Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise

St Cyprian's church

Back in 2008, the NLM published this essay by Fr Aidan Nichols OP on the "Archi-Liturgical Culture Wars". Readers of the NLM may thus be interested to learn that this essay has now been published as part of a larger collection of essays by Fr Aidan on Liturgy and the Arts, entitled 'Lost in Wonder'. The book is available here, and the cover illustration (shown on the right) is of the interior of St Cyprian's church by Sir Ninian Comper.

In the Introduction to this volume, Fr Aidan explains that the title of this collection comes from Wesley's hymn, 'Love Divine, all loves excelling', which ends with a vision of heaven in which we are "lost in wonder, love, and praise". The subject of our wonder, love, and praise is God, of course, but more specifically, God, whose beauty and glory we see in heaven. As such, Fr Aidan says that "wonder testifies to the sheer facticity of the divine beauty; love to its capacity to draw to itself our desire; praise to our recognition of its supreme excellence". This beauty of God "has made itself known not only in creation, but, above all, in the work of salvation, centred as this is on the Cross and Resurrection of the incarnate Word, and in the consummation of creation to which the work of salvation points the way". 

Hence, one can say that we are saved by Beauty, that is, by the splendour of God's truth, his goodness, and his saving work. Indeed, St Thomas says that beauty is appropriated to the Son since it is in Him that we see the form of divine Beauty, and by Whom we are saved. It follows, then, that as Fr Aidan says, "the Liturgy of the Church is the principal act of celebrating the divine beauty". As such, it should be marked in its outward signs by beauty, in as far as is humanly possible. Or, as Fr Aidan puts it: "Hence the disaster which overcomes the liturgical life when Philistia is made to coincide with Zion, for the divine glory needs its analogues in congruent signs".

With such an Introduction, the rest of the book follows in a similar vein with essays on liturgical theology,  ruminations on "what we can learn from the Mass of St Pius V", and various considerations on beauty in architecture, iconography, sacred art, and church music. We should, of course, offer to God worship "in spirit and in truth" that is marked by beauty, care, and reverence. He deserves the very best we can offer him. Nevertheless, I found these words, which concluded one of Fr Aidan's essays, noteworthy: "We can, however, console ourselves: the only perfect Liturgy known to doctrine is that celebrated at the throne of the Lamb".

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