Built of Living Stones 7-8: Vatican II and Afterward

The principles of Catholic art and architecture were addressed at the Second Vatican Council, and in many implementation and other post-conciliar documents:

§ 7 § In 1962 Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council to help the Church renew its sense of mission. The first of the conciliar documents, Sacrosanctum Concilium: Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, articulated the goals of the Council and, in keeping with those goals, established general principles for the reform and promotion of the sacred liturgy. In addition to mandating that liturgical books and rites be revised, (SC 25) Sacrosanctum Concilium called for the revision of legislation governing the material elements involved in the liturgy, particularly the construction of places of worship and altars, the placement of the tabernacle and the baptistry, and the use of images and decoration. (SC 128)

These final sections of Sacrosanctum Concilium (114ff) addressed the musical and visual arts in a general way. Very few specifics were given, but local bishops, national conferences, and the universal liturgical reform that followed (1964-1975) provided more guidance.

§ 8 § In the thirty-five years following the Second Vatican Council, both the Apostolic See and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops have issued documents to implement the provisions of Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 128. In 1977 the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship issued the revised Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar. In addition to the norms in the recently revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal, pertinent documents have been issued by Vatican congregations concerning the care of the Church’s artistic heritage, artists and the arts, and vesture.*

*Cf. the Circular Letter Opera Artis: On the Care of the Church’s Historical and Artistic Heritage [OA] (April 11, 1971), from the Congregation for the Clergy to presidents of the episcopal conferences; the decree Domus Dei(1968) on the norms for minor basilicas, from the Congregation of Rites (Consilium); the Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar [RDCA] (1977) from the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship; the Instruction Pontificalis Ritus (1968) on the simplification of pontifical rites and insignia, from the Congregation of Rites; the Instruction Ut Sive Sollicite (1969) on vesture, from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State; the Motu Proprio Inter Eximia Episcopalis (1978) on the use of the pallium, from Pope Paul VI; and Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists [LA] (April 4,1999).

The footnote at the end of BLS 8 I’ve repeated in its entirety. We’ve reviewed the RDCA, of course. Some of you are probably familiar that Pope John Paul II wrote that Letter to Artists. Those other documents are probably worth a peek here someday. The universal documentation that touches on matters of the visual arts and architecture are fairly ample. And that’s before you get to these relatively minor decrees and instructions.

Thoughts on the guidance from Vatican II? Any weak spots? Any strengths? Other commentary?

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


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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