This article argues for an environment of worship that encourages the full participation of the people and complements the symbolic meaning of the actions of worship, particularly the sacraments. It is written in the context of Roman Catholic worship, but reflects the concerns of nearly all highly liturgical traditions. Many of these have been emphasized throughout the Christian church, given the recent phenomenon of liturgical convergence.
The church building is the home for God’s people, providing identity and a place in the world. The article illustrates how the change in liturgical understanding since Vatican II has changed the understanding of what a church building wants and needs to be for God’s people.
Roman Catholic liturgy, like that of many of the more liturgical churches, features texts that are sung in each liturgy or service. These are called ordinary texts. Often these texts are sung. Settings of these texts, and other frequently used texts, are called service music or liturgical music. This music is part of the liturgy itself, not something that interrupts or is added to the liturgy. Since the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, Catholic churches have had more freedom in choosing service music. This has resulted in vast numbers of new compositions, many of which are valuable for churches in many worship traditions.
The trend toward a return to primal traditions in theology and worship practice was intensified in the mid-twentieth century, partly due to the influence of the “New Reformation.” Along with a return to biblical authority, we have seen a revival of Reformation worship forms and practice, including even neo-baroque organ design. The total result is a blend that includes three traditions: the apostolic heritage, historic medieval contributions, and Reformation distinctives.
The Council of Trent (1545–1563) initiated a period of liturgical standardization in the Roman Catholic church. Catholic worship remained largely uniform throughout the world until the appearance of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council (1963).
The change in the worship experience of twentieth-century Roman Catholics may be appreciated by briefly looking at history. In the sixteenth century, Reformers had posed challenges to the lack of intelligibility of medieval Catholic worship experience to the laity. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) responded to the challenge by revising liturgical books, but the Latin language was retained and the textual uniformity remained.