Beauty and The Beast

Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder.

Let me say that in another way. In liturgy, in our sacred worship, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder.

A “beautiful” liturgy is not one that satisfies the taste of the consumer. It is not a marketing promotion. It is not a consumer good…God forbid that we see the liturgy of the Church as a supermarket, where we can pick and choose elements according to our taste and will!

The liturgy is, first and foremost, the work of God, of adoration, reception, bestowal of grace, of Christ Himself. It is a mistake, really, to apply secular and cultural standards of aesthetic taste to the liturgy.

The spiritual beauty of the sacred liturgy transforms the lives of Catholics. As the Pope (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) said in an August 2002 message “The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes.”

When the spiritual beauty of the sacred liturgy has transformed a soul, man can then create things of beauty…. art, architecture, poetry, and music.

As we approach Holy Week, as we help in our parish and prepare for the Easter Triduum, we reflect on the importance of the sacred. In our liturgy. In our music in our Church, our icons, our art, our tabernacles, our statues, the vestments of the priests, the candles, the chant, the architecture.

Sometimes, the banal and vulgar invade our sanctuaries…, in what Pope John Paul II called in Ecclesia de Eucharistia a misguided sense of creativity.

As we restore the sacred, the beauty, the objective beauty of the sacred liturgy, we restore man’s faith; we set an example to the world; we inspire men in faith and life and art.

By objective beauty, I mean not following a fashion in liturgy but holding the sacred to a time worthy non secular other words..what has been done by the Church in the past? Why? Does this lift our hearts and minds towards God? Does this teach the faithful?

Is this a sacred action surpassing all others (Sacrosanctum Concilium) ?

Beginning with external fidelity to the rubrics, and leading to internal union with Christ, for those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:24).

If the beauty of vestments, tabernacles, statues, chant, the words and gestures of the mass, if this beauty is not of grave importance, if it is inspired by passing fad or whim or personal taste, then why has the Church invested so much of its history to fostering these ..this liturgy, these sacred arts?

God has placed a desire in the human soul to create beautiful things. God wishes for man to share in His masterpiece of creation… that which is good and beautiful. We can foster this excellence, we can seek beauty in Holy Week, in Maundy Thursday, the Chrism Mass, the Altar of Repose, the Passion, the Stations of the Cross, the Easter Vigil, in the celebration of the sacred liturgy, by the enhancement of the sacred arts.

We can be sure that whoever sneers at Beauty’s name . . . can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love. Hans Urs von Balthasar, preface to The Glory of the Lord

Beauty in the liturgy results from order. This is why the liturgy, by its very nature, demands order.

Order in externals, in sacred arts. Order in the liturgy.
Not in sacred arts that attempt to mirror art in the secular world, that appeal to me (or worse..speak to me) . If a priest is asking someone to buy candles and candle stands from the two dollar shop, for the altar of repose, isn’t something awry? There is very little beauty in the cheap, utilitarian plastic of these items. No time or trouble taken to polish brass for God’s glory.
Am I picky? I hope not. I just know, from Church teaching, from experience, from reading, that the sacred should be sacred..that is to say, special, set apart, beautiful, uplifting, food for the soul, that sursum corda..and of God and not of man. Even if work is required to produce the sacred arts. Pray and work. Ora et labora. For the glory of God.
A homily I heard talked about the church building in a parish. How it was beautiful but, when the people left, it was empty. The point being that we, the people, are the Church.
But our local parish church, the building, isn’t empty, is it? We have the Blessed Sacrament, the Real Presence of Jesus, in our tabernacle. And thus, Jesus, the mystery of God, not, we the people, should be the focus of our worship.
The practice of goodness is accompanied by spontaneous spiritual joy and moral beauty. Likewise, truth carries with it the joy and splendor of spiritual beauty. Truth is beautiful in itself. Truth in words, the rational expression of the knowledge of created and uncreated reality, is necessary to man, who is endowed with intellect. But truth can also find other complementary forms of human expression, above all when it is a matter of evoking what is beyond words: the depths of the human heart, the exaltations of the soul, the mystery of God. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2500

The sacred arts can enhance our understanding of this teaching..teaching on the Blessed Sacrament, on worship, the experience of being inspired and pulled away frorm our every day world towards love and adoration of Our Lord…so inspired by Christ, by Beauty, that we leave the church, leave the building that is filled with Christ’s presence, and spread our faith, our love, our adoration of Christ with others.
Sacred art is true and beautiful when its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God – the surpassing invisible beauty of truth and love visible in Christ, who “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature,” in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”[296] This spiritual beauty of God is reflected in the most holy Virgin Mother of God, the angels, and saints. Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier. CCC 2502

5 thoughts on “Beauty and The Beast”

  1. Is it ok to share this post with a couple of friends Leonie. You have articulated so beautifully some of the many reasons we have remained at a beautiful orthodox little parish despite moving some distance from it. I always enjoy reading yourposts, have been a terrible corrspondant but hope to be better!God BlessShannon

  2. wild applauding and gratitiude. VERY well said, I am sharing this on FB and linking to this from my blog:) Thank you, I am printing this out and keeping the resources.

  3. Of course you can share, Shannon! So good to hear from you. :-)And, Molly, what can I say? Thank you for understading..I know we are of like minds when it comes to liturgy.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on the Liturgy. I have been following along for awhile. Your style is informative without being denigrating. We are in the midst of a "discussion" with extended family about the Traditional Mass and your posts have helped me solidify my thoughts. Thanks!Betsy (from the old Catholic Unschoolers Group)

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