In the 2012 Winter Edition of "The Priest" -the quarterly publication of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy - Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett of Lismore in northern New South Wales, wrote two articles one of which was entitled " Liturgy and Evangelisation". A long time maember of the Confraternity, His Lordship had also been its Chairman for a number of years. He is a convert from Anglicanism, having been an Anglican cleric for some years he " swam the Tiber" in 1965.

The Bishop's article in one part raises the question :" what is a church?" In addressing the question he turns to the Anglican architect and writer Sir John Ninian Comper(1864-1960) .

Noting that Comper was not a prolific writer, Bishop Jarrett refers to his little book " On the Atmosphere of a Church" (1947) re-published in 2006 with an Introduction by Father Anthony Symondson S.J. He also notes that the renowned Father Aidan Nichols O.P. demonstrated  present day Catholic interest in Comper's thinking when he wrote for New Blackfriars in 2008.

Referring to the key to Comper's thought on the subject, His lordship notes that Comper believed the Altar to be the central object from which church design should be developed. He likened it to the flame within a lamp. The very purpose of the lamp is to protect and enhance the beauty and utility of the flame. The whole should then work to draw a person instinctively to their knees , in silence before God.

                                 SAINT MARY'S BEAUDESERT VIEW TO THE SANCTUARY

As Comper put it, a church is " a building which enshrines the altar of Him Who.......has made there His Covenanted Presence on earth. It is the centre of Worship in every community of men who recognise Christ as the Pantpkrator , the Almighty, the Ruler and Creator of all things; at its altar is pleaded the daily Sacrifice in complete union with the Church Triumphant in Heaven, of which He is the one and only Head .........  "

He goes on "....To enter therefore a Christian church is to enter none other than the House of God and the Gate of Heaven.
The note of a church should be, not that of novelty, but of eternity. Like the Liturgy celebrated within it, the measure of its greatness will be the measure in which it succeeds in eliminating time and producing the atmosphere of the Heavenly worship.This is the characteristic of the earliest art of the Church , in liturgy in architecture and in plastic decoration, and it is the the tradition of all subsequent ages. "

Comper then reflects on the origins and evolution of what we have :"The Church took over what is eternal in the Jewish and Greek temples, adapting and perfecting it to her use, developing and adding to it in unbroken sequence, and evolving new forms, some of which came to stay and some which needed correction ....just as no moment is perfect, so no reform is perfect, for it will always go a little too far."

He saw architecture as the "handmaid of liturgy"  and held that " no beautiful style should be excluded. But the plan, the "layout" of the church must first be in accord with the requirements of the liturgy and the particular needs of those who worship within it, and the imagery must express the balanced measure of the Faith; and for guidance in both we must look to tradition. There is no need to apologise for doing so in architecture, any more than in music, unless we need apologise for the the guidance of tradition in the interpretation of the New Testament and the creeds of the Church. There are those who do so apologise , and for them tradition in the arts has naturally no appeal. They are consistent; since modernism in art is the natural expression of modernism in doctrine......"

There is a great deal more in Bishop Jarrett's article which I would recommend readers to refer to here:http://www.clergy.asn.au/evangelisation/liturgy-and-evangelisation/



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