Built of Living Stones 166-169: The Disposition of Works of Art No Longer Needed for Sacred Use

Let’s wrap up BLS, Chapter Three with an important question parishes sometimes face: what happens when its time for retirement? First, bishops are responsible:

§ 166 § Sacred art that is no longer useful or needed or that is simply worn out and beyond restoration deserves to be treated with respect. To insure the protection of worn or used sanctuary furnishings, vessels, vesture, and other liturgical artifacts, many diocesan bishops have issued directives about their proper disposition when they are no longer suitable for worship. In addition, with the closing or merging of parishes, vessels and vestments can be available for the use of other parishes and missions. In disposing of such artifacts pastors should consult the diocesan worship office or chancery to learn what directives or procedures are in effect.

Show of hands: parishes that keep an inventory:

§ 167 § In addition, bishops have exercised their responsibility as stewards of the Church’s artistic resources by encouraging pastors and diocesan personnel to consult with experts and to create an inventory of historic churches and of objects in any church that have artistic or historical value. Such inventories are most helpful when they carefully itemize and list each entry’s value and note any changes to the objects since they were acquired.(Opera Artis 3) Usually two copies are made so that one can be kept at the local parish and the other in the diocesan curia, both as an historical record and for insurance purposes. In some cases, copies are sent to the Vatican library if this is appropriate.

Not just any donation, but one attached to a vow:

§ 168 § Objects of great artistic or historical value or those donated to the Church through a vow may not to be sold without special permission of the Holy See.(canon law 1292 § 2) When such objects are not to be sold but disposed of in some other way, the diocesan bishop should be contacted so that the concerns of donors and the requirements of canon law are fulfilled.

Effortless and free is not the way to go …

§ 169 § Every community knows that if its house of prayer is to radiate the beauty of divine presence, effort and sacrifice will be required. Besides appropriate remuneration for the work of its artists, the community must show its respect for these works by maintaining and preserving them as the years pass. In doing so, they encourage those with artistic aptitudes to continue to serve the community and in this way build up and support a local community of artists worthy of liturgical work. A covenant is established linking artists and congregations, an “alliance between art and the life of religion” through which may be heard an artistic voice “that love inspires and that inspires love.”*

*Pope Paul VI, Address to the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Art in Italy (December 17, 1969) (DOL 540, no. 4326): “This leads us to conclude by encouraging you to act in such a way that, under the aegis of the liturgy, that is, divine worship, a bond of union, an alliance, will be reestablished between modern art and the life of religion. This should contribute to restore to art its two greatest and most characteristic values. The first is beauty, perceptible beauty (id quod visum placet: a beauty grasped in the integrity, proportion, and purity of the work of art; ST 1a, 39.1). The second is that indefinable but vibrant value, the artistic spirit, the lyrical experience in the artist that is reflected in his work. The alliance between art and the life of religion will also succeed in giving again to the Church, the Bride of Christ, a voice that love inspires and that inspires love.

“There is a second concluding point to which Vatican Council II attributes particular importance. Before anticipating a new epiphany for sacred art, as though it could spontaneously give itself a new birth and new creativity, we must take pains with the formation of artists. As always we must begin with the education of the person (see SC 127).”

Education is important. But it is usually one of the last stages, not one of the first. Some might suggest that the evangelization of an artist is a beginning, in the sense that an artist must come to know the Church, and to know Jesus Christ before embarking on a work of art. It might be that conversion is part of that evangelization. But it might also be that an artist values the encounter with the inspiration for the art. And by the way, since when are we concerned more with with what people give us, and not the person herself or himself?

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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