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Is Domus Dei D.O.A.?

by Paul Likoudis

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    Document Information

  • Descriptive Title:
    Is Domus Dei D.O.A.?
    Description:
    A report on the discussion at U.S. bishops' Nov. 15th-18th annual meeting of Domus Dei β€” the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy's proposed document dealing with the art and architecture of Catholic churches.
  • Larger Work:
    The Wanderer
  • Publisher & Date:
    Wanderer Printing Co., December 2, 1999

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The rumors in the press room on the final day of the U.S. bishops' annual meeting were that Domus Dei — the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy's proposed document dealing with the art and architecture of Catholic churches — was "dead on arrival."

The rumors proved correct.

For the staff on the liturgy committee, the editors, advisers, and consultants, the bishops' negative reaction to their three-year project must have been humbling, if not humiliating.

One after another, nearly three dozen bishops, including three cardinals, acknowledged how the liturgical changes and mandates of the postconciliar period have weakened, damaged, or destroyed the faith of the Catholic people.

And by far the biggest mistake, it was finally acknowledged, was the "recommendation" that the tabernacle should be removed from a central altar.

For Catholic lay faithful across the country, especially those involved in bitter parish "renovation" disputes, the bishops' clear recognition that tabernacles are to remain front and center in Catholic churches, and that the relocation to side chapels or separate chapels was a terrible mistake, will come as good news.

Of course, for those Catholics in bitter disputes with pastors or diocesan liturgical committees — such as those in Petoskey, Mich., Cincinnati, or Covington recently profiled in The Wanderer — the bishops' clear change of mind — or present state of mind — may come too late to stop these "renovation" projects.

Discussion on Domus Dei, set for the closing hours of the final day of the bishops' Nov. 15th-18th meeting, was opened by Archbishop Jerome Hanus, O.S.B., chairman of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy (BCL).

He explained the origins of the project: the sense of the bishops that a new document, which would have their formal approval, was necessary to replace the 1978 Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, which he said had caused some "confusion" and "reactions."

The chief objections, the archbishop said, were EACW's preference for modernistic architecture and stark spaces, the placement of the tabernacle, and the lack of footnotes. In 1996, he recalled, the then chairman of the Committee on the Liturgy, Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, appointed an ad hoc committee chaired by Bishop Frank Rodimer to review EACW and prepare a new document,

Archbishop Hanus made it clear that the document before the bishops was merely a starting point for discussion, that it was not in any way to be considered a final document — subject to amendment, of course.

The first bishop to rise and speak against the document was Boston's Bernard Cardinal Law, who set the tone for most of the 32 bishops who would follow him in critiquing it.

He described the document as "an improvement" over EACW, thanked the liturgy committee for all its hard work, and then raised the issue of the placement of the tabernacle:

"My question is about the timing," he said. "It is my understanding that there will be a new editio typica with an introduction which may be different from what is in this document, and I hope you will wait for it."

On the matter of the placement of the tabernacle. Cardinal Law suggested that retaining the placement of the tabernacle in the front and center of churches is "much more pastorally acceptable," and "the notion of a separate chapel is unrealistic, given the realities of churches in our country.

"I would register a pastoral concern of the underscored focus of the chapel and wonder if that is necessary in light of the code which doesn't seem" to call for a separate chapel.

Roger Cardinal Mahony spoke next, saying "there are many things to commend the document," especially what he saw as an "excellent theological grounding," but he wondered if the document couldn't benefit from "a wider consultancy," bringing in priests, religious, laity, and professional liturgists. He also asked whether the section on building new churches and renovating existing churches shouldn't be given separate chapters.

Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, N.J., was also grateful to the committee for its work, but, having said that, echoed the remarks of Cardinal Law:

"I've always had concern over the location of the tabernacle," he said. "If the Blessed Sacrament is nowhere to be seen, our Catholic people are missing something very important in our theology and spirituality, and when revisions are made. I hope we can emphasize what the code says, that the tabernacle be placed in a place that is prominent and conspicuous."

"In Newark," he added, "no new church can be built where the tabernacle is not visible to the majority of people and I hope the committee will reconsider that." 

The Power Of The Cross 

Washington, D.C., Auxiliary Bishop William Lori had three comments: He wanted a strengthening of the document's treatment of faith and culture, particularly on how faith can transform culture, and he wondered why the document made no reference to the sanctifying power of the cross; he suggested the document should have a "less functional" view of a church building and put more stress on the sign value of a church as "a preview of the heavenly city"; finally, he would like to see the document "support a central placement of the tabernacle in the sanctuary."

Kansas City's Archbishop James Keleher spoke in support 'of the previous comments made by Law and McCarrick, observing: "In our archdiocese, we never build a church where the taberancle is not visible in the front.

"We have many chapels for perpetual adoration, and I think there are many cases where churches are pilgrimage sites where separate chapels are appropriate; but in the majority of churches, the tabernacle is in the sanctuary and this document should at least allow us the latitude to insist it be there."

Archbishop Keleher further observed that the bishops even had to correct their mistake when building the chapel in their new national headquarters.

"When we built the chapel," he said, "the tabernacle was hidden, but rising resentment forced the wall to be taken down."

Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger of Evansville, Ind., commented that the pious practices of his generation are no longer shared by contemporary Catholics and that "there are conflicting sign values" when a tabernacle is centrally located. "We need to try to look at this issue openly in terms of culture," he said.

He also suggested the document have a different name, such as "House of the People of God," rather than "House of God."

Chicago's Francis Cardinal George spoke in support of the document's exposition on accessibility for the handicapped and the importance of a good sound system, but he also informed the bishops that he has reviewed the new General Instruction on the Roman Missal and what it has to say about the location of the tabernacle will be at odds with what Domus Dei says, "and so we will have to take that into consideration"

Bishop Thomas Daily of Brooklyn seconded Cardinal George's observations.

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., agreed with Gettelfinger that the document should have a different title, proposing "House of the Church." He also said the document should take note of the styles of church architecture found in the southwest.

Learning From Experience 

St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali addressed in detail the document's treatment of the placement of the tabernacle and how it builds on outdated legislation which only recommended separate chapels.

"In addition," he added, "what was a 'recommendation' has been so often infelicitously applied over the last 30 years, and the tabernacle has been relegated to places that are neither prominent nor beautifully decorated."

Since Inaestimable Donum and the 1983 code, he added, "we no longer find the recommendation for a separate chapel."

Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe reminded the bishops that "we have all experienced a lessening of devotion to the Eucharist, a loss of the sense of the Real Presence; the sense of the sacred has suffered.

"I can't help believing that placing the Eucharist in a separate chapel, often hidden and often small, is part of the reason we have a crisis in belief in the Real Presence. . . . Out of sight, out of mind is what has happened."

He added that he had recently presided at the rededication of a church in the archdiocese, where the tabernacle resumed its proper place, and he asked the people what they thought of the new prominent location. The congregation burst into applause. Later, at a reception, people came up to him and said, "Please tell the bishops the people want the tabernacle in the main body of the church."

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Morneau of Green Bay, Wisβ€ž suggested that "beauty is transformative, and I really think it needs more attention in this document and ask for that consideration."

St. Louis Auxiliary Bishop Edward Braxton contrasted the proposed document unfavorably to EACW, saying "there was something user-friendly" about EACW, and complaining about the "Aristotelian" tone of the new product.

Bishop James Moynihan of Syracuse asked why — if the new document was a replacement for EACW and was supposed to clear up the confusion created by EACW — are there so many references to EACW the footnotes?

Quite sternly, Moynihan added that the document's treatment on Church documents on the placement of the tabernacle "is really misleading and would not be helpful if adopted."

Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., wondered why the document made no reference to the role of a bishop in the construction or renovation of a church, why it was so "unduly cautious" about that patrimony of sacred art and architecture, why it placed so much emphasis on the provisional "rite of dedication" for a church. He also questioned the relevance of the parts pertaining to the placement of the tabernacle, which, he said, "is not relevant for most of this country's rural parishes"

 Bishop Daniel Walsh of Las Vegas said he wanted to see more on the education of parishioners and seconded Mahony's call for separate chapters on new construction and renovation of existing churches.  

Bad Theology

 Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha questioned why the BCL adopts the "recent development" that Christ is present in the assembly just as much as He is in the Blessed Sacrament.

"It's misleading to say all forms of Christ's presence are equal and all should have prominence of place. The prominent place is the altar and tabernacle. . . . The basic problem with this development is the emphasis on the assembly is taking away from the eucharistic Species."

Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua of Philadelphia pointed out that the fact that so many bishops spoke about the placement of the tabernacle was significant, and he hoped the BCL editors would take note.

He added that if he took a survey of Philadelphia Catholics on where the tabernacle should be placed, the overwhelming majority would favor the traditional practice of placing it front and center.

He also objected to mistranslations of the Latin codes on the tabernacle and sanctuary and then focused on the modernist liturgists' obsession on "gathering place."

"I don't know if this is a misnomer," he said. "The documents of the liturgy never speak of 'gathering place.' The gathering place of the Christian community is the nave. The narthex has always been the transitional place from the world to the sacred space. The contemporary emphasis on a social dimension of Christian life focuses on the 'gathering place.' I suggest the treatment of the narthex should be recast to express the traditional function. The primary purpose is crucial."

Bishop David Foley of Birmingham wondered why the document provided no teaching on the Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist, which could be of service to artists and architects.

"The Mass is a holy sacrifice as well as the assembly of the people," he said. "It would be helpful to architects if we placed before them a document that contained the teaching of the Catechism."

He also wondered why the document says that a reason for moving a tabernacle is that priests shouldn't have their backs to the tabernacle. "The only way we turn our backs to Christ is by sin," he said.

James Cardinal Hickey of Washington, D.C., agreed with all the previous speakers who spoke of the centrality of the tabernacle. "It reinforces our belief in the Eucharist and the Real Presence, as it is greeted, genuflected before, and as it helps keep prayerful silence in a church. . . . If tabernacles are reinstated," he added, "it will help restore a sense of prayer to our churches.

"I think also," he continued, "it is important to foster eucharistic devotions and benedictions, but also we should not overlook private visits. These are the ways we sustain our faith in the Eucharist.

"I hope we will not be the captives of architects who may or may not share our Catholic faith, and do not accept the fullness of our eucharistic teaching. The architect should not be the last word; certainly the parishioners, the pastor, and the bishop should have the last word....

"On the disposition of art and sacred objects," he continued, "mention has been made they are going to flea markets. Other options are available. I'm not a canonist, but I don't think sacred art should go to flea markets."

One New Jersey bishop suggested that the BCL could improve on the document's title, perhaps by renaming it Porta Coeli, that is, "Gate of Heaven." "Our houses of worship need to keep the traditional understanding of sacred spaces. . . . Our places should be places for uplifting the spirit, a beacon to Heaven."

Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City, Mo., wondered why Domus Dei says nothing about bells. "It might be something to think about," he said.

Bishop Sean O'Malley of Fall River, Mass., commented: "All of us have heard our people say, 'This place does not look like a church.' The documents on liturgy ask for continuity, yet the liturgy changes of the past 30 years have come fast and furious. Communion, fasting, genuflecting: changing all these signs is changing people's minds. All of these changes have changed people's mind about the Eucharist.

"Even what we have done with holy days, changing them in arbitrary ways has damaged the faith of our people, I hope in this Jubilee Year, we can renew our people's devotion in the Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Mass."

Bishop Robert Banks of Green Bay asked why the document seems to discourage the placement of saints in the sanctuary, why they have been "banished," and Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa spoke against the idea of building multi-functional churches, speaking proudly of the beautiful churches built by the Catholic pioneers and settlers of Oklahoma.

The final question was asked by Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. He wondered if Domus Dei was requiring immersion fonts for Baptisms in all churches. Bishop Rodimer answered: No. "We have to draw a distinction between what is a law and what is a recommendation," he said.

© The Wanderer

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