National Catholic Reporter

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Creating sacred spaces called an 'exalted mission'

WASHINGTON -- Praising the "the esteemed heritage and promising future" of church architecture, Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali said architects who create sacred spaces have "a vocation and a mission" and perform "important work that serves to express our response to God."

Artists and architects who work on church projects "open themselves to the light of sacred tradition," and "prepare a dwelling place that becomes a fitting sanctuary," the cardinal said.

Such work, when created "in the light of faith," becomes "an exalted mission," he said.

Cardinal Rigali was the keynote speaker at a two-day symposium, "A Living Presence: Extending and Transforming the Tradition of Catholic Sacred Architecture," held April 30-May 1 at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

The symposium was presented by the Partnership for Catholic Sacred Architecture, a collaboration between the schools of architecture at Catholic University and the University of Notre Dame.

Cardinal Rigali spoke April 30 to about 100 architects and others on the importance and role of sacred architecture in the life of the church.

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Calling the Catholic faith "a mystery both timely and timeless," Cardinal Rigali said architects of sacred space help the faithful gather for "prayerful reflection in God's presence."

"God never neglects time and space," the cardinal said. "He allows and encourages mortal finite beings to call his name. He summons us to sacred space."

He encouraged architects and artists who work in the name of the church to allow their talents to be formed by a "unique relationship with God."

"God is the divine architect. His first act -- after creating man -- was to develop a suitable place for man to dwell," Cardinal Rigali said. "The call of God always reflects his loving design."

Time and place, he said, form "a holy alliance to offer the people of God a fitting worship space."

"When God created man, he placed him in a sacred location," he added.

Cardinal Rigali also reminded the symposium participants that their "learning, dedication and skill serve to direct us to the eternal and living God."

The symposium, which was sponsored by a variety of groups, including the Clarence Walton Fund for Catholic Architecture and the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, explored the design of Catholic churches as it relates to the church's tradition and how it is expressed in modern times.

Participants in the symposium included architects, theologians, teachers, artists, liturgical consultants, clergy and others.

Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Rigali said all sacred art and architecture is "true and beautiful" when it reflects "the transcendent mystery of God."

Noting the long tradition of sacred architecture, Cardinal Rigali said that "the church has always been a friend of the fine arts and has sought their noble help."

The Christian faith has long inspired artistic creations, he said, and the construction of cathedrals provide "an upward surge and an invitation to prayer." Such sacred spaces, he said, enable the faithful "to be directed to the fundamental, grace-filled action of God."

The "great works" of cathedrals and churches, he said, "are a luminous sign of God -- a manifestation, an epiphany of God."

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