Friday, May 01, 2015

“Beauty and Tradition in the ‘Church of the Poor’ ” - An Interesting Article on Catholic World Report

Abbot Nicholas Zachariadis and Benjamin Mann, who are both members of an Eastern Catholic monastery, Holy Resurrection in Saint Nazianz, Wisconsin, have recently published an article on the website of Catholic World Report, on beauty in the liturgy and the truly Christian sense of humility. (Mr Mann, who is soon to receive his monastic tonsure, is also the author of a regular column at Catholic Exchange.) The article contains a number of valuable insights and observations, of which I will give just a few selections here; click the link above for the rest. Especially interesting is the middle section, which is under the subheading “Poor Church, Yes – Iconoclastic Church, No!”

(I am very much in favor of always keeping the combox open, and I try to keep a very light hand on moderating the discussions in it. A gentle reminder, which I know is not necessary for the vast majority of our readers: keep the comments charitable, especially in regards to the Holy Father, and germane to the topic at hand.)
While it has lost much of its momentum since the heyday of the 1970s and 1980s, the iconoclastic approach to liturgy and religious art has not gone away: indeed, it remains deeply ingrained, at the parish level, in much of the Western world. Today, there is a danger that this de-sacralizing attitude will be revived – and Benedict XVI’s efforts toward authentic liturgical renewal rolled back – by a misreading of Pope Francis’ words and ideals: an interpretation that casts Christian humility and liturgical beauty as opposites in tension, or even outright contradiction, rather than as potentially harmonious counterparts.
Notably, this assertion would have been repugnant to Pope Francis’ namesake St. Francis of Assisi – who wrote in his Testament that he wanted “above all” for Christ’s Eucharistic presence “to be honored and venerated and reserved in places which are richly ornamented.” This is in keeping with the saint’s entire view of nature and creation as showing forth the glory of God: for Il Poverello, there is no question of demonstrating our own humility through minimalistic worship. Rather, we show our ultimate poverty before God precisely by offering all created beauty – symbolically present in the Christian temple – back to its Creator. ...
Examples could be marshaled and multiplied, to show that Christian humility and poverty do not require the abandonment of classical beauty and traditional liturgical forms. And such examples would by no means be confined to history. Across the globe even today, many of the world’s humblest and poorest Christian populations – those of the Middle East, or India, for instance – are among those most intent on maintaining their long-established forms of liturgy, art, and architecture, in all their outward splendor.
Ironically, far from expressing a sense of global or social solidarity, the insistence on a minimalistic and exaggeratedly “humble” religious aesthetic actually seems to be a form of modern Western parochialism among an educated elite. The movement toward a contrived informality and secularity in liturgy and art did not come from the poor or the ordinary faithful, but from a class of trained professionals who saw themselves as the most qualified readers of the signs of the times.
Their basic aspiration – to engage and evangelize the modern world more effectively – was good, and remains essential. Yet the result of their iconoclastic experiments can be seen in the “devastated vineyard” of closed seminaries, barren sanctuaries, and dwindling religious orders. The Western Church has already tried the reductive, desacralizing approach to humility and poverty, which claims that the Church must put off her outward signs of holiness and simply meet modern man on his own terms – and garb – in the secular city. Whatever its intentions may have been, this project has proved to be a dismal failure.

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