P. Dr Henryk Nadrowski
Churches of our times. Heritages and perpspectives. A Summary
Time and space, Man and the universe, heritage, tradition, searching for a contemporary role . . . At the same time as these issues were being widely debated, John XXIII's idea of convoking a Concilium Vaticanum was being conceived and realised. Houses of prayer, namely historical and (especially) contemporary religious buildings seemed to form a special «plane» where the Church met the world. Essentially, they became a setting for co-existence, or, should I say, a dialogue between the sacred and the profane.
The present work is an attempt at presenting various aspects of investors', theologians' and liturgists' as well as designers' and creators' co-operation in this field. One could say that, throughout the twentieth century, all of the aforementioned have been striving to find new interesting ways of meeting their own and their public's expectations. This concerns various means of expression, namely ways of dealing with material, and also the doctrine's substance itself: the gospel and the liturgy. Sacred art has always been a never-ending pursuit of the inconceivable that exists „beyond” or „somewhere in between”. People are aware of God's peerless magnificence, but their attempts at grasping the perfection of Divinity are often flawed and clumsy; sometimes they trivialise, vulgarise or even profane the sacred.
The church building and its surroundings as a whole are meant to serve the living Church, that is to say, the congregation (ecclesia orans, ecclesia congregata). However, while performing an extremely important didactic and pastoral role — mediation, apostleship and evangelism — the Church should always remember that God remains at the core of Christianity. Presenting the theological and symbolic meaning, the biblical inspirations, and the liturgical nature of a religious edifice is this book's chief objective.
In the creative process itself, in the designing of a church building and its surroundings, and — especially — in the shaping of an edifice to make it look clearly like a church, the above-mentioned participants of the creative dialogue are continuously discovering new aspects of the sacred. They are expected to devise the finest and most harmonious interiors, and, above all, translate the mystery into the language of architecture in such a way that it explicitly announces to the whole world — not merely the world of the faithful — that this particular church will remain God's abode forever. This should be the most important function of a house of prayer, for God never leaves it. He is there as well, when the sacred rites (the most important of which is the Holy Sacrament)are not being performed. One of my chief aims here is to focus on the meditative atmosphere evoked by the church interiors, the ceremony of consecrating the altar and the church, and the tabernacle where God's presence is all-pervading. Entering a Catholic church, people should be able to see the sacred rites' wonderful diversity and expressiveness.
While never forgetting the unique character of Catholic identity, I support the ecumenical nature of Christian architecture and art seen in terms of the churches' form and function. To me, the structures that are built by, or serve, various factions within the Christian religion seem extraordinary not only for their symbolic importance.
Another issue that I refer to as one of the most inspiring is the modest, yet open, way in which the Church has been turning to peoples and cultures in so-called missionary countries. In my opinion, a sensible, uninhibited approach towards the natural spirit of piety, celebration and creativity will largely contribute to reviving religious art in the coming post-modern age.
As regards religious art in the countries of centuries-old civilisations, one must never forget about the past. In this respect, we always have to refer to tradition, while at the same time searching for new, modern forms.
Another complex problem arises, namely — how to understand and apply the principle of accommodata renovatio — in both historical and modern church buildings. How to balance renovation and utility in a sensitive manner. Extreme attitudes within the Church might cause stagnation or even regression. Or perhaps changing people's subjective tastes or favouring to them might be treated as the ultimate goal. Both these extremes are a threat to the healthy development and progress of humanity and the living Church.
In fact, humanising our churches is not only a question of observing ever-changing external conditions and people's mentality. Nor is it just about the purely utilitarian aspect of the church building. Above all, it must take into account the actual role the Church is expected to play.
The individual's and the community's mental and spiritual transformations and creative attitudes inspire and stimulate our Church to praise the Lord and attract people to the Divine. This should be the main objective of all those who shape our churches through realising their ideological, liturgical and artistic visions. In this way, a highly original design can be devised and executed.
All stages of creating a religious building are important. However, as regards the final image and functional quality of a given church and all things connected with it, the preliminary stage is, perhaps, paramount. Theologians, liturgists, priests and designers of the exterior and interior of a church should be carefully prepared for this stage because it is of key importance in the final appearance of our religious architecture. Naturally, spiritual attitudes of ecclesiastical and secular creators of this architecture will affect not merely the forms and styles of churches, but their very essence: their soul, so to speak. These special buildings should be worthy of God and, at the same time, remain cosy and friendly. Whether we realise it or not, churches are manifestations of the Zeitgeist, especially the spirituality and culture of an epoch.
Let us ensure that the churches we build, or adapt to the revived liturgy, reflect well on our generation. Let us make them highly sophisticated art forms that represent all that is best in today's spiritual world for future generations to admire!
Contemporary religious architecture's and art's most appropriate source of reference as regards stylistic pursuits is the writings of Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei and Mistici Corporis. The Council's Constitution on Liturgy (1963) is the crowning achievement of the theoretical and practical investigations carried out in many West European countries from as early as the beginning of the 20th century. New churches, as well as churches that are being adapted to the reform of liturgy, are always a kind of artistic response to the documents I mention earlier; they are a dialogue with the spirit of renewal, and also with cultural heritage. Accomplishments and implications of this creative search are always in people's hands, but, most of all, in their minds and hearts. They are a testament to any generation's cultural and spiritual growth.
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