Tuesday, May 24, 2011

M.C. of Archdiocese of Miami on Beauty in the Life of the Church

The following article appeared yesterday on the website of the Archdiocese of Miami, written by Fr. Richard Vigoa, the master of ceremonies for the same archdiocese.

The article is on a subject we have ourselves addressed on NLM a number of times over the years: that beauty matters and it matters for the liturgy; that it is not a shallow or inconsequent pursuit even if it is certainly possible for someone to be shallow about it. On the contrary, as Benedict XVI noted in 2008, "...the beauty of our [liturgical] celebrations can never be sufficiently cultivated, fostered and refined, for nothing can be too beautiful for God, Who is Himself infinite Beauty." (Benedict XVI to priests at Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris, September 13, 2008).

It is yet an all too common reality that liturgical beauty and its pursuit is mistrusted, seen as shallow, unnecessary, misguided or even spiritually dangerous by some -- and this despite the numerous commentaries of Pope Benedict XVI which would testify otherwise. This problem, in my estimation, is rooted in the same problem that leads the actual aesthete down his own shallow path; it is a problem rooted in a failure to recognize or act upon the higher calling of beauty and its relationship to the divine. In that regard then, those who take up a disposition of distrust are quite possibly guilty of a similar shallowness -- only from a different perspective.

Fr. Vigoa's article reviews some of these deeper aspects of liturgical beauty, further touching on another important point related to the liturgical arts: the importance of continuity and patrimony in our tradition.

Beauty in the life of the Church

A reflection on how liturgical vestments, symbols should lead faithful to God

Monday, May 23, 2011
Father Richard Vigoa - The Archdiocese of Miami

The earth is resplendent with the beauty of God. The civil calendar indicates that it is indeed springtime and a look at nature reminds us of this reality made manifest. Our liturgical calendar draws us into the Easter season.

Symbols, in our tradition, point to something outside of ourselves, to a greater reality, a reality of truth and beauty. We are reminded of the Easter Vigil, replete with symbols of light and darkness, life and death, refreshing waters, smells of fragrant incense and sublime music — reaching our every sense with the glory of our Risen Lord.

The 19th Century English Romantic poet John Keats once wrote: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth or ever need to know.” Keats was not exposing readers to a new, earth-shattering perspective on the world, but rather reflecting a long tradition that is echoed through the annals of history from the foundation of the world.

We find the concept of beauty in a privileged place in the works of Plato and the ancient Greeks, the Israelites in the Old Testament and into the Christian period in the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo. Our Lord is quoted by St. Matthew when he says: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matt 6:28-29). It seems Jesus is trying to point to a natural, objective reality concerning beauty. Indeed, beauty is an innate part of the human spirit.

As human beings, we experience God in very tangible ways, for beauty is a hallmark of our encounter with God. Beauty allows us to transcend and see God in our everyday experience.

As Catholics we see this quite clearly in the sacramental life of the Church. In No. 35 of Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI writes: “Like the rest of Christian Revelation, the liturgy is inherently linked to beauty: it is ‘veritatis splendor.’”

The beauty referred to by the Holy Father is not simply relegated to the domain of the sacred arts, but rather points beyond to the beauty that lies in the community united heart and soul in prayerful celebration. It is the beauty of celebrant and congregation in “fully conscious, and active participation” that the Council Fathers invite us to in Vatican Council II’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium).

Liturgically speaking, beauty is of the highest order. Our sacramental “actio” is rooted in beauty. The liturgical arts, whether in the form of sacred music, architecture, art, vestments or vessels, should move us beyond the superficial and mere aesthetics and encourage us to plunge ourselves more deeply into the mystery of our faith.

Pope Benedict XVI has reminded us of the “need to involve, in the experience of faith, not only the mind and the heart, but also the senses through those other aspects of aesthetic taste and human sensitivity that lead man to benefit from the truth with his whole self, ‘mind, soul and body’” (Wednesday General Audience, June 3, 2009).

It is important to note the importance of continuity in our tradition. In Book XI of his “Confessions,” St. Augustine notes that the fluid interaction of time means that none of the three moments are in isolation but rather in interaction with each other — the past, present and future.

Recently, the pope’s master of ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, noted the following: “...The hermeneutic of continuity is always the precise criterion by which to interpret the Church's journey in time. This also applies to the liturgy. As a pope cites in his documents popes who preceded him in order to indicate continuity in the magisterium of the Church, so in the liturgical sphere a pope also uses liturgical vestments and sacred objects of the popes who preceded him to indicate the same continuity also in the lex orandi. The important thing is not so much antiquity or modernity, as the beauty and dignity, important components of every liturgical celebration” (Interview given to L’Osservatore Romano, June 26, 2008).

In other words, there is a stream of consciousness that tethers us as Catholics with those gone before us in an unbroken tradition. The vestments and vessels we use, the words we say and pray, the music we sing, the buildings we worship in and the art we craft and display are all a part of the sacred patrimony that connects us as a People of God.

Beauty calls forth the best in us and leads us to a search beyond ourselves and to the transcendent reality of our faith. Many times, we find a struggle in the modern world between the sacred and the profane. We are called to be careful to not allow the profane to replace the sacred mysteries we celebrate.

Pope Paul VI noted: “The secular, the cheap, the inferior, and the inartistic are not meant to cross the threshold of God’s temple” (Address to the Italian Society of St. Cecilia, Rome, April 15, 1971).

What then will we leave as a legacy of our generation? Will we continue to follow Prosper of Aquitaine’s maxim Lex orandi, Lex credendi (the rule of prayer is the rule of belief) and allow it to be the benchmark of beauty, goodness and truth?

Every time we make the sign of the cross, genuflect, kneel, bow we are invited to remember that beauty is indeed, “ever ancient, ever new” (The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book X).

Father Vigoa is priest-secretary and master of ceremonies for Archbishop Thomas Wenski.

Beauty in the life of the Church

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