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Building from Belief: Advance, Retreat, and Compromise in the Remaking of Catholic Church Architecture Paperback – April 1, 2002
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Imagine what Sundays in a parish could be if worshiping communities are assured that the liturgy in their spaces might be a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy. Or what town-hall meetings could also be in a place where parish committees are inspired to know that they can be the instruments of truth and beauty. The essays in Building from Belief focus on Catholic church architecture and invite those who are involved in the creation of worship space to be ?the world?s memory of what beauty looks like, and what sanctity feels like.? In Building from Belief, Michael DeSanctis treats a variety of topics that concern the creation and use of liturgical space. He brings the historical development of both the Church and its architecture into clear view and focuses on the need for catechesis and conversion. DeSanctis calls for a change of heart on the part of the worshiping community, the building committee, professionals involved in the design process, and of the Church. By keeping the theological concepts of grace and sacramentality in mind, he offers rich insights to these fundamental Christian realities and provides hope and excitement about using the gifts of beauty, grace, and holiness. The essays in Building from Belief are an invitation to build the promised kingdom, allowing the grace of God into our hearts and in our spaces. DeSanctis encourages those who embark on the journey of building to ask the same question that the Fathers of Vatican II asked: how to be Church in a modern world. He shows that the worship that rises from our communities is indeed a true expression of that belief. Chapters under Part I are ?Beauty, Holiness and Liturgical Space,? ?Catholic Sacramentality and the Reform of Sacred Architecture,? ?The Pastoral Dimension of Church Renovation,? ?Let?s Stop Renovating Church Buildings (And Start Renovating the Church),? and ?Coming to Terms with Modern Design.? Chapters under Part II are ?Worshiping in ?Noplace?: Casual Observations on Liturgy in the Second Machine Age,? ?Images By Which We Live and Build,? and ?The Quest for ?Noble Simplicity.?? Includes eight pages of full-color photographs with black-and-white photographs and illustrations throughout.?Demonstrate[s] the diversity among Catholics in responding to post Vatican II architecture.? Religious Studies Review?. . . required reading for academic courses on sacred art and architecture as well as for training newly appointed pastors who are apt to guide some type of church building or renovation project on a small or large scale.? Pastoral Music?Michael DeSanctis is one of those rare writers who possesses not only a knowledge of his own science (religious architecture and art), but the ability to frame the issues involved in church-building or renovation within the context of the best liturgical theology and spirituality. In an age of ?buildings without soul,? he calls us to ?build from belief,? and to commit to a dialogic process which respects our Catholic notions of grace and sacramentality and demands patient listening and conversion. He manifests a deep love not only for the worship space, but for the assembly which gathers there.? Anthony Schueller, S.S.S. Provincial Former editor, Emmanuel?Building from Belief, which is composed of a series of essays written primarily in the previous decade, is respectful to those who differ in their views of religious architecture . . . is worth the time of those contemplating building or renovating their parish churches.? Religion and the Arts?The problems and possibilities of modern church architecture are sensibly addressed.? Christian Century
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He said in the Introduction to this 2002 book, "I offer the observations compiled in this book, having recognized long ago the inconsistency that often exists between the way the Roman Catholic Church speaks of its liturgical arts in legislative and scholarly statements and the manner in which it actually practices them. As much as I have intended to explain the important theoretical foundations of recent Catholic church design in light of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, my greater goal has been to assess the state of sacred architecture as one finds it operating today in average, American parish communities." (Pg. 1)
He states, "A new church building without proper restrooms or nursery facilities ... is unimaginable today, as is one in which worshipers, packed into pews, must shiver during the winter months, sweat in the summer, or routinely suffer the effects of bad acoustics. Certainly every parish has its contingent of self-described 'traditionalists,' who believe there is something edifying about the minor discomforts one experiences in buildings erected prior to the reforms of recent decades." (Pg. 4)
He laments, "it is not uncommon in the context of parish-wide discussion sessions for members of the community opposed to recent liturgical reforms to critique openly the articles of legislation handed down since Vatican II rather than to suggest how they might be applied locally... Critics of [one document] asserted that its contents had never been ratified by the entire body of the American Episcopate and that it stressed too greatly the role of the assembly in dictating the sanctity of liturgical buildings." (Pg. 9)
He suggests, "What used to differentiate places of Catholic worship in the United States from the meeting places of other Christian groups was the prominence of elements not directly related to the Church's official or liturgical rites... There was still something more substantial to be experienced in Catholic buildings than in the plain, white boxes erected by Protestant communities. The American Catholic artistic sensibility arose from ... a fear of empty spaces and the Puritanism they engendered. So we crammed our churches to the rafters with overdesigned imitations of European splendor and reveled in our ability to outdo the Methodists, Baptists, or Presbyterians down the street." (Pg. 62)
He observes, "If we nowadays 'dress down' for the Sabbath, it is because most of us have spent the balance of the workweek in starchy business clothes---the opposite of our grandparents, who 'dressed up' for church services as respite from a week's worth of aprons and overalls." (Pg. 84)
This is a fascinating, illuminating, and creative approach to contemporary church architecture and parish design, that will be useful to Christians of all varieties, not just Catholics.
He communicates the notion that we Catholics fail to ignore-the purpose of "Church" and that of communal prayer. His vast knowledge of liturgical space, sacred art and architecture is astounding.
As a Catholic I read this book with great interest.
Building from Belief put a lot of things into perspective for me-it is not "my Mass" or "my Church" but that of everyone in the congregation. A church without believers is just a building just the way that a house without a family is not a "home".
His vision for Church design in the new millenium is not only beautiful but also "soul stirring". It exemplifies the notion of worshipping as a community.
Gannon University and Erie are lucky to have him.