Monday, March 12, 2012

A Brief Meditation on the Importance of the Vocation of the Catholic Artisan

The proper sphere of a Catholic craftsman who is responsive to the appeal of the liturgical movement is to translate its doctrine into terms of form and color, and so help in presenting it to his fellow men through the medium of the senses. Let us be quite clear about this. His work is not that of a teacher, but of a translator of others' teaching. His normal function is to get on with the job without explaining what he is doing or why he is doing it.

He may well consider the job important enough in itself, if he accepts the definition of Catholic philosophy that all truth has to pass through the senses before reaching the understanding. Nihil in intellectu nisi prius fuerit in sensu.
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The above quotation comes from Geoffrey Webb, author of The Liturgical Altar, being published in Liturgical Arts Quarterly (vol. 10, no. 2) in 1942 in an article entitled "Inspired Symbolism".

Webb's statement comes within the context of a time and a journal that was immersed in the application of the Liturgical Movement and so is arguably a bit particular in its scope. I believe we might tweak Webb's statement to speak more generally in this way: "The proper sphere of a Catholic craftsman who is responsive to the appeal of the Church is to translate its doctrine into terms of form and color, and so help in presenting it to his fellow men through the medium of the senses." Of course, what Webb says within the context of the 20th century Liturgical Movement can likewise be said of the task of the Catholic craftsman in the context of the 21st century and the new liturgical movement.

All of this brings to bear another point; one which we have consistently tried to bring to the fore here: whether we are speaking of sacred architecture, sacred vestments, sacred music or any other liturgical accoutrements, while they are not ends in themselves (and should not be so approached), these things do indeed matter for they not only relate to the Faith, they relay it and help to incarnate it.

The liturgical arts are a type of liturgical language. As such, they must be taken (and approached) both seriously and substantively.

Photo courtesy Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts