In 2000, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced “Built of Living Stones” (BLS), a new set of guidelines for building and renovating churches. BLS replaces the previous guidelines, “Environment and Art in Catholic Woship” (EACW). EACW was a troubled, vague and ambiguous document that never had the force of canon law.
BLS starts out with a modest statement of intent:
§ 3 § Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture, and Worship is presented to assist the faithful involved in the building or renovation of churches, chapels, and oratories of the Latin Church in the United States. In addition, the document is intended for use by architects, liturgical consultants and artists, contractors, and other professionals engaged in the design and/or construction of these places of worship. The text also may be helpful to those who wish to understand the Catholic Church’s tradition regarding church buildings, the arts, and architecture. While the suggestions and guidelines within the document have been carefully prepared, they are not exhaustive of the subject matter. They are intended to serve as the basis for decision making at the local level and also can become the foundation for the development of diocesan guidelines and legislation governing liturgical art and architecture.
BLS lists five main principles:
- The church building is designed in harmony with church laws and serves the needs of the liturgy.
- The church building fosters participation in the liturgy.
- The design of the church building reflects the various roles of the participants.
- The church building respects the culture of every time and place.
- The church building should be beautiful.
Notre Dame Architecture professor Duncan Stroik wrote an analysis of BLS titled “One Step Forward” in 2003. Stroik says:
There is much to appreciate in Built of Living Stones (BLS hereafter), for it includes many of the requirements from liturgical law while highlighting a number of issues that need to be taken into consideration when building a church. Issued on November 16, 2000, BLS does not claim to be Church law but rather offers helpful guidelines; as the Preface states, BLS “contains many of the provisions of universal law governing liturgical art and architecture and offers pastoral suggestions.” The guidelines found in BLS were developed over a four-year period by a task group of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, chaired by Bishop Rodimer.
The Pastoral Handbook used by the Archdiocese of Denver incorporates the delivery of BLS to the pastor into the design and approval process. (22.214.171.124.)
Architect Adam Hermanson asked the committee to read sections 1-45 and sections 238-261 of BLS before our 11 March meeting. While the committee has paper copies of this document, anyone can read the document on-line through the USCCB web page. Click the link above or at right to read “Built of Living Stones” for yourself.