Seeing Theology: Church Architecture as a Source of Mystagogical Catechesis

Authored by Dr. Denis McNamara in Issue #3.3 of The Catechetical Review

Nearly every teacher of the Faith has access to a church building; and a richly designed church offers more than an art history lesson or the record of a particular parish. In its deep theology, every church building is meant to be an architectural image of the Mystical Body of Christ brought to its heavenly glory, that is, Christ and his members joined with all of creation in the perfect worship of the Father. While it first may seem odd to compare a building to the union of God with his people, Scripture proves full of architectural analogies. In the Old Testament, God dwells in the Jerusalem Temple, abiding with his creation in a highly symbolic building. In the New Testament, Christ’s body becomes the new Temple, the new place where God dwells with his creation, an idea famously echoed in the Gospel of John: “he was speaking of the temple of his body” (Jn 2:21). Christians themselves now form the stones of the temple of Christ’s body, “quarried” and shaped by the Holy Spirit and assembled by Christ himself.

The First Epistle of Peter minces no words in calling his Christian readers “living stones” being built up into a spiritual house (1 Pt 2:4), and Saint Paul calls the Christian community “God’s building.” Even though it may sound ordinary today, Paul’s claim is quite extraordinary: the holiest and most important building of Jewish history is now replaced by Christians themselves since they are now “God’s temple” where the Spirit dwells (1 Cor 3: 9, 16). Later, Paul calls the very same Corinthians “members” baptized into the one body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12, 17), a concept that eventually gained the name “Mystical Body.” The Mystical Body is the Church, the continuing action of Christ at work on earth through his members, hierarchically arranged to manifest the Body’s reality and its headship under Christ.

Catholic church architecture and its related arts draw directly from this pre-existing spiritual reality and every church building refers to that reality in at least three ways. First, it shows the fulfillment of God’s great deeds and promises that began with the Chosen People. Second, it signifies and makes visible “the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ.”[i] Lastly, it gives a foretaste of the Christian’s heavenly future by way of a sacramental encounter with heavenly things. These concepts remain deeply profound truths of the Christian mystery, yet their artistic expressions are remarkably familiar and largely accessible for interested adults or the youngest students who delight in looking for clues. The aim of this article, then, is to provide seven interpretive lenses that can turn any tour guide into a mystagogical catechist, allowing the church building and its art to lead up to the heavenly realities they signify.

The rest of this online article is available for current subscribers.

Start your subscription today!


This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting editor@catechetics.com

Articles from the Most Recent Issue

The Spiritual Life: A Personal Vocation
By Simone Rizkallah
He had a name inscribed that no one knows except himself. ( Revelation 19:12) There is a lingering experience of anxiety which I believe is a particularly Christian one. It concerns the problem of vocation. Joseph Ratzinger, in one of his Advent homilies, preached: The movement of becoming a Christian, which begins at baptism and which we have to... Read more
RCIA & Adult Faith Formation: RCIA Adapted for Families—It’s All About the Parents, Part One
By Lori Smith
“For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” Acts 2:39 Challenging times require innovative solutions. These are indeed challenging times, both in our world and in the Church. It is important for lay catechists to shine as beacons of light in the darkness to draw entire... Read more
El RICA adaptado para las familias: todo tiene que ver con los padres de familia: Primera Parte
By Lori Smith
“Porque la promesa ha sido hecha a ustedes y a sus hijos, y a todos aquellos que están lejos: a cuantos el Señor, nuestro Dios, quiera llamar” (Hechos 2,39). Tiempos desafiantes requieren de soluciones innovadoras. Estos son, en verdad, tiempos desafiantes, tanto en el mundo como en la Iglesia. Es importante que los catequistas laicos brillen como... Read more

Pages

Watch Tutorial Videos

We've put together several quick and easy tutorial videos to show you how to use this website.

Watch Now