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Taking A Tour Of The House Of God

by Michael S. Rose


A detailed description and explanation of the architecture, furnishings, and art found inside a church building.

Larger Work



34 - 40

Publisher & Date

Envoy Communications, Inc., Steubenville, OH, Issue #3, 2001

In the Genesis story known as "Jacob's Ladder," the patriarch had a dream of angels going up and down from Heaven. In response, Jacob announced, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

Echoing those words throughout the Christian centuries, we have called our churches Domus Dei (the House of God) and Porta Coeli (the Gate of Heaven) — a dwelling where we go to find God. For that reason we understand the church building is a sacred place. And in fact, the Church's Code of Canon Law defines the church building as "a sacred building destined for divine worship."1

Many non-Catholics frequently have questions about the distinctive elements of a traditional Catholic church's architecture and furnishings. Why the altar rail? Why the statues? Why the kneeling pads? Why towers and bells? What does all this mean?

Actually, it all means a great deal. Nearly every detail of a traditional Catholic church building has a precise and rich significance, pointing to important aspects of Catholic faith and practice. So questions from non-Catholics can provide us a fine opportunity to talk about the Faith — and to learn more about it ourselves.

First, however, we need a firm understanding of the reasons behind the traditional design. So let's take a tour of a typical church built according to the pattern that has endured for centuries.

Christ Is Present And Active

What exactly makes a "sacred place," a Domus Dei, a Porta Coeli destined for divine worship?

To begin, let's hear what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the church building: "Visible churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ . . . In this 'house of God' the truth and the harmony of the signs that make it up should show Christ to be present and active in this place."2

The primary point here is that the house of God ought to serve to show Christ and His Church present and active in both town and country. And this is exactly what church designers have been doing for centuries, using a specific architectural "language," based on eternal principles, to build the temple of God (another term for the church building). This "language" is what transforms bricks and mortar, wood and nails, stone and buttress, into a church, a sacred place worthy of God's eternal presence.

A Church Must Look Like . . . A Church

This sounds like a simple idea: A church building must look like a church. There are many ways that the church accomplishes such a feat, but three primary elements well define the aesthetics of the church building: verticality, permanence, and iconography.

Verticality. Unlike most of our municipal, commercial, and domestic buildings, the church ought to be so arranged that the vertical structure dominates the horizontal. The soaring heights of the spaces speak to us of the reaching toward heaven, of transcendence — bringing the Heavenly Jerusalem down to us through the medium of the church building. In other words, the interior spaces should have verticality, or a dramatic sense of height.

Permanence. The church building, representing Christ's presence in a particular place, also ought to be a permanent structure, built on a "firm foundation." Most modern buildings, on the contrary, tend to be temporary structures — or at least they appear to be. In fact, in places such as Los Angeles, architects actually design and build their buildings with the expectation that they will be bulldozed in a decade or two to make way for a newer and more fashionable building.

Churches, on the other hand, should not be the product of fashion, which is ever changing and certainly not permanent. There are several ways that a church building can assert its permanence. First, it must be made of durable materials. Second, it must have a significant mass, built with solid foundations and thick walls, and allowing for generous interior spaces. And third, it must be designed in continuity with the history and tradition of Catholic church architecture.

Nineteenth-century church architect Ralph Adams Cram put it well when he wrote: "Instead of the cheap and tawdry structures of shingles and clapboards, or flimsy brick and stone veneering, doomed to decay, we should have once more solid and enduring temples that, even if by reason of our artistic backwardness, could not at first compare with the noble work of the Middle Ages."3

Iconography. The church building ought to be a sign to both the faithful and the greater community, whether the neighborhood, town, or rural surroundings. The building needs to teach; it needs to catechize; it needs to evangelize. The building itself must show Christ and His Church present and active in this specific locale.

If the church building can be mistaken for a library, a nursing home, a shopping center, a town hall, a medical office, or a movie theater, then it has failed in this regard. A medical office building tells us little of the faith, a movie theater seldom evangelizes through its architecture, and a shopping center does little to reinforce the presence of Christ active in the world.

However obvious the point may seem, it is worth mentioning again: A church must first look like a church before the building has any chance of being a sign to the greater community — and that means inside and out. It must first look like a church before it can be in essence a church.

The Church In The Landscape

Another term for the church building is "city on a hill" (see Matt 5:14), and yet another, "the New Jerusalem" (see Revelation 21:2). These two terms specifically refer to the location of our churches on high places, with the sense of being a fortified, protected sanctuary. A very literal example of such a location is Mont. St. Michel in France.

Many churches of times past, such as the Cathedral in Florence, dominated the urban landscape. There was no doubt that the church was the most important structure in that city. In other places, where the church buildings were much more modest in size, their situation at the highest point indicated Christ's dominance in the lives of those who lived in the shadow of their churches.

So this position of importance in a landscape is another aspect of making a church look like a church. Even today when new churches are built, the siting is important. The church building should not be hidden — hidden signs are bad signs — and should be integrated into the neighborhood or landscape in a way that its site reminds us of the building's importance and purpose.

The connection between the city and the church is an important one, too. It is often accomplished, at least traditionally, through the piazza (plaza) or courtyard. Here is a place for the faithful to congregate; it is the first transitional space that prepares us for our dramatic entrance into the Gate of Heaven, and it is a place that often serves as a backdrop for functions both religious and civic.

Often in the past, steps, fountains, or colonnades have been used in the design of the piazza. But unfortunately in many places today the parking lot dominates and serves as a sort of anti-piazza. Rather than preparing us for entry into the church building, it more often than not, makes us angry. Parking of course must be dealt with in most situations, but there are many solutions by which the parking lot can be made auxiliary to the piazza or church courtyard.

Making Our Entry

As we approach the church building, by car or on foot — even before we can see the entire building or even the front entrance — we ought to be able to see the campanile (the bell tower). It is one of the primary vertical elements that draws us to the church both visually (we can see it in the distance) and by the sound of its bells, which serve both as a time piece and a call to prayer or worship.

The use of church bells dates back at least to the eighth century, when such bells were mentioned in the writings of Pope Stephen III.4 Not only did they serve to call the laity to the church for Mass (which they still do — or ought to do), but monastery bells were rung to wake the monks for recitation of their night prayer, known as Matins. By the Middle Ages every church building was provided with one or more bells, and the bell tower became an important feature of the church building.

The bell towers in southern Europe, especially in Italy, were often built separate from the church building (such as the famous leaning tower of Pisa, built in the twelfth century). In northern Europe and in North America, however, they more typically form an integral part of the church building itself.

Another extraordinary visual element in churches is the dome or the steeple surmounted by the cross. Popularized during the Renaissance, the dome — round or sometimes oval — has significant effects on both the interior and the exterior. In the interior it adds to the sense of verticality and transcendence (symbolizing the heavenly kingdom) in both its height and in the way it allows shafts of light to penetrate the interior of the church. On the exterior, the dome and steeple visually identify the building as a church, whether in the city or out in the country.

Once we draw closer to the church building, the façade (that is, the front exterior) becomes important. The façade is often the most memorable part of a church. It sometimes incorporates the bell tower or other towers; statuary or a simple sculpture; windows and the main entrance doors. In an urban setting, in which the church may be dwarfed by surrounding structures, the façade takes on an extra importance in that the church itself becomes identified with the façade.

This front entrance and façade are the second step of transition from the profane (the exterior world) to the sacred (the interior spaces of the church). The façade often has the most opportunity to evangelize, teach, and catechize through its incorporation of exterior artwork, which has been called the "handmaid of religion."

One particularly familiar aspect of the front façade is the rose window, a large circular window usually above the central entrance to the church. The segments of stained glass that radiate out from its center are likened to the unfolding petals of a full-blown rose. Other types of round windows decorate the facades of western churches, but all owe their origins to the oculus, a circular opening found in the classical buildings of Rome, such as the Pantheon.

The front façade would be nothing, of course, without the doors that open into the church itself. These portals, as they are sometimes called, are significant because they function as the literal gate to the Porta Coeli, the doors to the Domus Dei.

As early as the eleventh century, the decoration of church portals (the openings that surround the doors themselves) with statues and reliefs became an important feature of the church. Scenes from the Old Testament and from the life of Christ are commonly depicted above the doorways in what are called tympanums. These portals are meant to be both inspiring and inviting. They draw our hearts toward God and our bodies into the church.

The narthex is the third and final transitional space from the outside world to the church's interior. It also serves two other primary functions. First, is a vestibule — a place to shake the snow from boots or remove a hat or drop an umbrella. It is also a place where processions can assemble. For this reason the narthex is also known as the "galilee," since the procession from narthex to the altar symbolizes Christ's journey from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Crucifixion.

The Body Of Christ

A famous diagram shows the image of Christ superimposed over the floor plan of a typical basilica-style church — and this is informative. The head of Christ fits in the sanctuary; the arms become the transepts; and the body and legs fill out the nave. So here we can see literally the idea of the church building representing the Body of Christ. And it is no coincidence that the floor plan is in the shape of a cross. We call this a cruciform plan, which reminds us of Christ on the cross.

The term basilica literally means "House of the King," a fitting title for the house of God since we understand Jesus to be Christ the King, the King of Kings. This basilica form is the plan upon which most of the past seventeen hundred years of church architecture has been based. A church based on such an arrangement will be a rectangle twice as long as its width. Two rows of columns typically run the entire length of the body, separating the aisle from the nave.

In the past thirty-some years, however, we have witnessed much experimentation that dismisses this basilica plan in favor of novelties. But in light of the past centuries of church building, these experimental forms based on the Greek amphitheater (fan shape) and the Roman circus (church-in-the-round) are merely passing fads, with little or no eternal significance.

The Ark Of Salvation

Once through the narthex doors, we find ourselves in the main body of the church, called the nave, which is the Latin word for "ship" (from which we get the word "naval"). This is the place where the congregation sits and is so called because figuratively it represents the "ark of salvation." An apostolic constitution of the fourth century says, "Let the building be long, with its head to the East . . . and so it will be like a ship."

The nave is almost always divided up into two or four sections of seating with a central aisle leading to the sanctuary and altar. Additional side aisles in larger churches flank the nave.

Upon entering the nave (a sacred place), we are used to finding holy water fonts or stoups, as they are sometimes known. Here we bless ourselves with holy water, reminding ourselves of our baptism and our sins. Crossing ourselves with holy water upon entering a church is the long-standing way to cleanse ourselves as we set foot into God's house.

St. Charles Borromeo, who was instrumental in shaping the architecture of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, lays down the following rules for the shape, size, and material of the holy water stoup. He says it "shall be made of marble or solid stone, neither porous nor with cracks. It shall rest upon a handsomely wrought column and shall not be placed outside the church but within it, and, in so far as possible, to the right of those who enter."5

Another element of the church building immediately related to the nave is the baptistery, the place in the church that is suited especially for the rite of baptism. The earliest baptisteries were freestanding buildings separate from the church itself, but later baptisteries were built as separate rooms located directly off the nave. They are typically octagonal, alluding to Christ's resurrection on the "eighth day" (Sunday comes after Saturday, the Sabbath or seventh day of the week). Eight thus represents the opening of a new dawn for the Christian soul. Also common for some centuries now is placing the baptismal font in the nave of the church, instead of keeping it separate. The font itself then maintains the octagonal shape.

The religious imagery most commonly associated with the baptismal font and baptistery is the scene of the baptism of Christ by St. John the Baptist. The dove representing the Holy Spirit is another popular religious image, since baptism is the sending of the Holy Spirit to rest on the soul of the baptized.

The Pews

Perhaps the most common elements of the nave are the pews and their kneelers. Most commonly pews are formed by a wooden bench with a back. Padded kneelers are another common feature.

The traditional arrangement of pews is unidirectional — that is, one behind the next, facing the sanctuary of the church. In some large pilgrimage churches pews are either moveable or they are not used. In St. Peter's Basilica, for instance, chairs are used or else the congregation stands. This arrangement, however, is certainly not the norm in Catholic worship, but rather an exception precipitated by space necessities since very large congregations often attend Masses and other ceremonies at St. Peter's.

Pews contribute to making the nave look like a church; they are a part of our Catholic patrimony and have commonly been used in the West since at least the thirteenth century, when they were designed as backless benches. By the late sixteenth century most Catholic churches being built included wooden pews with kneelers and high backs. But even before the time when pews were commonly used, the faithful still knelt during much of the Mass.

Kneeling, in fact, has always been a distinct posture for Catholic worship — first, in adoration of Christ, and second, as a posture of humility. Significantly, Catholic worship includes both adoration and the humbling of oneself before God. The pew is simply meant to accommodate this particular posture of worship. As such it has become a memorable part of our churches.

The Choir

The choir is another essential part of the nave. It is the place in the church set aside for those members of the congregation who are specially trained to lead the sung portion of the liturgy. For acoustical reasons, choirs are typically places on one of the building's axes.

In many ancient churches the choir is made up of a series of stalls at the front part of the nave near the altar, but this was common only when choirs were made up exclusively of clergymen. The first church known to accommodate such a choir was San Clemente in Rome, when an enclosed choir (called the schola cantorum) was placed in the nave during the twelfth century. But monastery churches had introduced choir stalls nearly six hundred years before that, because chant has long been an important part of monastic prayer. Many communities have for centuries chanted the Divine Office and still do to this day.

Presently, a more common placement for the choirs since the time of the Catholic Counter-Reformation has been the rear gallery or "choir loft," as it has become known. Congregational singing is strongly reinforced when the organ and the well-trained voices of the choir lead from above and behind. Thus the choir and organ are placed in a loft for acoustical reasons meant to enhance the quality of the music.

Since the choir is primarily perceived audibly — we hear them — it is not essential that members of the choir be visible to the rest of the congregation. They are present at Holy Mass as worshippers, not entertainers. In other words, there is no serious reason we all need to see the choir throughout the course of the liturgy. We do need to hear them, and since they too are worshippers, it is most appropriate that they face in the same direction as the remainder of the worshipping congregation — facing the altar of sacrifice.

The Confessional

Yet another important element placed in the nave is the confessional, which should be crafted in such a way that it fits in with the architecture of the building, but also so that it is an obvious sign of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In other words, it ought to appear as a place, rather than just a door in the wall, as is sometimes — unfortunately — the case.

St. Charles Borromeo, writing in his seminal work, Instruction on the Fabric of the Church, recommends that confessionals be placed at the sides of the church in some open and clear space. St. Charles also suggests that the penitent be turned toward the altar and tabernacle — the focal points of the church — when confessing.

Exploring The Sanctuary

When talking about the sanctuary, it's helpful to remember that the Universal Church is hierarchical, that is, composed of different members — the head being Christ; with the pope, bishops, and priests each serving as alter Christus (other Christs); and the religious and the laity serving their own functions as part of the Church militant. That hierarchy is reflected in the liturgy. In fact, in an address to the U.S. bishops in 1998, Pope John Paul II said that, "the liturgy, like the Church, is intended to be hierarchical and polyphonic, respecting the different roles assigned by Christ and allowing all the different voices to blend into one great hymn of praise."6

It only follows, then, that if the Church and the liturgy are both hierarchical, the church building ought to reflect that hierarchy. It is most obvious when one considers what makes the sanctuary distinct from the nave. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that "the sanctuary should be marked off from the nave by a higher floor level and by a distinctive structure or décor."7 So we see that the sanctuary is meant to be a separate place in the church building. It is the place where the Scriptures are proclaimed, where the priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and often where Jesus is reserved in the Blessed Sacrament.

Why should the sanctuary floor be raised above that of the nave? Primarily for two reasons. The first is figurative. If the sanctuary is supposed to represent the head of Christ, it is only natural that the head be higher than the body.

Second, the sanctuary is elevated so that the congregation can easily see the different parts of the liturgy that are effected from the sanctuary. They have a better view of the pulpit, the altar, and the priest celebrant's chair, from which he addresses the congregation. But this is not by any means to equate the sanctuary with a stage or platform.

The Roman Missal also calls for the sanctuary to be marked off by a "distinctive structure." One such common structure is called the communion rail or altar railing. It not only serves to define the sanctuary; it can be functional as well. The congregation obviously can use it to receive Holy Communion, kneeling in adoration and humility. And at other times outside of Mass, the faithful can kneel there to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle or exposed on the altar. At the rail as in the pews, we have the opportunity to accommodate the traditional Catholic posture of worship.

Until recently, communion rails were almost universal in Catholic churches where the Roman rite is followed, at least since the sixteenth century. Before that time, the communion rail was preceded by a low wall, which functioned much the same as the balustrade, and effectively separated sanctuary and nave without their appearing disconnected.

Built For The Altar

The most important and dignified element of the sanctuary — and of the entire church — is the altar, the place where the Eucharistic sacrifice is offered. In fact, the church building is built for the altar, not the altar for the church. For this reason, all sight lines in the building naturally ought to converge at the altar, just as the liturgy of the Holy Mass converges (or climaxes) at the Consecration, when through the hands of the anointed priest, the bread and wine are transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ! The sacrificial altar is so important and central to Catholic worship, not because it is a table upon which a banquet is prepared, but primarily because this is where the priest re-presents Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

In the vast majority of churches built within the past two thousand years, the altar is centered in the sanctuary, either freestanding or built up against a wall with a decorative structure (called a reredos) and tabernacle behind. Freestanding altars are actually more common and are built that way to enable the priest to walk around the altar to incense it.

When Christians gained freedom of public worship in the fourth century, permanent altars, usually made of stone, were erected for the first time in Europe. So great was the veneration of the martyrs, who had died for Christ, that almost every church in those years, especially in Rome, was built over the tomb of a martyr, and the church took the name of the saint — for instance, St. Peter's Basilica.

Because of this tradition, relics of the saints were placed within the altar; and until recently altars were required to hold the authenticated relics of at least two canonized saints. This custom is still followed in many places but is no longer required by Church law.

Sometimes a wooden or metal canopy is built over the altar, such as the one designed by Bernini in St. Peter's Basilica. This is called the baldacchino or ciborium. It consists usually of four columns supporting a dome-like top that sits over the altar. Arguably, there is no better way to mark off the altar or draw attention to a freestanding altar than through the use of this canopy-like device.

Proclaiming The Word

Another essential element of the sanctuary is the pulpit. For one reason or another, the raised pulpit seems to be disappearing from our churches. It is often replaced with something that resembles more of a lectern, one that is neither raised nor ornate.

Nevertheless, the term "pulpit" literally means "raised platform." Pulpits have been used in churches since at least the thirteenth century, when the Franciscans and Dominicans especially placed great emphasis on preaching, though not in opposition to or more than the Eucharistic sacrifice. Pulpits have often been crafted as a work of art, not only functional but beautiful as well, commonly decorated with carvings of Scriptural scenes. It is the raised pulpit that is best designed — practically speaking — to transmit the Word of God to the entire congregation.

Although pulpits are usually found at the left side of the sanctuary, others are commonly found to the left side at the front of the nave. Some are freestanding, while others are built into a side wall or column. They are designed and placed where acoustics will be best. In a well-designed church with a proper pulpit, no microphone or sound system is necessary to preach the Word loudly and clearly.

Another acoustical aid is the sounding board, the horizontal piece placed above the head of the reader. This is designed better to transmit the voice. And of course the raised platform not only helps the acoustics but also enables the congregation better to see the priest or reader.

Under no circumstances does a Catholic church place the pulpit at the center of the sanctuary. This is not because it is an unimportant element in Catholic worship. Rather, it is not centrally located because it is subordinate (as is everything else in the church, however important) to the altar of sacrifice, upon which the central aspect of Catholic worship — the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — takes place.

The Crucifix

According to the rubrics of the Mass, a crucifix must be present in the sanctuary. In keeping with Catholic tradition the crucifix ought to include the corpus of Jesus suffering on the cross. This visible suffering helps us better to connect with Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. And according to Pope Pius XII in his 1947 encyclical on the liturgy Mediator Dei, "one would be straying from the straight path were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer's body showed no sign of His cruel sufferings." A crucifix ought to be placed in the sanctuary either hanging above the altar or behind the altar because what the crucifix represents is intimately connected with the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, which takes place on the altar.

The "Little Tent" Of Our Lord

The tabernacle owes its origins to the moveable tent-like structure of the same name described in the Old Testament. This tent was used for worship before the construction of Solomon's temple. In fact, the word "tabernacle" is derived from the Latin word meaning "tent." The tabernacle in the wilderness held God's presence within the Ark of the Covenant in the same way our present tabernacles hold the Real Presence of Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine.

It probably goes without saying that, in order to foster Eucharistic devotion as promoted by recent Popes as well as their predecessors, the tabernacle needs to be in a prominent position. The most common and obvious prominent position is centered in the sanctuary behind the altar of sacrifice. However, when the architecture of a particular church precludes this obvious arrangement, the tabernacle is kept off-center in the sanctuary or in a side alcove adjacent to the sanctuary.

No matter where the tabernacle is located, it must have a direct physical relationship with the altar. If you can't see the altar from the tabernacle or you can't see the tabernacle from the altar, it's probably in the wrong place. In historically significant pilgrimage churches and in cathedrals, the Blessed Sacrament occupies its own chapel. Yet this chapel still needs to be constructed with a clear relation to the main altar.

Such a relation is made quite clear, for instance, in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. The Blessed Sacrament chapel, used every day for public exposition and adoration, is fittingly located directly behind the sanctuary.

A Cloud Of Witnesses

Devotional art affects — or ought to affect — all parts of the church building, inside and out. Sacred art takes many forms: Statues, reliefs, paintings, murals, mosaics, icons, and stained glass are the most common forms in Western church architecture. To say the least, the church has a great treasury of sacred art and a wonderful tradition to follow.

Successful church art enhances the architecture and the liturgy, and it draws our minds to God through its beauty and meaning. Sacred art, unlike modern art, is not about itself. It's about something else, and that something else is religious in nature; it is Catholic in nature.

As we mentioned earlier, the church building teaches and evangelizes. It does so not only through its form and function, but also through its artwork. Church art tells the stories of the Scriptures, of Christ, of the saints and of the Church herself. In fact, it is an intimate component of Catholic worship inasmuch as the Catholic faith is based upon the Incarnation of the Word: The Word (God) was made flesh — He took on a physical human nature.

Unfortunately, some have mistakenly understood the Second Vatican Council to state that sacred art — especially statues of the saints — has no place in our churches. This is obviously wrong. Here's what the Council actually does have to say about sacred art and furnishings:

Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest expressions of human genius. This judgment applies to religious art and to its highest achievement, sacred art. By their very nature both of the latter are related to God's boundless beauty, for this is the reality, which these human efforts are trying to express in some way. To the extent that these works aim exclusively at turning men's thoughts to God persuasively and devoutly, they are dedicated to God and to the cause of His greater honor and glory.

Furthermore, the same Council document states that "all things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful signs and symbols of heavenly realities."8

It is for this reason that God's house is intimately connected to the Heavenly Jerusalem, accompanied by the communion of the saints and angels. It is here that beauty creates the environment that lifts man's soul from the secular and temporal to be brought into harmony with the heavenly and eternal. The architect Adams Cram — probably the greatest church builder of the late nineteenth century — wrote that, "art has been, is, and will be forever, the greatest agency for spiritual impression that the Church may claim."9 And it is for this reason, he adds, that art is in its highest manifestation the expression of religious truths.

On a final note, the Council also warned bishops that it is their duty to protect the treasury of sacred art and architecture. Sacrosanctum Concilium states that bishops "must be very careful to see that sacred furnishings and works of value are not disposed of or allowed to deteriorate; for they are the ornaments of the house of God."10 Such a warning only underscores the importance the Church places on sacred art and its purpose to serve the greater glory of God.

Heavenly Things

Although we have focused on the parts of the church building that pertain primarily to public liturgy, the church can by no means be reduced to its primary function. It is a place that accommodates not only public liturgy, but also public devotions such as Holy Hours, processions, May crownings, and Stations of the Cross, as well as private devotions such as Eucharistic adoration, the Rosary, and other intercessory prayers to Mary and the saints. That is why shrines, statues, relics, vigil candles, and the like are essential to the Catholic church building.

All of these serve to aid man in the worship of the triune God. All serve to give honor and glory to God by bringing the heavenly and eternal down to us through the medium of a mere building — the church, the House of God, built and carved by human hands, a sacred place wrought in the fashion of heavenly things.

Contact Michael Rose at [email protected].


1. Code of Canon Law, 1983, canon 1214.

2. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1180-1181.

3. Cram, Ralph Adams, Church Building: A Study of the Principles of Architecture in Their Relation to the Church, 3rd ed. (Boston: Marshall Jones, 1924), 7.

4. Pope Stephen III, (752-757), Liber Pontificalis.

5. Charles Borromeo, Instructions on Ecclesiastical Buildings, Evelyn Carol Voelker, translator. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Syracuse University, 1979.

6. Ad Limina address to the Bishops of Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, Oct. 9, 1998.

7. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 258.

8. Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), Vatican II, paragraph 122, approved by Pope Paul VI, 1963.

9. Cram, 9.

10. Sacrosanctum Concilium, par. 126.

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