Murals That “Detract” From Christ

Do murals have a place in Catholic churches? Does the fact that Michelangelo’s art adorns the Sistine Chapel, for example, “detract” from the celebration of Mass there? Could be a good thing that Fr. Benito Hernandez isn’t in Rome.

Fr Hernandez had a wall built between a sanctuary mural of Our Lady of Gualalupe and the assembly.

We decided that the sanctuary’s original background detracted from the central focus of the Holy Presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the altar.

After several months of fruitless attempts at persuasion, the parishioners went public: a petition, a web site, and a press conference. The latter was a mistake, according to Archbishop Charles Chaput, who responded to the petition:

I have full confidence in Father Benito’s leadership of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. As pastor, his decision to remodel the sanctuary was appropriate. I must also frankly share with you that recourse to the Denver Post has weakened rather than strengthened the credibility of your petition.

I can appreciate being bothered by a decision to go to the secular press, but the archbishop comes off as petty here, as he did in his reply to NCR:

Mediating (a parish matter) in the press would be quite strange; and the fact that this group seeks to do so unfortunately only weakens the integrity of their case.

The parish deacon isn’t too impressed with the protest either. During a homily last June William Martinzez told the protesters they were choosing their Hispanic culture over their faith.

Mercy Cruz, one of the active parishioners:

It’s not so much religion, it’s art. If someone comes to your home and tears up pictures of your mom, that would be disrespectful. It’s the same thing.

Check out this image of the mural behind its wall. Consider also the images of before and after. Looks like there was a tabernacle issue, too. Maybe a throne for the priest as well.

You know, issues of church renovations are often contentious, touching on one very positive aspect of liturgy, namely the lay ownership of it. Even good plans require vast amounts of persuasion. And when diplomacy is not in the pastor’s toolkit, you’re going to have problems. I can’t imagine various comments directed at the protesters are going to help matters. What Father Hernandez has done is to choose a decorative ideal (I can’t see anything redemptive on his white wall) over unity, a quality we actually profess every Sunday at Mass. Win the battle, lose the war, it seems to me.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Art, Church News, Ministry. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Murals That “Detract” From Christ

  1. Mike says:

    Yet more evidence, as if any were needed, that Chaput is the fool he was thought to be when he was made a bishop. That pastor has no business being in a parish.

  2. Jose Lara says:

    The Ecumenical Council of Nicea decreed that effacing, covering or destroying venerated images of God, Mary, Saints and angels was forbidden, and those who did it were called heretics. Are we witnessing heresy or its enabling at the highest levels of the Catholic Church?

  3. Miguelon says:

    It hard to imagine any person of faith, especially ordained clergyman, applying white paint to the face of God, or hiding the Mother of Jesus behind a wall in a dirty room. Worse is that an Archbishop calls this sacrilege “remodeling” and mindlessly “stands by his man” even as they return to arrogant colonialism and destroy that which is sacred to a whole people. wouldjesushidehismother.com is an apt name for the website of those fighting this. For anyone with an ounce of faith or common sense, it’s a rhetorical question.

  4. As someone who works closely with Hispanic people, I read this and wept. Not only was a holy image and a tradition of the community defaced, but this is a clear slap in the face to people who consider themselves “Gualdalupano” – people of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

    A Hispanic friend of mine explained that Catholics from Mexico come to Christ through Guadalupe – as the embodiment of a Mexican-Indian woman, she is their cultural door. As such, her image might seem inappropriate according to the “proper” liturgical rules of decor (that nothing should distract from the Eucharist) but if her presence is how they understand Jesus – and Eucharist, it is an aid to their faith, not a distraction. Only those for whom her image is not sacred and part of a racial memory would find the mural inapproriate.

    The small standard painting that now hangs to the side on the bare wall (it and the mural are both better shown in the photos here: http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/denver-catholics-fight-restore-guadalupe-mural does not include the important figure of Juan Diego – symbolizing their culture’s response to the call of the Lady.
    It also needs to be understood within the context of the Mexican art tradition of murals. This was a cultural rape, devoid of sensitivity of any kind.

  5. Frances FrainAguirre says:

    We have a pastor who has called our mural “teatro”. The Last Supper is re-enacted at every Mass-teatro! Aren’t both of these”teatros” God’s way of coming among us? How can one way be diminshed while the other becomes redundant when Jesus is already present in the tabernacle? Vatican Council II placed emphasis on the re-enacting of the Last Supper not on the presence of a tabernacle! Both the mural and the Last Supper are theatre!

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