Ritual patterns of celebrating – A comprehensive model

Pontifical Liturgy Institute

Ritual patterns of celebrating –
A comprehensive model

Taught byDaniel McCarthy
I serve as a liturgical consultant for building and renovating churches.

Seminar conducted in English: 94515 (3 ECTS)
This page has been prepared for the Autumn semester 2019.

Brief description

photo of Fr Daniel P McCarthy OSB

We shall consider how to develop a prolonged ritual narrative whose every part presents in synthesis the saving mysteries in rites, symbols and texts proper to each part. These intrinsic qualities are expressed outwardly in the ritual, interpreted in the artistic programme and supported by architectural design. The principles of the ritual model are drawn from 1) the three primary places of Prof. Crispino Valenziano and his five dimensions, 2) my own research into ritual patterns developed during Vatican II 3) and from the course in liturgical hermeneutics I teach at the Liturgy Institute London.


By the end of this seminar the student will be able to …

  1. describe the three pre-eminent monuments as developed by Prof. Valenziano: the font, ambo and altar-ciborium.
  2. describe the five dimensions developed by Prof. Valenziano, the incarnational and eschatological axis, the evangelical axis, the axis of self-transcendence, movement over time and the hierarchical dimension of ritual.
  3. describe several arrangements of church coming from the discussions at Vatican II, the strengths of each and limitations.
  4. describe how to overcome the tension between gathering around a central altar and the two-part structure of Liturgy.
  5. describe the four interpretative keys: anamnesis, epiclesis, eschatology, theosis.
  6. apply each of the above in a critical reflection on the ritual celebrated in a parish of one’s choice and provide suggestions for further development of the ritual in its artistic and architectural context. 

Structure of the Seminar

The ritual model consists of four major areas. First, the course begins with the three primary monuments of a church by developed Prof. Crispino Valenziano: the baptismal font, the ambo and the altar-ciborium. These correspond with the three major areas of a church, the font in the baptistery, the ambo in the hall and the altar-ciborium on the dais. Second, the course considers five dimensions from Prof. Valenziano. The incarnational and eschatological dimension extends from the rising of the sun to its setting. The evangelical dimension stretches from the side of the mid-day sun shining its rays across the church. The dimension of theosis is established by the height of the mid-day sun and extends to its nadir below along the axis mundi. The dimension of time and movement is established by the movement of the sun in a church throughout the course of a day, which suggests a pattern for processions. The hierarchical dimension is expressed by the presidential chair. Third, I present from my own research several ways of arranging a church, especially the two-part ritual of the mass moving from the liturgy of the word celebrated at the ambo and chairs to the eucharistic liturgy at the altar. Fourth, I present four interpretative keys, anamnesis, epiclesis, eschatology and theosis. These interpretative keys are intrinsic to the ritual actions, interpreted in the artistic narration and supported by the architecture design of a church. The goal is a prolonged ritual narrative whose every part presents the saving mysteries in synthesis using rites, symbols and texts proper to each part. Students have regular opportunity to discuss these principles, apply them in a critical examination of a church of their choice and then to develop recommendations for further developing the ritual narrative in its artistic and architectural context. 

Learning activities

Lectures by the instructor, followed by discussion among the students who then apply the principles to the ritual celebrated in a church of the student’s choice. 


Martedì, ottobre 8, 15, 22, 29, 2019
Martedì, novembre 5, 12, 2019

ore: 14:30-17:50

Primo periodo: 14:30-15:15
Pausa: 15:15-15:20
Secondo periodo: 15:20-16:05
Pausa: 16:05-16:15
Terza periodo: 16:15-17:00
Pausa: 17:00-17:05
Quarto periodo: 17:05-17:50

Office hours

Please do not phone the instructor. Rather, contact the instructor via email at: danielmccarthyosb AT mac DOT com.

The instructor is available outside of class time by appointment.


Institutio generalis Missalis Romani, inMissale Romanum ex decreto Sacrosancti Oecumenici Concili Vaticani II instauratum auctoritate Pauli PP.VI promulgatum Ioannis Pauli PP.II cura recognitum,Editio typica tertia emendata, Typis Vaticanis, Città del Vaticano 3em2008.

♦ McCARTHY, D.P., Verbum ac Spiritus: duplici de munere praesidendi coetui orationemque dirigendi. Word and Spiriton the double roleof presiding in the assemblyand directing the prayer, St Michael’s Abbey Press, Farnborough, England forthcoming.

McCARTHY, D.P. – J.G. Leachman, Come into the LightChurch interiors for the celebration of liturgy, (DREI, Liturgiam provehens architectura : Architecture Promoting Liturgy) Canterbury Press – The Tablet, Norwich – London 2016.

♦ BARBA, M., L’Institutio Generalisdel Missale Romanum.Analisi storico-redazionale dei riti d’ingresso,di offertorio e di communione(Monumenta Studia Instrumenta Liturgica 40), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 2005.

♦ BARBA, M., Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani.Textus – Synopsis – Variationes(Monumenta Studia Instrumenta Liturgica 45), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 2006.


Attending the sessions and participating in the discussion accounts for 50% of the final mark. The other 50% is for the final paper in which the student applies the principles learned to the ritual celebrated in a church of one’s choice and gives a critical appreciation and even suggestions on how to develop the ritual and its artistic and architectural context. The body of the paper is to be between 10 pages of text, but not more than 15, although images of the church may be included in an appendix that goes beyond the 15 pages following the norms of the PIL (without binding). The norms of the PIL may be downloaded here.

Criteria for evaluation: The final paper IS assessed based on the following criteria:

  1. understanding of the method and quality of its application to the particular prayers,
  2. logical organisation of the material and its clear presentation,
  3. accuracy of information and analysis,
  4. consistency in style of notes and bibliography,
  5. sources preferably in their original languages,
  6. theological accuracy.

Students are invited to submit a draft of their paper on or before 5 November 2019 and I’ll review them, make comments and return them to the student by placing the draft in the box corresponding to the first letter of the student’s surname in the office of the Registrar (Segreteria). Because of my absense beginning on 16 November, the papers are to be handed in to the Registrar (Segreteria) before I return on 4 February 2020. After his departure on 16 November, the instructor will not be available for further consultation until his return on 4 February 2020.

If the student would like to receive back a copy with notations and comments the submission should be accompanied by such a request. A copy will be left in the office of the registrar (segreteria).

Academic program

The program of studies, course descriptions and calendar for the academic year 2019-2020 is available for download here.


This course is offered in English at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy housed at:

Piazza Cavalieri di Malta, 5
00153 Roma, Italia

See map below.

Schedule in detail

Prepared for academic year 2019-2020

Encontro 1: 8 ottobre 2019

After an initial review of the course, I begin with a presentation: Don’t begin with three pieces of furniture in a sanctuary. I continue with an historical overview of the different configurations over time of the Lateran basilica, the Basilica of St Peter and the basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, and their mutual influence on one another over time.

Additional bibliography:
• de BLAAUW, S.L., Cultus et decor: Liturgia e architettura nella Roma tardoantica e medievale, 2 vol. (Studi e Testi 355, 356), Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 1994.
• de BLAAUW, S.L., “The Lateran and Vatican Altar Dispositions in Medieval Roman Church Interiors: A case of models in liturgical planning”, in Cinquante années d’études médiévales: À la confluence de nos disciplines, Actes du Colloque organisé à l’occasion du cinquantenaire du CESCM, Poiters, 1-4 septembre 2003, ed. C. Arrignon – M.-H. Debiès – C. Galderisi – E. Palazzo (Culture & société médiévales), Brepols, Turnhout 2005, 201-217.
• FILIPPI, Giorgio – Sible de BLAAUW, “San Paolo fuori le mura: la disposizione liturgica fino a Gregorio Magno”, in Atti del colloquio internazionale Arredi di culto e disposizione liturgiche a Roma da Costantino a Sisto IV(Istituto Olandese a Roma, 304 dicembre 1999), , Mededelingen van het NederlandsInstituut te Rome, 59 (2000) 5-25.

Encontro 2: 15 ottobre 2019

I continue the presentation of the three primary elements:

  • Human experiences: personal illumination, ongoing maturation, interpersonal communion
  • Places: baptistery, hall, dais
  • Monuments: font, ambo, altar-ciborium
  • Qualities: light, word, consummation

I present the human experience of personal illumination and the architecture of light in the baptistery whose monument is the baptismal font (including a chrismatorium).

I continue with extensive presentations on the experience of ongoing maturation at the word proclaimed from the monument of the empty tomb, the ambo, in the hall where the Christian community, the church, gathers.

Encontro 3: 22 ottobre 2019

We review the principles presented thus far which you may use in assessing a church building for its suitableness for the celebration of liturgy. These are the following:

  • Is the arrangement focused on three pieces of furniture in a sanctuary?
  • Are all three primary elements fully developed as human experiences, places, monuments and qualities?

Before I continue with a presentation of the third primary human experience of intercommunion shared in the consummation of the meal celebrated at the altar with its ciborium located on a dais, I would like to present the five dimensions according to Prof. Crispino Valenziano:

1.A. Sunrise corresponds to the comings of Christ in humility in the flesh in the incarnation; and in glory at the consummation of time; and in the present as he comes in word and sacrament.

1.B. Sunset at the end of the day suggests the end of time, the end of history, the advent of eternity, eschatology.

1. The journey of the sun throughout the day from sunrise to sunset establishes the longitudional dimension of a church and corresponds to the several comings of Christ and to eschatology.

2. The mid-day sun corresponds to two dimensions. As the mid-day sun shines across the church it establishes the latitude or width of the building. Because the gospel is proclaimed in this way, it is the evangelical axis of the church.

3. The mid-day sun shines from on high and so corresponds to the height of the church.

4. The sun establishes these three dimensions of a church, its length, breadth and height, and the movement of the sun over time establishes a fourth dimension which suggests a pattern of movement for processions in the church.

5. The fifth dimension is hiearchy which is expressed by the presidential chair.

I begin the presentation of the third primary human experience of intercommunion shared in the consummation of the meal celebrated at the altar with its ciborium located on a dais, by turning to anamnesis.

In presenting the altar with its ciborium, I also present the epicletic dimension of the eucharistic liturgy expressed architecturally in the ciborium with its image of the Holy Spirit hovering over the gifts of food and wine placed on the altar below. At this point I also present the dome or crossing of a church as an expression of the epicletic dimension over the liturgical assembly and the axis mundi, “pole of the world”, as the place of personal transformation or theosis. I also present how this extended ritual narrative collapses when the altar is placed in the geographical centre under the dome or crossing.

Encontro 4: 29 ottobre 2019

Encontro 5: 5 novembre 2019

Encontro 6: 12 novembre 2019

Materials continued

I found these two volumes helpful:

de BLAAUW, S.L., “In View of the Light: A hidden principle in the orientation of early christian church building”, in Medieval Art, ed. P. Piva, tr. C. Cawthra – J.-A. Titmarsh, Jaca Book (Folio Society) Milano 2010, 14-48 (of “In Vista della Luce: Un principio dimenticato nell’orientamento dell’edificio di culto paleocristiano”, tr. C. Tavanti, in Arte MedievaleLe Vie dello Spazio Liturgico, Jaca Book, Milano 2010, 14-45, 262-63 [tr. of original: Met het oog op het lichtEen vergeten principe in de oriëntatie van het vroegchristelijk kerkgebouw {Nijmeegse Kunsthistorische Cahiers 2}, Nimjegen UP, Nijmegen 2000]).

TAFT, R.F., “ ‘Cielo in Terra’ Spazio e orientamento nelle liturgie dell’Oriente e dell’Occidente: convergenze e divergenze,” in Spazio liturgico e orientamento. Atti del IV Convegno Liturgico Internazionale Bose 1-3 giugno 2006, ed. G. Boselli, (Comunità di Bose: Edizioni Qiqajon 2007) 217-239.

 “Cielo in Terra”

Spazio e orientamento nelle liturgie d’oriente e d’occidente: convergenze e divergenze

You may purchase our books from Sr. Sylvia or the English desk at:

Pauline multimedia
via del Mascherino, 94
00193 Roma
Tel. 06.6872354
Fax: 06.68308093
S.ga Sylvia: Inglese@paoline-multimedia.it
General enquiries: centro@paoline-multimedia.it


© 16 July 2019 by Daniel McCarthy