Built of Living Stones 44-45: Beauty

Let’s look at the last of five principles:

§ 44 § The church building should be beautiful. The external and internal structure of the church building should be expressive of the dignified beauty of God’s holy people who gather there and of the sacred rites they celebrate. Liturgical art and architecture reflect and announce the presence of the God who calls the community to worship and invite believers to raise their minds and hearts to the One who is the source of all beauty and truth. Art or architecture that draws more attention to its own shape, form, texture, or color than to the sacred realities it seeks to disclose is unworthy of the church building.(Cf. Letter to Artists 6)

This beauty is not a quality that expresses itself in isolation in the artistic work itself. The footnots cites a good bit of section 6 of Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists, but this concluding paragraph of the section was most convincing to me:

Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world. It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning. That is why the Gospel fullness of truth was bound from the beginning to stir the interest of artists, who by their very nature are alert to every “epiphany” of the inner beauty of things.

The beauty we speak of in sacred art and architecture is the beauty which leads us to God and to the experience of the Divine. My sense is that much art created outside of the realm of the sacred may well communicate something of God. I suspect that some art which would be deemed “rejected by the world,” but created in the context of faith, will be the conduit for that “epiphany” spoken of here.

And let’s be careful in our application of this. We experience art in its context, and remain open to God. We cannot reduce it to pragmatism based on subjective experience. In other words, this architectural style communicated beauty for others–it will work for us, too. No: I think the fruits determine, not the history. The history, however, can point us to what is more likely to work–and that is where architects and their training can help guide a community.

§ 45 § The Church’s great treasury of art and architecture helps it to transcend the limitations of any one culture, region, or period of time.(Cf. SC 123, 129; Eucharisticum Mysterium 24) The Church is not exclusively identified with the forms of the past, but is ever open to embrace newer forms that nonetheless have grown organically from her rich heritage of artistic expression. Great religious art fosters the life of prayer of contemporary assemblies who, while rooted in prior artistic traditions, hear God’s unceasing call to proclaim the reign of Christ in the languages of a particular time and place.

Every artistic form that is at once capable of faithfully expressing sacred realities and serving the Church’s liturgical action with the highest quality of the arts can find a home in the Church’s house of prayer.(Cf. SC 124; GIRM 292, 295, 306, and 311-312)

Count me a skeptic on organic growth as described here. I prefer a more open and spiritual test of “what works.” That last sentence suggests it is most of all about rendering art with the highest possible quality.

Tomorrow: Chapter Two begins.

All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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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.
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One Response to Built of Living Stones 44-45: Beauty

  1. Liam says:

    A reminder: beauty is not only visual, but also aural. Both dimensions should evoke an enlargement of the spirit.

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