are the ones to whom we address this symbol. So I know in my diocese, whatever the decision is here, I will invite my people to write in to me to give their own preferential option. Thank you.

Bishop Fiorenza: Archbishop?

Archbishop Lipscomb: Well, it would be nice to do it by that kind of a consensus, but the reason we changed is we found a considerable body of tradition, opinion, and no small amount of history that uses the wood of the cross, as the text on Good Friday says, as the object for veneration. Ecce lignum crucis. [Behold the wood of the cross…]

Bishop Baker: If I may respond to that? It also adds the words, "on which hung the Savior of the world."

Archbishop Lipscomb: Yes, but the object is lignum crucis and the lignum crucis in many places and in many traditions in our country already is the substance of adoration, even on Good Friday, not in all places.

I have my own reservations about this because of my experience as, you know, a person in the pew all the way up through to bishop. But we do not feel, since the Roman Missal itself, as we indicate, does not state a preference, that we should be more restrictive than the Missal indicating one over the other even on Good Friday, where there can be contrary traditions.

For that reason the text was altered precisely to take care of the eventuality that we might be dividing more if we expressed a preference, thereby indicating some kind of a criticism of those who might like to have the wood of the cross instead.

Bishop Fiorenza: Archbishop, will you still carry the footnote from the Book of Blessings which indicates a preference for a crucifix? The Book of Blessings says: "For public veneration, the image of the cross should preferably be a crucifix, that is, have the corpus attached, especially in the case of a cross that is erected in a place of honor".

Archbishop Lipscomb: That has been deleted. It did not specifically refer to Good Friday, but in the Book of Blessings had other references.

Bishop Fiorenza: But good Friday is public veneration, is it not?

Archbishop Lipscomb: Yes, it is.

Bishop Fiorenza: Thank you. Bishop Grosz?

Bishop Edward Grosz (Aux. Buffalo): Our liturgical piety has provided in our history as Church, and worship, both the cross and the crucifix. I remind us, the context is Good Friday. And of course, that is the most ancient liturgy that we have in existence, outside of course, the documentation that was in [the Didiscalia?], circa 100. But, going back to the Peregrinatio of Aetheria, we talk about the liturgy that took place in Jerusalem at that time, where the Church of the [inaudible]. [The Pilgrimage of Aetheria is a first-hand account of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem written by a nun of the late 4th or early 5th century. The diary, discovered in 1884, describes liturgies during Lent and Holy Week. Ed.]

It is the wood of the cross, that has been called the relic of the true cross, and I think that’s why all of the documents provide for either the lignum [wood] as you say archbishop, or again our older tradition of a corpus [image of Christ crucified] on the wood. But specifically for Good Friday, that is one of the oldest liturgical celebrations in our tradition.

Bishop Fiorenza: Cardinal Law?

Cardinal Bernard Law (Boston): I understand the argumentation against the amendment, but I really wonder what the custom in this country has been.

It seems to me the longer custom has been to associate the crucifix with our piety generally as Catholics. And the notion of focusing on the unadorned cross is something that is more recent. I’m just sitting here thinking of what is one of the moving moments liturgically for me. And that is the veneration of the cross on Good Friday. We use the one cross. People come out of the cathedral; it’s a moving thing. And it is the wood, but it is the wood of the cross on which hung the Savior. And that’s what brings us together. I would think that the preference, which I think more accurately reflects the piety and experience in this country, is more appropriate, and I hope we would maintain that preference. It is a preference; you don’t have to choose it.

Bishop Fiorenza: Bishop Slattery?

Bishop Edward Slattery (Tulsa): A number of times some people coming into the Church from some Protestant denominations have remarked to me and to some of our priests that they love the corpus on the cross. They found it extremely devotional and moving. So I would be in favor of keeping that custom.

Bishop Fiorenza: Anyone else? Archbishop McCarrick.

Archbishop Theodore McCarrick (Newark, now New York): I’m in waters above my head here, but … I believe in the crucifix. I believe it is so important that the corpus be on the cross, and I think it is very good for the devotion of our people.

However, we’re talking about Good Friday. And it seems to me that on Good Friday the contrast with just the wood of the cross is a very special moment for our people. This gives them a chance, as Archbishop Lipscomb has said so well, to worship this wood on which the Lord has died. I think just the difference is very important. I would hate for us to move into what is very, very important: the constant use of the crucifix in everything, except for Good Friday. And I think that the notion of Good Friday as something different where, Bishop Grosz mentioned, we go back into the tradition of the first century, where the Christians felt it is the wood on which the Lord was hung, this is what we come to venerate in this special way.

So I’m opposed to the change, and would stay with the text the committee has given us.

Bishop Fiorenza: Bishop Houck.

Bishop William R. Houck (Jackson) I speak in opposition to the proposed amendment. I speak for the text as it is. I, too, believe that there is a very ancient tradition of emphasizing the wood of the cross. The way it is now, it gives a choice according to the custom and the preference of the bishop and the people. But I believe the Good Friday Liturgy this is one part of the total Liturgy and I believe it also gives us an opportunity to emphasize the wood of the cross. So I would be opposed to the amendment.

Bishop Fiorenza: Thank you. Archbishop, the present text now, the modification, says "the cross or crucifix". Is that correct?

Archbishop Justin Rigali (St. Louis): Please read the way we’re voting.

Archbishop Lipscomb: (reads) "after the proclamation of the Passion, the entire assembly rises to adore the cross or crucifix".

A voice vote on Bishop Baker’s amendment was close, but it was defeated. Thus a footnote in the original draft indicating a preference for the crucifix was eliminated. But there was still some confusion.

Archbishop Francis Schulte of New Orleans noted that the text he had reads "to venerate the cross, which should be a crucifix if possible". He repeated, "`Which should be a crucifix if possible’. That’s no longer the text?"

"No", replied Archbishop Lipscomb.

The discussion and votes on the placement of the tabernacle and the crucifix question revealed that there is a marked difference of opinion among the bishops. This illustrates the difficulty of arriving at a compromise acceptable to all that will also be truly useful. It also suggests why Built of Living Stones aims only at providing guidelines for bishops, rather than binding regulations.

Bishop James Hoffman of Toledo asked the bishops to consider his rejected amendment, which had urged television screens in churches. He said that churches should make full use of new technology and that video images could be projected on the walls of the church, as stained glass had been used in an earlier time. He said that being surrounded by video images could be very effective. Although he did not ask for a vote on his amendment, he said, "I hope everyone will look at my intervention and see what they really ought to be doing in terms of media". He said that Archbishop John Foley (of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications) "encourages us to be attentive to the new to use new languages of multimedia technological culture" in music and videos. "Reducing the contents of faith is not a fear for the Church", said Bishop Hoffman. "We should go forward in this way of communicating with our contemporaries. Those paragraphs I fashioned would be helpful in developing diocesan guidelines. I thought it was important enough to stress my amendment to the bishops. I don’t usually read all the amendments that were turned down; but this is important. I did want people to read it".

Archbishop Lipscomb asked for a favorable vote for the guidelines. He said, "I hope this will move us along to worship in way commensurate with what we are". He mentioned the ceremony dedicating the cathedral in Mobile on December 8, 1850. In a homily at the dedication, the new cathedral was was described as "almost worthy of God". "Perhaps", said Archbishop Lipscomb, "this document will also be ‘almost worthy of God’."

There was a brief discussion before the vote was taken.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland, OSB (Milwaukee): I rise to propose that we do not vote affirmatively to this document right now. I don’t think it’s really mature and ready to go. First of all, I don’t find it at all inspiring. That was one thing about Environment and Art [in Catholic Worship] it was a well written, inspiring document, and this is not.

Secondly, I think there are many issues out there that are disturbing people that aren’t adequately dealt with in the document. The big debate right now is over what’s called "directionalism". Must the church face east? This is what everybody’s talking about, and this is what is creeping into, I think, all of our debates on the local level. Just recently, in renovating a church, the pastor said: "Ah, we’re going to do this so it faces east", as if that were the major principle. So the directionalism is becoming, I think, a major argument that has to be dealt with, and it’s not dealt with in the document.

Also the presider’s role. We’re getting all kinds of things happening here, and I don’t think the document deals with that adequately in terms of being able to confront those out there who want, at this point in history, to change what we have been doing since Vatican II.

Then the issue of putting into a document citations from the GIRM [Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani] that have not yet been totally approved by Rome, I think could lead us in all kinds of wrong directions.

So I would say as much as I’m tired of this document, as well, like everybody else I just think we’re rushing it at this point and not going systematically, like we should. Getting the new Roman Missal out there; getting the [English] translation of GIRM approved; getting our own amendments or appendix [to the GIRM] rethought, and then, at that point, saying: "Yes, we’re ready".

Bishop Fiorenza: Are you urging to remand to committee, or just to vote no?

Archbishop Weakland: You never win against a committee. Just vote no.

Cardinal William Keeler (Baltimore): I am grateful for what Archbishop Weakland said, but what strikes me as positive about this document is its flexibility, it can be continually revised and updated it is open to further revision.

A couple of other things: We’re building an awful lot of churches. Many building committees are now floundering, looking at documents some 20 years old. They need something that has the authority of the conference that will be of help.

Our pastoral council, had a wonderful discussion [of the draft]. They said that especially for the younger ones who do not understand the tradition, this document could be used for catechesis.

Bishop William Weigand (Sacramento): I too urge that we vote favorably. It is not perfect. It will need some revision as time goes on. Our building commissions need this kind of direction. Over six years ago, I authored a varium on EACW [asking for a new document], and 22 bishops joined me. I think we should have had this four years ago. I think it’s a credible document, we do need it. I thank the committee and sub-committee. This is a good step forward.

Bishop Blase Cupich (Rapid City): I know there is a concern about the beauty of the document. I think we have to remember that that earlier document came out of a committee that was much more tightly controlled. If 300 amendments are put into a document you do not have a beautiful dish, but a stew.

Bishop Fiorenza called for a voice vote, and Built of Living Stones was approved by a strong majority. 

Liturgy staff changes announced
After the vote, Archbishop Lipscomb announced that Sister Ann Rehraurer, an associate director of the secretariat of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy [BCL] since 1995, is leaving, and that she was "highly instrumental" in composing the later part of the new architecture guidelines.

Sister Ann was the bishops’ liason to the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions [FDLC]. She attended its board meetings, reported to the FDLC on activities of the BCL, and helped plan its national meetings.

Archbishop Lipscomb also introduced Sister Ann’s successor, Father Kenneth Martin, who resigned in September as chairman of the Board of Directors of the FDLC to accept the appointment.

So, where do we stand now?
Can beautiful churches be built according to the principles in Built of Living Stones? Yes.

Can it help resolve the growing conflicts within parishes and dioceses over church construction and renovations? Maybe.

We agree with Bishop Cupich that the document is something of a stew. It is obvious that different chapters were written by different authors, and it suffers from the "cut-and-paste" stylistic problems that seem to come with composing on a computer.

The first chapters, which give the theological foundation for church architecture — the purpose of churches as distinct from other buildings — are more clearly written than the last two chapters dealing with "practical applications".

(One puzzling suggestion is that the ambo, or pulpit, should be collapsible in order that people in wheelchairs can use it. But the distinction between "congregation" and "assembly" is welcome, as is a church being called a church. "Gathering space" and "worship space" are given distinct meanings as places within the church, and are not used as substitutes for the word "church".)

We also agree with Archbishop Lipscomb that Built of Living Stones, though hardly "a perfect document", contains useful insights that could prove helpful to a bishop who genuinely seeks to provide his liturgy committee and architecture consultants with a foundation for building and renovating churches that truly reflect authentic Catholic tradition and theology.

In the end, however, virtually every decision is left to the individual bishop and to whomever he chooses to delegate his responsibility. And there can be vast variations in the way even explicit law is interpreted by Church authorities (as seen, for example, in the vexing problems with Catholic institutions such as hospitals and universities).

In the present state of things, where powerful influences within the Church openly and vigorously challenge nearly every item of perennial Catholic teaching and tradition — as well as her very authority to teach and to make demands of her members — many wonder what real purpose any "guidelines" serve. There are fundamental differences among the dioceses in the United States — differences that go far beyond legitimate cultural variations. It is hard to see how mere guidelines can prevent further "balkanization" of the Church in America.

Still, it is well to remember that several years ago, when both the substance and the authority of the doctrinally flawed EACW were publicly challenged, professional liturgists were determined that it be given the authority of the full conference of bishops. That this did not happen and that the document that finally emerged is a decided improvement over EACW is not at all bad news.

Furthermore, because of the public nature of the controversy, there has been a long-overdue airing of the real issues at stake. This has been, to put it mildly, a "learning experience" for bishops, clergy and laity alike. The important things we have learned may, in the long run, help to restore the integrity of church architecture and liturgical music and art and language with the truth which the Church teaches and embodies.

Such a reunion of beauty with truth would be a very good thing, indeed.

Helen Hull Hitchcock and Susan Benofy attended the November meeting.


Helen Hull Hitchcock Susan F. Benofy