Let’s finish up our look at Sacred Art, Instrument of Evangelization and Catechesis.
An optimistic and positive view of sacred art, which isn’t always true. The potential’s there:
The communicating capacity of sacred art renders it able to break down barriers, filter prejudices and reach the heart of people from different cultures and religions and let them perceive the universality of the message of Christ and His Gospel. When a work of faith-inspired art is offered to the public within its religious function, it is a “via”, a “pathway of evangelization and dialogue,” it gives a taste of the faith itself, at the same time as of the living patrimony of Christianity.
Art and music imported from one culture, especially a white male-dominated one, to another isn’t always barrier-breaking. Depictions of Jesus, for example, as a Northern European, is fine for white people in Germany or Scandinavia. But it’s neither historically accurate or engaging for a person of olive, black, yellow, or brown skin.
That said, the encounter with Christian art in Church life, especially liturgy, is an inspiration for believers to take the message of Good News with them into the world.
To reread the works of Christian art, small or great, musical or artistic, and put them back in their context while deepening their vital links with the life of the Church, particularly the liturgy, is to let them speak again and help them transmit the message that inspired their creation. The via pulchritudinis, in setting out the pathway of the arts, leads to the veritas of the faith, Christ Himself become “by the Incarnation, the icon of the invisible God.” John Paul II did not hesitate to express “the conviction that, in a sense, the icon is a sacrament. By analogy with what occurs in the sacraments, the icon makes present the mystery of the Incarnation in one or other of its aspects.” [John Paul II, Letter to Artists, 12 and 8]
Another aspect of sacred art is that is facilitates the mystical life.
Christian art offers the believer a theme for reflection and acts as an aid to enter into contemplation in intense prayer, similar to a moment of catechesis such as a recitation of Salvation History. Major works inspired by the faith are truly “Bibles of the Poor” or “Stairways of Jacob” that lead the soul up to the Author of all beauty and with Him to the mystery of God and of those who live in His beatifying vision: “Visio Dei vita hominis – The life of man is the vision of God!” professed St Irenaeus. [St Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, IV, 20,7] These are the privileged ways of an authentic experience of the faith.
The full document is here.
Image: the rose window at Notre Dame in Paris, By Zachi Evenor based on File:North rose window of Notre-Dame de Paris, Aug 2010.jpg by Julie Anne Workman – CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60404628