Pious Ordering of Spaces

Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. St Peter teaches by these words that the body of believers, not a building, is the temple of God. More important than outward adornment of buildings, then, is the inward beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit in the Church. Still, I contend that it does matter how we use our places of public worship, if we have them so designated.

My argument isn’t based on an unreformed notion of sacred and common activity. The consecration of meeting-houses and cathedrals for the Lord’s worship is predicated not on sacred and unclean spaces but on orderly, dignified organization of space.[1] One does not use a courthouse for anything but trials of criminal and civil cases, and this is due to the reverence that society owes to the function of the court, a reverence that the rulers themselves demand for the court, that the law and its courts may not be held in contempt. For the same reason it is surely reasonable for a house to be set apart for the worship of God, not because of any mystical power or intrinsically greater holiness, but rather because due order desires that Divine Service have a place of public honour among men, as it is in the presence of angels.

Signified by baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the supreme things under which we live: the gospel of Christ. The gospel, therefore, is of incomparably greater dignity than all other things that rituals signify, greater than any law because it not only publishes but confers the righteousness of God. For this reason the place dedicated to its ritual proclamation certainly deserves an even greater reverence than the courts of law, embodied in outward order and dignity.

This is why, for instance, I’m still dismayed to find souvenir penny presses in the narthex of Notre-Dame de Paris, within sight of the nave, the pulpit and the Lord’s Table: not because relics or choirs or clerics can sanctify the space but because disorder reveals impiety. Let the Lord’s house of prayer not become a den of robbers; let no one ascend the pulpit to proclaim anything but God’s word. No one will die for touching the Lord’s Table,[2] nor any fall ill for talking in sanctuary about his daily affairs, but I wish these spaces were better-reserved for the liturgy and private prayer. As St Paul wrote, we have our own houses to eat and drink in, without needing to take the same activities to the place where we meet to pray.[3]

The Lord once separated light from darkness and land from sea. In our own time, can we have order?


[1] Nor need there be any liturgical rite for consecrating church buildings: the orderly use of these buildings, marked by a dignified public opening, will itself be sufficient ritual. Ordination and marriage concern persons, not objects, so they differ from the dedication of buildings not in degree but in kind. The ritual ‘sanctification’ of buildings, eucharistic vessels, images, water, palms and ashes has nothing to do with the worship of God.

[2] I find it highly irreverent to set one’s hat, or any such thing of one’s own, upon the table used for the Lord’s Supper, especially during worship. This conclusion is independent of the example of Uzzah.

[3] There is no need whatsoever to introduce a meet-and-greet into Divine Service. The loud chaos that passes for ‘passing the peace’ in both Protestant and Romanist churches – ‘hi, how are you’, &c. – is irreverent. While every congregation ought to be inviting to strangers, and too few parishioners invite people over for a meal or, indeed, have anything to do with those with whom they share the room during worship, catching up with others, however to be commended, does not belong to the public worship of God.

One response to “Pious Ordering of Spaces

  1. Pingback: A Systematic Scheme of Images | Cogito, Credo, Petam

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