An American priest and liturgical design consultant, Father Richard Vosko observes that spaces or things become sacred only when they can foster transformation in the person experiencing them.

A reputed designer and architectural consultant on Catholic, Christian and Jewish places of worship since the 1970s, Fr Vosko believes that the attempt to create spaces conducive to good liturgy starts at the front door of the church building.

In a recent interview with the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Fr Vosko said language is important when it comes to helping people understand liturgy, art and architecture.

Commenting on the overuse of the word ‘sacred’, he said sacred spaces cannot be built – to obtain that title of ‘sacred’, the object has to cause a transformation in the person experiencing it; however, a building can be designed with the hope that it will lead someone to that kind of transformation.

According to Vosko, church architecture reflects the notion held by many Catholics about the vertical nature of the Church where God is at the top, the faithful below that and non-believers at the bottom of the hierarchy.

When this concept was used to build churches, it created a tiered system where the clergy presided at the top end of the church symbolising heaven, with the believers below in the pews. Those who weren’t in the pews were separated from God.

Vosko says, “The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy taught us that in ‘the liturgy, the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members’.”

The interior design of the church is critical for this teaching to be manifested in church architecture. Having worked on dozens of projects across many denominations and faiths, Fr Vosko urges that the location of the priest or worship leader should be among the people.

Churches over the ages have been built along different architectural styles, and have great theological, liturgical and aesthetic value, which should be preserved and enhanced where possible. Church layouts that divide worshippers into sections in the building are actually hindering the worship of God and should be re-ordered.

 Vosko also underlined the need to consider the liturgical and theological symbolism of other features in churches when designing or redesigning them.