DPPL 18: Sacred Images

STA altar at night smallThe DPPL will discuss the use of sacred images. Just to whet the appetite:

18. The use of sacred images is of major importance in the whole area of popular piety, since culturally and artistically they assist the faithful in encountering the mysteries of the Christian faith. Indeed, the veneration of sacred images belongs to the very nature of Catholic piety. Such is clear from its artistic patrimony, which can be seen in many churches and sanctuaries, and to which popular devotion has often contributed.

Perhaps even more than song, visual images capture the human imagination. And in the modern world, driven by a succession of television, visual advertising, and now computers and the internet, we cannot avoid any consideration of visual traditions that reach back centuries.

Christians here and there have struggled with iconoclasm and idolatry. My own sense is that extremism is suspect. Too many images, and too few: I would ask why. What is the fear? Is the danger more contrived in the mind of the advocate?

Some history on images from the councils:

Here, the principles apply which govern the liturgical use of images of Christ, Our Lady, the Saints. These have been traditionally asserted and defended by the Church in the knowledge that “the honor rendered to the image is directed to the person represented”(Cf. COUNCIL OF NICEA II, Definitio de sacris imaginibus (23 October 787) in DS 601; COUNCIL OF TRENT Decretum de invocatione, veneratione,et reliquiis Sanctorum, et sacris imaginibus (3 December 1563), in DS 1823-1825.). The necessary rigor which has to be applied in drawing up the iconographic scheme of churches (Cf. SC 124-125) – in matters relating to the truths of the faith and their hierarchy, beauty an  quality- must also be applied to images and objects destined for private and personal devotion.

A serious caution about letting minorities, or even individuals drive choice and crafting of sacred imagery:

So as to ensure that the iconography used in sacred places is not left to private initiatives, those with responsibility for churches and oratories should safeguard the dignity, beauty and quality of those sacred images exposed for public veneration. Likewise, they should avoid the de facto imposition on the community of pictures or statues inspired by the private devotion of individuals(canon law 1188).

Note that canon law is brought into the picture here.

Local leadership needs to lead:

The Bishops, therefore, and the rectors of sanctuaries are to ensure that the sacred images produced for the use of the faithful, either in their homes or on their persons, or those borne aloft on their shoulders, are not reduced to banalities, nor risk giving rise to error.

Leading by good, positive example would seem to have more promise than driving certain images, and perhaps people, underground, as it were.

The full document, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, is online at the Vatican site.

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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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