Built of Living Stones 148: Appropriateness

“Liturgical appropriateness” defined:

§ 148 § Appropriateness for liturgical action is the other criterion for choosing a work of art for church. The quality of appropriateness is demonstrated by the work’s ability to bear the weight of mystery, awe, reverence, and wonder that the liturgical action expresses and by the way it serves and does not interrupt the ritual actions which have their own structure, rhythm and movement. Since art is revelatory, a gift from God, a truly beautiful object stretches “beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality’s surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery.” Nonetheless, there is always the chasm between “the work of [the artist’s] hands” and the “dazzling perfection” glimpsed in God’s creative moment.(Letter To Artists 6) Art that is used in worship must therefore evoke wonder at its beauty but lead beyond itself to the invisible God. Beautiful, compelling artworks draw the People of God into a deeper awareness of their lives and of their common goals as a Christian community as well as of their roles and responsibilities in the wider world.(Gaudium et Spes 62) Art that fulfills these qualities is art worthy of the Christian assembly.

… and the bishops draw in the notion of beauty.

“Wonder” seems to be the key word here, as the bishops, as John Paul II, and as Vatican II all teach it. It’s not beauty for beauty’s sake. But it’s a quality that leads people beyond the object of admiration. There is a hospitality of sorts, an experience that invites the believer to something more than just an admirable shape, form, or color. It begins with the senses, but leads the believer through a portal into a different place–an encounter with God. In their examination of the relationship between the Church and the modern world, the second point here is that the encounter with the beautiful, with God, should lead to an engagement in the world. In other words, we move from the experience of the Transfiguration, from the wonder-filled encounter with God, and find ourselves inspired to engage ourselves in Christ’s mission in the “wider world.” The suggestion is that the encounter with beauty is not enough. I would hope that art isn’t only about making Christians appreciators–passive spectators, if you will. Art should be something in which the essence of the encounter with God–and not just the preached message–spurs us on to the tasks of that wider world: evangelization, charity, justice, friendship, compassion, and love. My suspicion is that artists can also overthink the “call to action.” It’s going to be a bit more than words and images telling people what the artist thinks we should do. Art should be deep enough that people are inspired, through a discernment of their own gifts, into appropriate responses to the call of God.

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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