Built of Living Stones 155-157: The Special Requirements of Liturgical Art

The bishops make a distinction between liturgical and devotional art. Do you agree? Can art be both?

§ 155 § In order to create art that truly serves the liturgy, the artist must have an understanding of and reverence for the liturgy. There is both a distinction and a connection between devotional art and that designed for public liturgy. Liturgical arts are integrally related to the sacraments of the Church while devotional arts are designed to enrich the spiritual life of the community and the personal piety of its members. As the devotions of the Church are derived from the liturgy and lead to it,(SC 13) so devotional art must be in harmony with the liturgy, respect its nature, and draw people to its celebration. “The primary norm is that sacred art be functional, that is, the felicitous expression of what the liturgy is meant to be, the worship of God and the language of the  community at prayer.”(Pope Paul VI, Address to participants in a national congress of diocesan liturgical commissions of Italy (January 4, 1967) (DOL 539, no. 4319))Parishes will want both liturgical and devotional art.

Functional? Is this the proper description? Does art “function” by expressing liturgy, worship, and prayer? I agree that good sacred art should facilitate the spiritual and liturgical life of the Church. The word “function” makes me nervous. Too pragmatic. Not all art is result-oriented.

The Blessed Mother features prominently among the subjects of sacred art:

§ 156 § Prominent among Christian devotions is piety directed to Mary, the Mother of God. Since the earliest days of the Church God’s people have grown in their love of Mary as their mother, given to them by Jesus on the cross. Venerated and loved, invoked and imitated, she is a model for Christian faith, a support and refuge in time of need, and an eschatological image of what the Church hopes to become.(Lumen Gentium 66) Although this devotion differs essentially from the prayer of adoration directed to Christ, to the Spirit, and to the Father, it is one that is deeply imbedded in the hearts of Catholics.

§ 157 § The special and unique dignity of the Mother of God has been expressed in the devotional art of the Church. Artists have painted her image in wondrously meditative fashion as a “sign of sure hope and solace for the pilgrim People of God.”(Lumen Gentium 68) At the same time, veneration of Mary, like that of all other devotions, leads clearly to the worship of her Son. The location, style, and importance of Marian images in the church demonstrate the intimate connection she has with the eucharistic liturgy of Christ, as well as its distinctions.

How to judge when Marian devotion does not lead to Christ? Must it always be so?

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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