How does one create sacred space, a place where human beings gather to place themselves before God, to hear the word, and live a life of faith? It is true for many people, certainly in the United States, that Catholic communities find themselves in a position where they need to purchase a piece of land and build a church. But how does this building, this land, become sacred space? Mark G. Boyer continues to respond to this challenge in the second edition of The Liturgical Environment: What the Documents Say. The first edition published in 1990 presented the Second Vatican Council teachings related to liturgical space, incorporating the new theological insights that necessitated structural and liturgical changes in Catholic worship. In light of the publication of subsequent church documents on liturgy, Boyer felt the need to revise the text and incorporate the ongoing theological reflection and liturgical reforms developed since the council.
Taking on the challenge of creating sacred space, Boyer's carefully structured text addresses the gathering space, structure of a church, altar, ambo, presider's chair, baptismal font, tabernacle, Easter candle, vestments, holy oils, chapel of reconciliation, shrines for popular devotion, sacred images, stations of the cross. In the final chapter he addresses other materials related to the celebration of the Eucharist, such as sacred vessels, bells and the organ. For each topic, Boyer presents the relevant church teachings, a theological rationale and practical suggestions for incorporating the standards in the teachings into the decisions of a church community. Boyer also explains the liturgical rituals of blessings that will help the community to dedicate the space and all of its contents to Catholic worship. Boyer makes some suggestions for changing practices that he feels do not conform to the rubrics and standards of Catholic teaching, such as book pockets attached to the presider's chair, and the ongoing practice of Catholics who read their missalettes while the readings are proclaimed. The tenor of the text, though, is the empowerment of those who minister in the church, either on building and renovation committees, or liturgical teams, to understand the theology that informs the liturgical practice.
I was living and working in Los Angeles during the time the new Cathedral was being constructed, and I experienced in a peripheral way the controversies and challenges that were a part of creating that sacred space. I had the opportunity to visit the Cathedral after it had come alive as a place of gathering and prayer, and I found that sacred space was indeed there. That was possible, I believe, because beneath the massive pylons of earthquake prevention, lay a solid theological foundation for what needed to be created. It seems to me that Mark Boyer's text opens that possibility for other communities.