Guidelines for Art, Architecture and Environment

Guidelines for Art, Architecture and Environment

Chapter I

General Considerations

The Church as a Visible Sign

Each time the building of a church is undertaken or the renovation of churches or chapels is considered, it should be real­ized that the building itself is a visible sign to the entire community of the Church's mission. It should be clear for all who see the simplicity of the building that the Church is a pilgrim Church whose fundamental role is service to God's people.

A consequent sense of economic reality, which arises from the knowledge of financial problems and world poverty, should be shown as architects and clients endeavor to produce economic buildings. A realization of the pilgrim mission of the Church should, on one hand, involve a rejection of magnificence and opulence, monumentality and triumphalism; on the other hand, this realization should provide a real stimulus to authentic creative design.

The church should be appropriate to its position and function within the diocesan structure. A parish church should not compete with the cathedral, nor a private chapel with a parish church. The largest church building is not necessarily the best one for a par­ticular congregation. Meeting liturgical needs and providing fullness of participation should determine the size of the building, rather than such factors as strained financial resources or expansive ground area. As an ideal norm, a church is too large for effective congregational participation when the priest cannot be seen or heard from the farthest reaches of the congregation; it is too small when positive aspects of participation (processions, etc.) are limited because of cramped and crowded facilities.


The church must serve people of our age: its architectural language should be neither anachronistic nor exotic. However, existing churches which are good examples of a particular style of architecture, should be renovated and adapted to the revised liturgical needs with great care. When building new churches, it should be remembered that "the art of our own day . . . should have free scope in the church . . ." (CAL, 123).

A church building is a sign of what the Church is and reflects our understanding of the Church. If a church is now built in the style of some past age, we say, in effect, to the world and the local community that the Church is not contemporary, is not relevant, and that it does not speak to modern persons. This is not in accord with the spirit of Catholic teaching, especially as expressed in the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Moreover, some of the basic principles of modern architecture are in full harmony with the spirit of the Roman liturgy as renewed by the Council. The Council's emphasis on simplicity and on honest use of materials is especially significant. This should result in a further benefit: less expensive construction costs. The money thus saved would enable a parish to bear better the works of Christian charity. Good architecture, in the long run, is less expensive than ill-conceived architectural plans, which often require further adjustment. Poor art and architecture are often very costly.


Where practical, materials found in the locality should be used in the construction of the church, if they are of good quality and are serviceable. Both the architecture and materials should be related to the nature and character of the immediate surroundings. Extravagant materials and outmoded style often defeat the economics of modern construction and may tend to make the church appear less relevant to the local community.

Decoration and Finish

Lavish display for its own sake should be avoided, but budgets must be ample to allow for that simple beauty through which the sacred objects say what they are. People of all social classes deserve such beauty for their worship. Noble beauty results when simple materials are used well. Ordinarily, decoration and finish should disclose basic materials and structure rather than cover them.

Interior Planning

Church architecture can be described as the meaningful and creative organization of worship space. A church is designed, so to speak, from the inside out, with due consideration of outside limitations. Once the worship areas have been located, the rest of the structure can be creatively, practically, and beautifully planned.

Functional Shape

The design and arrangement of a church interior should be aimed at making the community action of worship practicable and dignified. A church is not only a temple for the divine presence, a place in which one is but an awed visitor; but rather it is the meeting place of people, who by the simple fact of their coming together in Christ's name actually realize His presence in their midst. The Christian at worship is not meant to be an anonymous and de­tached onlooker in a crowd of strangers, but an active participant.

Due consideration must be given the fact that the liturgical space must provide for all the actions of the liturgy: Eucharist, Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Matrimony, Ordinations, Anointing the Sick, Funerals, as well as para-liturgical celebra­tions. Therefore, a larger sanctuary than formerly was used may now be necessary. Broad consideration should be given especially to the various possible shapes the church may take in accord with liturgical needs. Furthermore, if a temporary church building will have to serve other parish needs in addition to those of worship, these other purposes should be included in planning the building.

Focus of the Shape

Since the People of God is a living, corporate society, the church architecture must reflect that unity. The shape of the space should give focus to each of the varied functions that take place within it, and should express the different ministries of the wor­shipping community. The space should help that worshipping com­munity experience and understand the special and separate roles of priest, deacons, lectors, special ministers and musicians. Unity and simplicity of design are supportive of liturgy and allow for freedom and flexibility in the expression of Faith.

Visual Art and Color

The effect of visual art upon the faithful week after week is so powerful that it merits the careful planning of one professionally trained in architecture, art and interior design. Not only must the individual elements employed possess the qualities of true art but also every element must be a part of a meaningful whole, possess­ing real unity of design and purpose. Even color and light have their own artistic value. The choice of color can enhance or destroy the beauty of a church. All the colors in a church — the color of glass in windows as well as the color of walls, carpeting, furniture, etc., — are interrelated and affect each other. Colors, therefore, should be selected with competent professional advice.


The art of the church should possess a certain transcendent character due to the invisible realities of Faith which it continues to reveal. Excessive naturalism absorbs the worshippers' activity in the object itself rather than the mystery it represents. Works of art should ordinarily be included in the original budget as an integral part of the church. It is important that contemporary art forms be chosen for a church's architectural design, furnishing, sacred images and symbols. Most people think of contemporary art as in­appropriate for a church because they associate it with what is abstract, non-representational and grotesque in the visual arts. This is not necessarily so. Contemporary art is "of our times"; when employed by the Church, it should reflect the native environment of the community and should recognize the character and concep­tions of the people it serves. Whenever feasible, Canadian artists from the general region should be employed. The most beautiful art for worship found in the rich tradition and heritage of our Faith was "contemporary" and "of the times" when it was created. Artists today, offering their creative talents to God, should be aware of this heritage and tradition as they work to enhance the beauty of the liturgy.

Art, as part of the liturgical environment, affects participants according to their ability to comprehend its meaning, perceptively and emotionally. The degree to which this happens is also depend­ent on the quality and depth of the artist's creative talent in design and execution. Thus, it is very important to call upon people experienced in their craft.

Wherever this is possible, it is recommended that a certain sec­tion of the church (both new churches and renovated churches) re­tain a section or area to have displayed liturgical art, vesture, and memorabilia which have now become a part of our heritage (e.g. vestments of the past, biretta, monstrance, hymn books, paintings or pictures of former religious leaders significant to the parish or diocese).

Changeable Art

While communicating a meaning, art also contributes to the liturgical celebration on another level. It can point to a special event or liturgical season. Artists on the Worship Committee should be aware of the flow of the liturgical cycle and use a variety of creative options, in a discreet manner, to appoint these occa­sions. Sculpture and other art objects can be "changeable" if they are moveable. Process and disposable art should be considered.

When hangings and tapestries are considered, the artist should realize that fabric and other related materials can not have the ef­fect and quality of a painting. We should not expect more from fabric and other materials than they are capable of producing. The artist should attempt a style of interpreting reality instead of just trying to copy nature. The importance or power of abstract liturgical art should not be overlooked. Christian lives are con­tinually changing and therefore can be interpreted by the artist in an abstract manner.

One of the appointments very often used for liturgical celebra­tion is non-permanent art, e.g. banners, wall hangings, graphics, or tapestries. Although the use of words (calligraphy) can be an in­tegral part of non-permanent art, the message should not be limited to a verbal communication. The sensitive use of colors and abstract forms in themselves can communicate the message.

Selection of the Design Team

The most important step in building or renovating a church is the choice of the design team, which must function together from the inception of planning through the completion of the building process. This team may consist of an architect, artist, liturgical designer, or any group of these people. The team must also include the pastoral staff and representative committee members. It should include persons who are truly creative, thoroughly familiar with the tradition of church building and able

to interpret that tradition in living form. They should possess a genuine understanding and experience of real and living liturgical celebration in the given com­munity and have a keen knowledge of recent documents on the sub­ject as it pertains to church architecture.

Liturgical Artist

For the specialized work of designing and/or selecting interior furnishings, paintings, sculpture, etc., it is advisable that a liturgical artist work with the architect. The liturgical artist's ser­vices should begin during early planning sessions so that his/her contributions are not partially voided by prior structural decisions.

The Design Team

The design team should respect the role played by each of its members. The design team, in consultation with the people, will define the needs of the worshipping community. The architect should be given ample guidance and freedom to produce a work of true artistic merit. He or she should not be forced simply to draw plans on preconceived form. It is improper for benefactors and donors to dictate design or content of appointments since these must be related to the unity of the architectural concept and to the liturgical function of the church. If the congregation has entrusted to the design team the development of the total concept, the con­gregation's decision should be based on the total plan and not on its individual parts.

Personal Involvement of Pastor and his Counselors

The building or renovating of a church calls for the deep per­sonal participation of the pastoral staff and team. The finished work should give evidence of their planning and involvement and stand as a sign of their vision without being a monument to themselves.

Dialogue with the Community

Building or renovating a church presupposes dialogue with the parishioners who must first be formed into a living community of people in relation to one another and with the design team. Educa­tional programs concerning the need to build or renovate

and especially the theology of the church building, should be conducted for all members of the parish. These programs could be specially called meetings, programs at regularly scheduled meetings of parish societies, or in some instances, an integral part of the homily during the liturgy.

The Congregation and the Building Design

The pastoral staff and team with the congregation should be able to assemble a design for the proposed church from theological, liturgical, and psychological norms. Without dictating the architec­tural expression or limiting the final form of the church, ideally this design should express the relation of the particular Eucharistic community to the Church as a whole, to its immediate surroun­dings, to the people who will worship there, and to the virtues which should be descriptive of the living Body of Christ.

The Total Building Complex

The pastoral staff and team and the congregation should study the total parochial complex as a unit before planning a new church.

Since automobiles must be provided for in our mobile society, care should be taken that driveways and parking lots are made an integral part of the total design. The living element of trees, shrub­bery, etc. should always be included however, in order to avoid the often repeated look of a barren sea of asphalt.

Chapter 2

General Arrangement

Entrance and Vestibule

The main entrance of the church includes the approach from the street, and parking area, the porch, the doors, and the vestibule. Ideally this entire area should be generously propor­tioned so that it can be a friendly meeting place for people and designed so that people may more easily make the transition re­quired for worship. If this area is well designed, it could also serve as a meeting place/parish centre.

Especially in view of our climate, it should hold all or a substantial part of the congregation. The porch area should be large enough to accommodate small gather­ings of people, such as reception of the body during funerals; reception of the baptismal community; and processional groups. It is important to be sensitive to the needs of the handicapped and the aged. Alberta Law requires such consideration. (See also At Wor­ship With the Disabled).

Floor Plan

The liturgical assembly itself is a sign of the union of God's people with each other and the Lord. Hence, the floor plan should enable the community to experience a deep sense of oneness. The traditional long, rectangular floor plan for nave and sanctuary should give way to more flexible forms which positively promote community participation in the liturgy. Thought should be given to the grade/slope of the floor plan to facilitate visibility in view of the difficulties experienced by the various bodily postures of prayer.


The aisles should allow for the easy flow of many people, especially during processions. Spaces at the back and front of the seating area should be provided, especially considering funerals.


The places for the faithful should be arranged with particular care, so that they may participate in the sacred celebrations visually and with proper spirit. (cf. 1P1', 98). Seating accommodations should also facilitate observance of an appropriate posture (stand­ing, kneeling, sitting) as envisioned in the liturgical texts. (cf. OM 20, 21, and 273).


The quality of lighting should be a major consideration in the total plan of the building.

An important consideration should be the lighting of the altar and other focal areas, such as the area where the ministers will be reading. The lighting plan should be flexible enough that future liturgical needs can be met. The nave should be light enough to per­mit reading. The optimum use of natural lighting should be given due consideration. Care should be taken that neither the celebrant nor the people are "blinded" by light or their faces obscured from each other by the lighting.

The installation of purely decorative illuminated symbols, in­scriptions, crowns, statue surrounds, etc. in new churches is discouraged. It is recommended that this type of lighting in existing churches be reconsidered 'according to the principles of the liturgical renewal.

Heating and Ventilation

Adequate heating and ventilation ought to be planned by a qualified specialist. Provision must be made for air circulation and removal of humid conditions and body heat in each new church. Existing churches should also provide this if possible. If air condi­tioning is desirable, provisions (i.e. adequate duct work, air filtra­tion, etc.) should be made when the church is being planned, even though it cannot be installed immediately. The plans for this future air conditioning should be in the church files.

Public Address System

The acoustical properties of the building should be carefully planned and balanced. The worshipper must be able to hear the liturgical minister, the preacher, the commentator, the choir, the organ (or other musical instruments) and the response of the con­gregation. People should not have to be provided texts of the readings to know what is being said. It is highly desirable that this be achieved without the need of electronic sound equipment, but conduits should be built into new churches so that future liturgical needs can be easily met.

In churches where electronic sound systems are necessary, speakers and microphones should be inconspicuous or artistically blended into the total church design. Consideration should be given for their integration with electronic systems, e.g. Audio-visuals. The microphone must be able to pick up the voice even from the side. Special attention should be given to altar microphones; they should not clutter.

Wireless microphones are practical where other instruments are not convenient, e.g. processions. At least some portable microphones are useful.

The entire public address system of existing churches should be evaluated. It is a serious architectural error to consider acoustics only after a building is completed. At the same time we must recognize that we already have churches and chapels with poor acoustics. In such instances the best professional advice should be sought both for acoustical treatment and electronic sound systems. There is a variety of available sound systems which can be used to make the liturgy easily intelligible. Hearing systems for the handi­capped should be considered.

Vesting Area

There are certain advantages in locating the vesting area at the main entrance. Such a location better facilitates the festive proces­sions and recession of the ministers. Its location will make the clergy more available to the people immediately before and after the services.

Provisions for Young Children

If a Cry Room is necessary, it should be located according to sight lines and be acoustically intact with speakers provided. The room should be well ventilated with special facilities for children.

The Windows

Windows are primarily sources of light and have great impact on the atmosphere of the worship space. Therefore care should be taken to investigate and choose the best possible materials and types. Windows should complement the liturgy and be part of the integral design of the church.


Audio-visuals can help people to see, hear, and believe more fully the Good News of the Gospel. To suggest using audio-visuals in the celebration of the sacraments does not mean that people are replaced with a movie screen or television set; it does mean that proclaiming the Gospel is not necessarily limited to words.

Audio-visual materials are meant to make the invisible visible. Jesus used many images in His teaching: coins, fish, bread, and vines. In our electronic age, it is felt that communication can be more effective through these media: e.g. films, filmstrips, records, tapes, slides, television.

The problem seems to be not whether to use these materials, but how to use them. All of these audio-visuals can facilitate or militate against liturgy in the parish. It depends on the sensitivity of the users and the effectiveness of their use. Great care should govern the use of these materials in order that they do not become objects of distraction, but help in creating an environment in which celebration may take place. The focal point must always be the peo­ple celebrating, not the screen or sounds. They should be used spar­ingly and not bombard the senses: otherwise, they will only enter­tain or distract.

The place for showing visuals must be central and capable of being seen by the entire body of worshippers. Large walls are ex­cellent for such purposes. Portable screens work well but very often they are awkward, clumsy and distracting.

Rear projection screens usually work well. They bring images close to the congregation and also hide the equipment and its noise. However, professional installation of equipment and guidance in its use are a must for effectiveness.

Any use of these materials implies some expertise on the part of the operator for smooth production and use. Planning and prac­tice should be presumed before using any audio-visual materials in liturgy.

Chapter 3

Furnishings For Liturgical Celebration

Benches or Chairs

The type of seating used should facilitate participation and not deter it. The traditional type of heavy, fixed pew frequently is not comfortable, immobilizes the community, tends to formalize wor­ship, and may take attention away from the focal points. With fixed pews, any flexibility in seating arrangement is almost beyond

reach. Because good liturgy is a ritual action, it is important that worship space allow for movement. Seating arrangements which prohibit the freedom of action to take place are inappropriate. Seating should be comfortable, simple and moveable, (subject to local fire regulations) so that a variety of arrangements is made possible. Due consideration in planning for seating arrangements must be given to those who suffer from handicaps of one sort or another so that they can participate in the liturgy without unnecessary strain or burden. (See "Standing and Kneeling" in Na­tional Bulletin on Liturgy #65, pages 247-249; tr74, pages 113-114).


The altar is the table of the Lord as well as the place of sacrifice. It should be simple, free-standing in its own area, strong in design and table-like in appearance. Its size and shape should be determined by the practical considerations of use and by its rela­tionship to the size of the overall structure.

The altar should as a rule be permanent, and the top is usually made of stone, although wood or other solid materials are permis­sible. However in churches and chapels where there is a desire or need to move the altar for different arrangements for the celebra­tion of the Eucharist or for other functions, it is preferable to use a moveable altar made of relatively light materials.

The altar should be as close to the gathered community and as much in their midst as possible.

There should be only one altar in the body of the church. Side altars should be few and preferably placed in chapels somehow separated from the body of the church.

Emphasis should be on the top of the altar. This should be sufficiently elevated so that the assembled community can see the chalice upon it. The altar top should remain uncluttered, and candles (if placed on the altar) and sacramentary and its stand (if one is used), should not obstruct the people's view of the celebrant and of the chalice. At least one altar cloth is placed upon the altar; its form, size, color and decoration are matters of artistic taste.

The altar is used only during the celebration of the Eucharist; it has no function in the Liturgy of the Word, but is used beginning only with the preparation of the gifts.


The presiding priest's chair should be strong and simple and elevated so that he may be clearly seen by all. However, every appearance of a throne is to be avoided.

Since this chair is used mainly for presiding over the introduc­tory rites and Liturgy of the Word, it should be located as to facilitate this. The presider's chair may be placed in the center of the apse or in another convenient place. Communication between the priest and assembly usually is facilitated if it is forward and at one side of the altar, or even, in larger churches, in front of the altar. The presiding priest should be able to address the assembly effectively while seated on the chair.

Other ministers (servers, lector, leader of song, auxiliary Eucharistic ministers) may also be seated within the sanctuary or in some other adjacent location, showing clearly that they are part of the one assembly. Their seats should be located so that they can easily carry out their functions. The seats themselves should be sim­ple and inconspicuous, in harmony but not in competition with the design of the sanctuary.

Ambo (Pulpit, Lectern)

The ambo (pulpit, lectern) is the place from which the Word of God is proclaimed and explained. Lector and priest should use it for all scriptural readings.

Generally the ambo should be a permanent lectern and not just a moveable stand. It should be practical, important in appearance, and visually related to the altar, chair and congregation. It should be uncluttered but properly lighted and if necessary equipped with a microphone. It is desirable that provision be made to enshrine the Word of God (Lectionary/Book of the Gospels) on the front of the ambo so that it is clearly visible to the worshipping community.

The ambo should be so placed that the ministers using it can be easily seen and heard by all the people. It is usually located to the right of the presiding priest as he faces the assembly from the chair.

The commentator, cantor and leader of song do not use the ambo. Instead they may use a separate lectern, whose design and location indicate its lesser importance. In no way should this lectern (used by commentator, cantor, and leader of song) compete for visual prominence with the main ambo.

The Font

Care should be taken to bring out the importance of the Sacraments of Initiation into the divine life and incorporation into the people of God. The font relates to the altar as baptism relates to the Eucharist. The first is beginning and the second constant fulfill­ment. The more suitable place for location of the font would be in the body of the church, perhaps on one side of the nave, with suffi­cient space around for participants and processions.

The shape and size of the font has not been prescribed. However, it must always be noble, functional and clean.

When a portable font is used, it should be situated to allow for maximum visibility and audibility, never crowding or obscuring the altar, ambo and chair.

Eucharistic Chapel

The Blessed Sacrament is reserved for Communion of the Sick, for encouraging private devotion to the eucharistic presence of Christ, and sometimes, for facilitating distribution of Com­munion at Sunday Mass. The reserved Sacrament does not belong in the centre of the assembly, and should not be a focus of attention within the assembly.

The best solution for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in new churches is a separate chapel with a place of repose. This chapel should offer easy access from the porch areas, garden or street as well as the main area of the church. This chapel should contain appropriate seating and kneelers should be suitable for private devotions. The chapel of reservation must have a suitable tabernacle, but should not have a full altar. A shelf for candlesticks and for the ciborium before it is put into the tabernacle or when it is taken out, is sufficient. The devotional character of this space should create an atmosphere of warmth.

When there is no separate chapel of reservation, one of the traditional St. Joseph or Blessed Virgin Mary side altars of large churches is usually the best setting for the reserved sacrament. It brings the sacrament closer to the people for private visits and makes it accessible to the altar. Special lighting and decorations should be employed to make evident its purpose. Stations of the Cross, Statues of Mary or of other saints should not be placed above or adjacent to the place of reservations.

In very small churches the tabernacle might be placed at one side of the sanctuary both so that it is not a major focus of atten­tion during liturgical services, and so that it is accessible for private devotions at other times.

It is important that confusion not take place between the celebration of the eucharist and the chapel of reservation (OM 26). Therefore, it is advisable not to combine weekday Masses and small group celebrations with the chapel of reservation.


The tabernacle must be a solid and inviolable safe which is securely anchored (cf. E.M. 52, 54). There is only one tabernacle in a church. It may be placed in a wall niche, on a pillar or eucharistic tower. It should not be placed on an altar for the altar is a place for action, not for reservation. A lamp should burn continuously near the tabernacle (I.E.M. 57).

Reconciliation Chapel: Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation

The celebration of the Rite of Penance, like all liturgy, is great­ly affected by the atmosphere in which it is celebrated. The right use of color, light, ventilation, furniture design, and division of space helps create an environment in which people can celebrate the sacrament more effectively.

The new ritual of this sacrament calls for a more open, per¬sonal and warmer celebration than our previous custom. Specific rules regarding place are not laid down in the ritual, and con¬siderable flexibility is allowed.

For celebration of individual confessions, the most desirable location would be a small chapel or room in which penitents might choose to confess their sins and seek sacramental reconciliation through an informal face-to-face exchange while seated, with the opportunity for appropriate spiritual counsel. Likewise, since the rite calls for the extension of hands during absolution, such a room or chapel provides for the use of this gesture.

Such rooms should however be designed to afford the penitent the option of anonymity, for in every case the freedom of the peni¬tent to confess in the traditional way is to be respected.
Ideally, this room should fit into the overall architectural plan of the building, having some permanence, and having a spacious and comfortable feeling, rather than an institutional character. This room should be sound proof and care should be used in select¬ing the right kind of lighting, floor covering, furniture, and venti¬lation system. An appropriate waiting area must be provided and accommodations for the handicapped must also be considered. (An excellent description of a reconciliation room is given in Together in Peace by J.M. Champlin, Ave Maria Press, 1975, pp. 113-222. See also a description in "Worship", Volume 50, Number 3, May 1976, pp. 271-273).


The sacristy is better located adjacent to the sanctuary, for the storage of vestments, candles, vases and other liturgical artifacts.

Musical Instruments

Music is necessary at every gathering of the worshipping com­munity. This suggests at least a leader-cantor and some musical instrument(s). Both must be located so as to coordinate their own efforts while leading the community in song. The secondary lectern is usually the best location for the leader-cantor with some adjacent space for the musical instrument(s).

A special area in the midst of the faithful should be set aside for the choir and organ. This area should be designed so that it is clear to those present that the choir, cantors, and/or musicians "form a part of the united community of the faithful, and so that they may fulfill their liturgical function more suitably" (1P1', 97). It, too, must be spatially related to the leader and to the musical instrument(s). It would be undesirable to locate the choir and organ far from the altar or in some elevated choir loft where they are actually separated from the faithful; neither should the choir be behind the altar where it is heard but not seen. (Existing choir lofts could well be used for an over-flow crowd, or adapted to suit other functional purposes).

The organ and other musical instruments should be located in a convenient place so that they can support the singing of both the choir and congregation, and if playing alone, can easily be heard by all. The instrumentalists should be able easily to see the leader. The organ has pre-eminence of place in Church music and it should not be forgotten that the purchase of an organ is the single most expen­sive item in a church. Provision must be made for its installation at the time of church construction and ideally the organ should be in­stalled as the building is completed.

The placement of the choir and musical instruments should not impede the full participation of the assembly in the liturgy and should not obstruct their view of the major focal points.

Chapter 4

Objects used in Liturgical Celebration

The Cross

A cross is a basic symbol in any Christian liturgical celebra­tion. The cross should never distract from the major focal points. It can be a processional cross which is brought into the sanctuary at the beginning of a liturgical celebration, placed in a prominent place but not allowed to block or interfere with a major focal point, and be removed at the end of the liturgical celebration. It might be a permanent fixture hung over or behind the altar though in this case it should not become the centre of focus in the sanctuary. The image of Christ on the cross may be that of either the crucified or glorified Lord.

Candlesticks and Candles

Candlesticks may be placed upon the altar or around it. They should not be distracting or large enough to block the view of anyone in the community. Candlesticks should be made preferably of material that is durable and does not burn, and they should hold relatively large candles, especially when few are used.

The number of candles used varies with the type of celebra­tion, and in general is a matter of taste. For many occasions, two candles are sufficient. Candles need not be beeswax and need not always be white.

Paschal Candle

The paschal candle is used during the entire year and it ought to be an important furnishing. During the Easter season it is placed near the ambo. Outside the Easter season it should be kept near the font and used during baptisms. It is also placed at the coffin for funerals. Its size should be determined by the size of its surround­ings, but too small a paschal candle fails to give prominence to such an important symbol. There should never be two paschal candles in the same church.

Sacred Art

True artists identify the purpose of what they make with their own purpose. They enter completely into their work and see it from within. They respect the materials with which they work and make the tools they use extensions of themselves. If they combine with his loving relationship to their task sufficient skill, they produce a work of art.

The true artistic process is thus no more and no less than the making of things as they ought to be made, and the only man-made things which cannot be called works of art are those made badly.

Sacred art is distinguished by the making present in some real may of the person or event represented. It involves an understanding of and a presentation of the mystery. This is why objects of sacred art are unique and cannot be mass produced. This is why mere copying, even by skilled craftsmen, cannot be called sacred art. This is why exhibitionism is really idolatrous.

The commissioning of original works of art is encouraged. We should strive to put only the best sacred art into our churches. Such art contributes to the spiritual health of our communities and is in itself an act of worship of God.


  • The credence table may be free-standing, a niche in the wall or a shelf
  • A table for the offertory gifts may be suitably designed to har­monize with the sanctuary furnishings. Respecting the need for procession, the table for the gifts should be far enough from the sanctuary to accommodate a sense of movement. It should be large enough to accommodate all the gifts.

These tables should be proportioned so as not to divert atten­tion from the focal points in the liturgy: altar, ambo, presider's chair.


Any book used in a liturgical celebration should have a dignity worthy of its function. The Book of the Gospels (Lectionary), of course, is central and should be handled and carried in a special way. All other liturgical books of the church which contain the rites of our public worship, are worthy of venerable treatment.

The use of pamphlets, Missalettes and leaflets in no way enhances the visual integrity of the total liturgical action, and is to be totally discouraged. This applies to all books used in liturgical celebrations - at the altar, ambo, chair, font, and any other public or semipublic rite.

Collection Repository

Greater emphasis should be placed upon the fact that the of­ferings of the faithful have a spiritual and liturgical significance. It is suggested that the gifts be brought to a definite place of honor in the sanctuary area and placed with some ceremony.

Other Spatial Needs

Communities must move about easily and in orderly fashion during Mass, the celebration of the sacraments, and other special services which are part of the yearly cycle of the liturgy. Churches and chapels should be designed to facilitate such congregational movement and seating should always be arranged to encourage this.

Sanctuaries should always be uncluttered and allow flexibility in the use of this space. Furnishings should contribute to the func­tions of the focal points; no other but the minimum required fur­nishings should be permitted.

Marriage requires both movement and open space for the wed­ding party. Funerals also require movement and space.

Weekday and Other Smaller Celebrations

A small community loses its identity in a large space. Where possible, a small area might be provided for weekday Masses and small group celebrations, including small weddings and funerals. This could be a completely separated space or it might be the sanc­tuary itself which can be closed off by some means or other from the nave of the church.


It is hoped that these guidelines be used for frequent reference and not simply when a new building or major renovation is planned.

These guidelines should be reviewed by the sub-committee on Art and Architecture at least every five years and revised when necessary.


  • Bouyer, Louis. Liturgy and Architecture. University of Notre Dame Press, 1967.
  • Rite and Man: Natural Sacredness and Christian Liturgy. Univer­sity of Notre Dame Press, 1967.
  • DeBuyst, Frederick. Modern Architecture and Christian Celebra­tion. John Knox Press, 1968.
  • Elements of Banner Design, Your Church. July-August 1974, Vol. 20, No. 4; pp. 32-37.
  • Getelin, Frank and Dorothy. Christianity in Art. Bruce Publishing Co. 1959.
  • Hovda, Robert. Dry Bones: Living Worship Guides to Good Lit­urgy. The Liturgical Conference, 1973.
  • Ireland, Marion P. Textile Art in the Church. Abingdon Press, 1971.
  • Laliberte, Norman and Sterling Mcllhany. Banners and Hangings: Construction and Design. Reinhold Publishing Company, 1966.
  • Liturgy: Journal of the Liturgical Conference, Oct. 1973, Vol. 18, No. 8; pp. 6, 11, 18, 30, 33.
  • Notebaart, James. How to Make the Space for Liturgy Special: A Guide to Practical Decoration. Folk Mass and Modern Liturgy Magazine. March 1974, Vol. 1, No. 3; pp. 9-12.
  • Obstacles - Report of the Special Committee on the Disabled and the Handicapped. Government of Canada Feb. 1981.
  • Revolution: Place and Symbol, Journal of the First International Congress on Religion. Architecture and the Visual Arts, 1967.
  • Seasoltz, R. Kevin. The House of God: Sacred Art's Architecture. Herder and Herder, 1963.
  • Sovik, E.A. Architecture for Worship. Augsburg Publishing House, 1973.
  • Statement of the Architects' Services. AIA Documents B551 June 19, 1972. 2nd Printing Sept. 1972, 5M2.

Abbreviations and Credits

  • CSL: The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Vatican II (SACROSANCTAM CONCILIUM), 4 Dec. 1963.
  • 1P11: Instruction on the Proper Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. S.C.R. Inter­oecumenici, 26 Sept. 1964.
  • 1P12: A Further Instruction on the Correct Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. S.C.R. Tres Abhinc Annos, 4 May 1967.
  • 1P13: Third Instruction on the Correct Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. S.C.D.W. Liturgiae Instaurationes, 5 Sept. 1970.
  • IEM = Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery. S.C.R. Eucharisticum mysterium, 25 May 1967.
  • I.D.: Instruction "Inaestimabile Donum" on Certain Norms Concerning Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery, 3 April 1980.
  • E.A.C.W.: Environment and Art in Catholic Worship. U.S. Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy. 1978.
  • IML: Instruction on Music in the Liturgy. S.C.R. Musicam Sacram, 5 March 1967.
  • O.M.: Ordo Missae: General Instruction on the Roman Missal. Published as part of the Roman Altar Mis­sal, 26 March 1970.
  • MCW: Music in Catholic Worship. U.S. Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, 1972.
  • P.M.E,C.: The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations. U.S. Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, Nov. 1967.
  • A.W.D.: At Worship with the Disabled. National Liturgical Office, C.C.C.B. 1981.
  • M.H.P.: Mainstreaming Handicapped Persons – Study paper by Art and Architecture Commission of DLC of Buffalo, N.Y.
  • P.S.H.P.: "Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on Handicapped People". U.S.C.C. 1978.
  • R.P.: Study Text IV. Commentary on the Rite of Penance. U.S.C.C. Publications 1975. Ordo Penitentiae. C.D.W. 2 Dec. 1973.
  • R.B.C.: Rite of Baptism for Children: General Introduction S.C.D.W. 5 Jan. 1970.
  • R.C.I.A.: Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. S.C.D.W. 6 Jan. 1972.
  • H.F.C.: A House for the Church. F.D.L.C. and Liturgical
  • Committee of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky. (A-V presentation), 1980.
Related Offices Office of Liturgy
Related Themes Liturgy

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