Monday, June 20, 2011

"The Attractive Power of Liturgical Beauty"

(Image by John Sonnen) enters the Church by two doors: the door of the intelligence and the door of beauty. The narrow door... is that of intelligence; it is open to intellectuals and scholars. The wider door is that of beauty. Henri Charlier said, in the same vein, "It is necessary to lose the illusion that truth can communicate itself fruitfully without that splendour that is of one nature with it and which is called beauty." (L'Art et la Pensee).

The Church in her impenetrable mystery as the bride of Christ, the Kyrios of Glory, has need of an earthly epiphany (ie. manifestation) accessible to all: this is the majesty of her temples, the splendour of her liturgy and the sweetness of her chants.

Take a group of Japanese tourists visiting Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. They look at the height of the stained-glass windows, the harmony of the proportions. Suppose that at that moment, sacred ministers dressed in orphried velvet copes enter in process for solemn Vespers. The visitors watch in silence; they are entranced: beauty has opened its doors to them. Now the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas and Notre Dame in Paris are products of the same era. They say the same thing. But who among the visitors has read the Summa of St. Thomas? The same phenomenon is found at all levels. The tourists who visit the Acropolis in Athens are confronted with a civilisation of beauty. But who among them can understand Aristotle?

And so it is with the beauty of the liturgy. More than anything else it deserves to be called the splendour of the truth. It opens to the small and the great alike the treasures of its magnificence: the beauty of psalmody, sacred chants and texts, candles, harmony of movement and dignity of bearing. With sovereign art the liturgy exercises a truly seductive influence on souls, who it touches directly, even before the spirit perceives its influence.

-- Dom Gerard Calvet, OSB, Four Benefits of the Liturgy

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