Built of Living Stones 253-256: Preservation of the Artistic Heritage of the Church

A great deal of confidence in blending tradition with modern creativity:

§ 253 § The coexistence of past and present called for in renovating and restoring church art and architecture is not without rich, multilayered and successful precedent. “The Church is intent on keeping the works of art and the treasures handed down from the past and, when necessary, on adapting them to new needs.”(GIRM 289) In many parishes, even those whose churches are not considered historically, architecturally or artistically significant, it is possible to find worthy works of art such as art glass, furnishings, wood and marble structures, and musical instruments that are of aesthetic and artistic value. Parishes, therefore, are encouraged to undertake an assessment of their artistic works and furnishings to determine their value. The architect, artist, and liturgical consultant, as well as diocesan personnel, are indispensable collaborators in discerning works that are considered part of the sacred heritage of the Church’s art. “Many people have made unwarranted changes in places of worship under the pretext of carrying out the reform of the liturgy and have thus caused the disfigurement or loss of priceless works of art.”(Opera Artis 5)

One also must acknowledge that even in the most artistic of churches, one can find works of art and furnishings that are very lacking.

§ 254 § “Care should be taken against destroying the treasures of sacred art in the course of remodeling churches.” When it is necessary to relocate or remove artistic pieces in the interest of the liturgical reform, they can be appropriately cared for and placed in a location “befitting and worthy of the works themselves.”(Eucharisticum Mysterium 24) Sacred art that at one time appropriately served liturgy and devotion but that is less capable of functioning in that capacity must still be accorded respect and never be put to secular or “profane use.”(Opera Artis 6)

§ 255 § Each diocese is strongly encouraged to record and protect the cultural heritage of the faithful. Where possible, a diocesan repository or museum can properly preserve and make available the rich heritage of the local Church. Every renovation project should include a careful photographic and videographic documentation of the building as it evolves.

Does your parish have such a record? Your diocese?

§ 256 § As custodians of the Church’s sacred heritage, architects, artists, and clergy must be educated in the appreciation of sacred art and in its purposes within liturgy. The priests’ leadership often will provide the initial inspiration to communities seeking to build new churches, to design new liturgical art, or to renovate existing worship spaces. The Second Vatican Council was particularly clear in its teaching on this issue: “Clerics are to be taught about the history and development of sacred art and about the sound principles on which the productions of its works must be grounded. In consequence they will be able to appreciate and preserve the Church’s treasured monuments and be in a position to offer good advice to artists who are engaged in producing works of art.”(Congregation for Seminaries and Universities, Doctrina et Exemplo 60, quoting SC 129)

And art history for seminarians … what do you think is needed? One or two semesters? A basic background on the difference between art and a casual “looks good”?

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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