Church art, architecture ‘shape the way we worship’

Fr Richard Vosko (ACBC)

One of the world’s most prolific designers of places of worship has said people can’t create a “sacred space”, but spaces become sacred when they foster transformation. Source: ACBC Media Blog.

Fr Richard Vosko, an American priest and architectural consultant on Catholic, Christian and Jewish places of worship since the 1970s, delivered a keynote address at last week’s National Liturgical Architecture and Art Council symposium, “Where Your Heart Is, There Your Treasure Will Be Also”.

In an interview with the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Fr Vosko said language is important when it comes to helping people understand liturgy, art and architecture.

“I think the adjective ‘sacred’ – sacred space, sacred music, sacred liturgy, sacred people – is overused,” he said.

“For something, or someone, to obtain that title ‘sacred’, he, she or it has to cause a transformation in the person experiencing he, she or it. You cannot actually build a sacred space, but you can design a building with the hope that it will lead someone to that kind of transformation or conversion.”

Fr Vosko said many Catholics have, for ages, embraced a “vertical” notion of the Church: God at the top, the faithful below that and non-believers at the bottom of the hierarchical structure – often considered to be Hell.

“This dualistic language was based on an ancient understanding of the cosmos — heaven above, earth below and the underworld even farther below,” he said.

That concept, when used to build churches, created another tiered system.

“We have the clergy presiding at the top end of the church, that symbolised heaven, then there are the people below in the pews, and then there are those who aren’t in the pews, those outside, those separated from God,” Fr Vosko said.

He said that understanding can lead to the sense that some people are more important than others during the Eucharist. The laity come to Mass “to receive something from the priest”, rather than recognise their membership in the body of Christ during the act of worship.

“The liturgy is the work of Jesus Christ, but it is also the work of the people,” Fr Vosko explained.

Fr Vosko reminded symposium delegates of the need to consider the liturgical and theological symbolism of other features in churches, including baptismal fonts, the ambo, the altar, iconography and stained-glass windows, when designing or redesigning them.

“Every facet of church art and architecture shapes the way we worship God,” he said.


Church art, architecture ‘shape the way we worship God’ (ACBC Media Blog

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