Messenger book: ‘Shaping the Assembly’

June 13, 2023 in Featured News, News

In Shaping the Assembly: How our buildings form us in worship (Messenger Publications), editor Thomas O’Loughlin brings together eighteen contributors – liturgists, pastors, architects, artists – from several Churches and from all over the world to try to answer the question of how space affects us in worship.

Looking at examples of churches from Japan, New Zealand, Australia, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States including floorplans, before and after photographs, and architectural sketches, the book invites a rich, ongoing conversation about liturgical renewal to Christians everywhere.

The topics covered include the role of light in a religious building, the need for space to appreciate dance as part of worship, the varying needs of spaces for different liturgies, accounts of how communities have become creative with space, and questions about how the liturgical renewal begun in the Second Vatican Council should continue today.

The idioms and metaphors we use from our built environment, e.g., “She’s a tower of strength”, “I was climbing the walls”, “he brought the house down” demonstrate the strong interactive and reciprocal relationship we have with the spaces we create. Not only do we refer to our buildings to express our emotions, but we use our built space to convey an impression, to influence perceptions and to regulate society. As much as anywhere else, this applies to the ritual space.

The religious use of space is an important part of liturgy. The Second Vatican Council paid particular attention to it, bringing in changes that affected the physical character of Catholic churches throughout the 1960s, 70s and beyond. Yet is has been difficult for ordinary Christians to access high quality research on the religious use of space. The book appeals to this audience as the contributors broaden the discussion beyond the world of academics.

Every religion has used buildings as part of their worship: from Newgrange to classical temples to churches built of steel, concrete and glass. Worship is holistic and contextual – the space in which it takes place is every bit as much an element of the activity as the actual texts are. The book enriches our understanding of worship, inviting a sacred space inside and out.

Thomas O’Loughlin is Professor Emeritus of historical theology in the University of Nottingham. He has written on this history and theology of worship and currently teaches for the Mirfield Liturgical Institute.

Shaping the Assembly: How our buildings form us in worship is published in Ireland and the UK by Messenger Publications. It is priced at €25/£23.