Music, because it gives artistic expression to sacred texts, is treasured above all the other arts in the sacred liturgy. However, other art forms have long served to add beauty and solemn dignity to the Church's liturgy, and should not be neglected. Hence, thanks to the generosity of benefactors, other works of art and craftsmanship were commissioned on the occasion of my Ordination last Saturday. It goes without saying that these artefacts belong firstly to the Order, albeit allowed to me for my use.
On Friday 16 September during the Conventual Mass in Blackfriars Oxford, my parents offered a silver chalice and paten to be blessed by the Prior and used by him in that Mass. The chalice is based on a medieval English chalice, c.1250 in the British Museum. It can be viewed online here. The simple scale paten is engraved with the arms of the Order of Preachers. These items were commissioned for the Order from Thomas Fattorini's of Birmingham. The chalice was subsequently used in the Ordination Mass, and again at my first public Mass on 18 September.
On the morning of the Ordination (17 September) Archbishop Tobin, using the traditional texts from the Roman Ritual, blessed the vestments commissioned for the Ordination. A vestment should be a thing of beauty, both in form and materials. As a symbol of Christ's charity the chasuble (so I think) should encompass the priest, and as a sign of his gentle yoke it should have sufficient weight to it so that it has to be borne up. Fine vestments, pain-stakingly embroidered and hand-stitched are seldom seen these days, but many such items used to grace our sacristies and lend dignity to the liturgy. As such, Pietro Siffi of Tridentinum was commissioned to make the chasuble, with matching stole, maniple, burse and chalice veil. It took almost a year to create, but the quality of Mr Siffi's work is unparalleled. The fabric (called Fairford) is from the famed company of Watts & Co., and the shape of the chasuble is that of a full early medieval conical style. Over a hundred embroidered silver and gold doves cover the orphreys, which is thus based on a 9th-century Byzantine design from Torcello's ancient cathedral. Like the doves on the Cross in the apse of San Clemente in Rome, they represent souls resting in the Tree of Life.
In addition, a painting of Saint Lawrence Ruiz of Manila was commissioned from an artist in the Philippines who has previously been mentioned on the NLM, Ryan Carreón Aragón. The painting shows the protomartyr of the Philippines (after whom I am named) carrying a candle as a sign of his slender faith, but a faith that carried him through to win the palm of a martyr's victory. The Rosary, and the presence of Our Lady of the Rosary reminds us of his Dominican connections. On either side of him are Filipino devotees clutching emblems of their livelihood - fish and rice. The painting will be blessed when I visit the parish of San Lorenzo Ruiz on 26 October 2011, and it will be offered in thanksgiving to that Dominican parish in Manila where I spent one year as a Dominican Volunteer before joining the English Province of the Order of Preachers. This painting was photographed and reproduced on the commemorative prayer cards given out after the Ordination.
Finally, the Mass booklets used during the Ordination Mass were adorned on their covers with a pen and ink drawing of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Majesty. Based on medieval tympanums in various cathedrals, it shows Christ surrounded by the symbols of the four Evangelists, but two Dominican dogs with torches leap playfully around it. The talented artist was Louise Frith-Powell, an Oxford-based lay Dominican and friend.
In conclusion, it may be well to remind ourselves that the beauty of art and material things in the sacred liturgy is meant to lead us to contemplate God who is beauty. As the NLM has noted before, Pope Benedict XVI has said that "Works of art are the fruit of human creativity, which question the visible reality, trying to discover its deep meaning and to communicate it through the language of shapes, colours, sounds." The work of art, in short, "is an open door on the infinite," which "opens the eyes of the mind, of the heart." As such, as we reflect on the holiness of beauty in the liturgy, let us pray that it leads to the beauty of holiness in our lives. Let us recall too the warning of St John Chysostom that if we adorn our liturgies with precious items and artworks, we should be all the more mindful to also cloth the naked, feed the hungry, and extend mercy to those in need.
The Flickr set of photos for this Ordination may be viewed here.
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fr. Lawrence Lew OP is currently an assistant university chaplain at St Albert's Catholic Chaplaincy in Edinburgh, Scotland.