For almost two centuries the theme of liturgy, in its various perspectives, thanks also to the Liturgical Movement of the 20th century, has aroused vast interest in the life of the Church, as evidenced by the first of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, which will be followed in the following decades by the most recent pontifical documents on liturgy such as the Motu proprio Summorum pontificum of Benedict XVI and the Motu proprio Spiritus Domini of Pope Francis.
In order to adequately approach the liturgy and its function in the life of the Church, it is necessary to pay attention to the technical liturgical and canonical terminology, a combination of ars iuris and ars celebrandi. The expression “building of worship”, for example, belongs to civil and concordat language, but is unknown to the Code of Canon Law, which uses “Church” and “Sacred Place”. Since its use for liturgical action radically qualifies it, the church cannot be considered a generic architectural work. In fact, it owes its conformation to the relationship that binds it to the assembly of the People of God that gathers there. It is the celebrating assembly that “generates” and “shapes” the architecture of the church.
Who gathers in the church is the Church – the priestly, royal and prophetic people of God – a hierarchically organized community that the Holy Spirit enriches with a multitude of charisms and ministries. The Church projects and imprints itself in the building of worship and finds there significant traces of its faith, its identity, its history and anticipations of its future. During the course of the liturgical year, the local assembly gathers in the building of worship, in communion with the whole Church, to commemorate the paschal mystery of Christ, in listening to the Scriptures, in the celebration of the Eucharist, of the other sacraments and sacramentals and of the sacrifice of praise. Moreover, in the churches, the believing community welcomes every person who, for whatever reason, knocks at its door and, by means of visible signs, makes his or her appearance known and addresses its word to him or her.
The many languages which the liturgy uses – word, silence, gesture, movement, music, song – find in the liturgical space the place of their global expression. For its part, space contributes with its specific language to strengthening and unifying the symphony of language in which the liturgy is rich. Thus, space too, like time, is involved in the celebration of Christ’s saving mystery, so much so that one can speak of it as an “icon”. The church-building can be considered an “eschatological icon” thanks to the dynamic connection that unites the churchyard to the door, to the hall, to the altar and culminates in the apse, thanks to the orientation of the entire building, to the play of natural light, to the presence of images and their program.
Consider the three eminent “places” of the presbytery: the altar, the ambo, and the chair of the president. The altar in the liturgical assembly is not simply an object useful for the celebration, but it is the sign of the presence of Christ, priest and victim; it is the table of sacrifice and of the paschal banquet that the Father prepares for his children in the common house, the source of charity and unity. The ambo is the proper place from which the Word of God is proclaimed. Its form is related to that of the altar, whose primacy must nevertheless be respected. The ambo is placed near the assembly, so as to constitute a sort of hinge between the presbytery and the nave. The presbytery is the liturgical place that expresses the ministry of the one who leads the assembly and presides over the celebration in the person of Christ, Head and Shepherd, and in the person of the Church, his Body.
The juridical presuppositions are also the starting point for understanding to what extent the ars celebrandi, the style with which the Dominican community celebrates today, is inseparably linked in Dominican preaching. It is a strong link both on a historical level, as the Order of Preachers has meditated on and worked on the relationship between preaching and liturgy over the centuries, and on a general level, as it is a framework and opportunity for preaching. The analysis of the ars celebrandi from the historical to the contemporary level, while bringing out the animosity of the scientific debate, will allow us to understand the peculiarity of preaching in the Order of Preachers.
Pre-conference webinar for the Communitas 2021 Interfaculty Conference “Preaching and the Arts” (May 7-8)