I came of age as an artist and liturgical design
consultant in the company of colleagues of talent, faith and vision.
Speaking from the perspective of over 60 years of involvement in the
liturgical movement I would like to share my experience of where we
have been and some of my concerns about where we are going.
As I reflect on the lifelong learning experience that
my involvement in the liturgical movement has been I celebrate the
provident visionary leadership before and after the Vatican II Council
that set the agenda for full, active and conscious participation in
the liturgy and the vital visual art and contemporary architecture in
the renovation of existing churches and new church building that was
supportive of it. An agenda departed from in the recent past.
In the 19"' and early 20th centuries the church had
abandoned her leadership role in the contemporary arts and preferred
to rely on eclectic architecture and mass produced art forms. With the
exception of two paintings by Eugene Delacroix in Saint Sulpice, few
of the acknowledged 19th century geniuses were commissioned by the
church. Great 19th century works of art are more consistently found in
our museums not our churches.
It was not until Vatican II that the church renewed a
dialogue between church and contemporary talent. Pope Paul VI
(1963–1978) in his address to artists regretted the estrangement and
proposed a rapprochement.
Despite this 19th and early 20th century estrangement
contemporary forms and materials already had a long history. About 100
years ago architect Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design the
first American modern church building (Unity Temple in Oak Park).
The 1909 Malines Catholic Conference ushered in the
beginning of the liturgical movement. In 1922 August Perret designed
the cast concrete church of Notre Dame du Raincy (a Paris suburb)—an
acknowledged classic, as is Marcel Breuer's cast concrete St. John's
Abbey church in Collegeville. Switzerland and Germany were in the
forefront of contemporary church design in the 1920's and 1930's
German architect Rudolf Schwartz was a disciple of liturgist Romano
Guardini. In the United States, Chicago architect Barry Byrne, a
student of Frank Lloyd Wright, was designing significant contemporary
Catholic churches. After World War II, with the destruction of cities,
European contemporary church art and architecture was noteworthy,
especially in France and Germany. France was an epicenter of
contemporary religious art and architecture, and of developments in
liturgy. The Parisian Dominicans edited the journal L’Art sacré
and helped start the Center of Sacred Art, which I attended on the GI
Bill with Frank Kacmarcik. It offered the usual art school disciplines
plus lectures in theology and the spirituality of the sacred artist
and sought the collaboration of the great artistic and architectural
talents of the time.
The Catholic Art Association strove in academic circles
to prepare artists for church commissions and to educate Catholic
taste. Energetic and committed lay women involved in the liturgical
movement made a pivotal contribution to the education and broadening
of Catholic taste by establishing bookstores/art galleries: among them
are Celia Hubbard (Botolph Group in Boston), artist and social
activist Adé Bethune (St. Leo Shop in Newport Rhode Island), Elizabeth
Sullivan (Paraclete Bookstore in New York City), Sarah Benedicta
O'Neil and Nina Polcyn (St. Benet's shop in Chicago), Ethel de Souza (Junipero
Serra Shop in San Francisco) and the Ladies of the Grail movement
(Loveland Ohio). Pioneer artist Charlton Fortune's Monterey Guild and
Hildreth Meier created distinguished contemporary liturgical art and
Maurice Lavanoux, architect, traveler, author and
critic for four decades, was the editor of the scholarly Liturgical
Arts Quarterly. This formative magazine epiphanized liturgy with
quality pictures and exemplary floor plans. The eminent Jesuit John
LaFarge (editor of America magazine) embodied the connection
between serving worship and social justice in his roles as spiritual
director of the Liturgical Arts Society as well as of the Catholic
The Benedictine order has been in the forefront of
leadership in matters liturgical. Collegeville's Virgil Michael was a
Renaissance man. His scholarship, quality support of significant
contemporary art and architecture, prophetic stance on liturgy and for
liturgy that leads to mission in social justice, pioneered the agenda
for the American liturgical movement. Father H.A. Reinhold, a long
time contributor to Orate Fratres, brought added insight to
matters liturgical, to art and architecture and social issues and as
pastor of his Sunnyside parish he designed the church that pre-figured
arrangements that later Vatican II documents would support.
The Benedictines inspired the creation of the
Liturgical Arts Society and the liturgical weeks of the Liturgical
The voluntarist Liturgical Conference gave prophetic
voice to the reform of Catholic worship and contemporary religious art
and architecture. In addition to its roles as publisher and educator,
it rallied interested participants from different disciplines to its
liturgical weeks, the celebrational national event of
lectures/workshops and exemplary liturgy. To be a Board Member was an
education in the presence of such visionaries as Monsignor Frederick
R. McManus, Father Godfrey Diekman, OSB, Father Aidan Kavanaugh,
Father Gerard Sloyan, Mary Perkins Ryan, Mary Collins. OSB, Adrian
Nadine Foley, OP, Frank Kacmarcik, Monsignor R. Hillenbrand, and Ed
Sovik. Giants all!
With the promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred
Liturgy and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal of Pope Paul
VI, principles and directions for a fitting and supportive worship
environment were enunciated. To bridge the hiatus between the
understanding of new forms of worship and supportive architecture the
role of liturgical design consultant and the educative growth and
design process for clergy and parishioners was developed by first
generation consultants, Frank Kacmarcik, Bill Schickel, Ed Sovik and
myself. Liturgical consultants and liturgical design consultants
became a new ministry or profession that assisted a parish renovation
or new church building. In the decades since several succeeding
generations have followed, whose members have included Father Richard
Vosko, Willy Malarcher and Brother William Woeger as second generation
The Liturgical Conference also sponsored an
architectural competition of projects exemplifying worthy
implementation of worship environments with printed critiques from
liturgists and attendant jury members.
Conference representatives joined other denominations in setting up
first the Interfaith Research Center, and then joined the Protestant
weighted Guild for Religious Architecture and Synagogue Administration
of the Union of American Hebrew Reform Congregations to create a new
entity, the Interfaith Forum on Religion Art and Architecture. IFRAA
continued the tradition of regional and national meetings, sponsored
the interfaith architectural competition and published a journal
Faith and Form. Its editor, Betty Meyer, served loyally for many
years. IFRAA planned and ran four international congresses. A fifth
congress was sponsored by Dr. John Dillenberger at the Berkley Campus
of General Theological Union (California).
The Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commission (FDLC)
has an environment and art study group and the exemplary German
Bishop's directives inspired the Superior (Wisconsin) and Albany
Directives, FDLC felt an American document was needed. Fr. Joseph
Cunningham [Chair, FDLC Board of Directors] appointed Monsignor
Florian Gall to chair a committee charged with writing position
papers, which included Msgr. Joseph Moriarity (Cleveland), Adé
Bethune, Father Richard Vosko, Frank Kacmarcik, Edward Sovik and
myself (Bob R.). FDLC subsequently forwarded the manuscript to the
Bishop's Committee on Liturgy (BCL), which commissioned the Liturgical
Conference's editor, Rev. Robert Hovda, to write his own succinct and
classic Environment and Art in Catholic Worship.
The BCL, FDLC, Catholic University’s Center for
Pastoral Liturgy (CU-CPL) and IFRAA celebrated the first anniversary
of the publication of Environment and Art in Catholic Worship
with a national symposium in Milwaukee. Out of that symposium came
A Reader: The Environment for Worship published by NCCB and
CU-CPL. The BCL and CU-CPL also edited The Cathedral: A Reader.
FDLC also published a directory of national recognized
consultants on worship space. Father Gil Ostdiek, OFM of Chicago's
Catholic Theological Union subsequently developed a course for the
Institute for Liturgical Consultants adding formation and professional
qualifications for this role and ministry.
Fr. Hovda's Environment and Art in Catholic Worship
had the NCCB administrative committee's approval—but not that of all
the Bishops. Some were concerned that only Frank Kacmarcik's
contemporary design projects were illustrated, as opposeto a diversity
of designers an a diversity of styles. Others questioned its stance on
then “highly recommended” placement of the tabernacle in Blessed
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops invited
Bishop Frank Rodimer to chair a committee representing different
professions to author Built of Living Stones. This document
proved more congenial. It resolved the objections leveled at
Environment and Art’s use of Kacmarcik's projects as exemplars by
featuring atmospheric photos of people and eliminating all
architectural illustrations, which is a puzzling decision for a
document whose purpose is to guide and inform the visual expression of
liturgical values. It also advocated they new prioritized placement of
the tabernacle in the more remote sanctuary area.
The major ancient Roman Basilicas provide historical
precedent for proximate and accessible Blessed Sacraments chapels.
Acknowledging the local Bishop's judgment, a tabernacle locus in the
restricted sanctuary can offer visual competition with the action at
the altar. However, besides a tabernacle's sacramental presence there
is still a need to discern Christ's presence in today’s events and
In the 1970's Jesuit John Gallen founded the ecumenical
North American Academy of Liturgy (NAAL) at a Scottsdale, Arizona
retreat house. Among the founding members were several first
generation liturgical consultants were involved with the Liturgical
Conference. At annual meetings the Environment and Art section makes
pilgrimages to cultic and cultural sites and presents assigned
scholarly papers and slide presentations all of which engender lively
Until recently Chicago’s Liturgy Training Publications
under Gabe Huck’s and David Philippart’s leadership produced "E & A",
the valuable environment and art letter.
I have been fortunate to share my three score years in
the liturgical movement with stellar colleagues—in the Liturgical Arts
Society, The Liturgical Conference, the Catholic Art Association, The
Vernacular Society, the North American Academy of Liturgy, the
Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture, and here in the
Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions.
Societies and institutions that are primarily concerned
with liturgy have coupled an appropriate interest in those arts
(music, liturgical furnishings, art and architecture) that properly
serve worship with a commitment to issues of social justice. Worship
and witness are complementary. We are commanded to wash feet, and to
share blessed and broken bread and the cup
reform' and 'Semper reformanda" are post Vatican II polar opposites. I
am concerned about those architectural and sacerdotal formation
centers that champion past architectural styles for churches today.
This is retroversion not renewal, and confect liturgical Potemkin
Villages. Our work is not to replicate but to replicate but to
understand history, because as Le Corbusier said “who understands
history knows how to find continuity between that which was, that
which is, and that which will be."
Nostalgia also can forfeit the interest in and
collaboration with the creative geniuses of today and tomorrow. It can
re-duplicate the 19th century estrangement between church and
contemporary artistic talent in this, the third millennium.
Eclecticism reflects a world that no longer exists and can prompt a
divorce between ritual action and social consciousness.
Religious art and architecture should be of today, for
today's participatory liturgy, and witness to today's realities and
the needs of people.
Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the gospel (Matt. 25)
imperative of judgment accountability for Eucharistic mission: to feed
the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe
the naked and visit the sick and those in prison.
New instructions will emerge from the October Synod on
the Eucharist, but here and now we remember and honor the liturgical
prophets and giants who brought us and the church this far, to Vatican
II and after, making its promises manifest. Physicist Sir Isaac Newton
wrote in 1675 "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the
shoulders of giants".
Pray we, as in the past, are sent more such giants to
help us envision an ever renewing Church and her future.
Past McManus Award