Architecture in Communion

Architecture in Communion, by Dr. Steven Schloeder is one book that should be required reading by seminary students, clergy, and laity throughout the United States. Dr. Schloeder expertly develops the road map for the implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s direction of sacred art and architecture in the United States Catholic Church. Very often texts on Catholic Church art and architecture unfortunately advocate a complete disassociation with the traditional and functional roles art and architecture have played in the history of Catholicism. Dr. Schloeder however advocated a deeper study and appreciation of the heritage of signs and symbols, of which sacred art is constitued, as the cornerstones of appreciation for the proper celebration of the Church’s heritage and most importantly its Sacraments as the primary purpose for designing sacred and liturgical spaces.

What is remarkable about this treatise is the close association the author provides to the theological and catechetical purposes sacred art and architecture have played and should continue to play in the design and implementation of our Catholic Churches as we develop into the twenty-first century. The examples that are highlighted in the book are tangible examples of artistic and architectural continuity that complements the role and purpose of the Church, as the sacred place for the celebration of the Eucharist, the Sacraments and the gathering of the People of God… in God’s Sacred House.

Less and less frequently are Catholic Churches in the United States built as temples of worship devoted to the glory of God. Most often they are built in anticipation of a “multi-purpose,” space that fulfills social, communal and liturgical functions for a nascent parish. However, Dr. Schloeder’s Architecture in Communion is illustrative of the fact that we need to return to a working premise that the church building is primarily a place for God’s dwelling and our worship of the Deity. If indeed we want to implement the deeper and most transcendent mysteries of our Eucharistic belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, our Churches should reflect this transcendental and mysterious theology in a similar manner. Dr. Schloeder illustrates through a historical and theological perspective the goal of incorporating ancient sign and symbols into a vibrant and living 21st century Church that actively worships through an appreciation of our artistic and architectural past, while propagating a culture of artistic expression and adaptation in our contemporary parish communities. Most poignantly, throughout the book the author shows us that in addition to being mortar and brick construction, the Catholic Church is really a magnificent assembly of “living stones,” namely the Catholic faithful that join together to celebrate the Paschal Mystery in monuments of living faith that is best expressed by the axiom, ”Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.”

Architecture in Communion was published in 1998 by Ignatius Press. While the book was published over 10 years ago, this reviewer strongly feels it has not yet been fully appreciated or understood by either the ecclesial community or the artistic and architectural subcultures. However, this book as previously indicated should be a required text for every Catholic who wants to glorify God in our Catholic art and architecture. The historical illustrations coupled with the pragmatic recommendations for designing a 21st century Domus Ecclessiae are critical insights that hopefully ignite in Catholic building professionals, parishioners and clergy a renewed vision of Catholic art and architecture as envisioned by Vatican II. The interpretation of Vatican II’s desire to revive a dynamic and qualitative artistic movement in the Church reflects clearly the artistic and theological continuity that is sometimes missing in our liturgical design and implementation.

Architecture in Communion deserves a place of prominence in every Catholics’ theological resources library.

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