Via Pulchritudinis: Beauty in the Liturgy, Part 2

Let’s continue our exploration of Beauty in the Liturgy. A legend cited:

During a conference at the 23rd National Italian Eucharistic Congress, Cardinal Ratzinger cited in his introduction the old legend about the origins of the Christian faith in Russia. According to this legend, Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided to adhere to the Orthodox Church of Constantinople after having heard his ambassadors who had been sent to Constantinople where they had been present at a solemn liturgy in the basilica of Saint Sophia. They said to the prince, “We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth…We are witnesses: God has made His dwelling place there among (people).” And the Cardinal theologian took from this legend the basis of truth: “it is in effect certain that the internal force of the liturgy played an essential role in the diffusion of Christianity…That which convinced the ambassadors of the Russian prince, that the faith celebrated in the Orthodox liturgy was true, was not a missionary style argument whose elements appeared more convincing to those disposed to listen than those of any other religion. No, that which struck home was the mystery in itself, a mystery that, precisely because it is found beyond all discussion, imposes on reason the force of truth.” [J. Ratzinger, Eucharistia come genesi della missione. Conference at the XXIII Eucharistic Congress of Bologna, 20-28 September 1997 in “Il Regno” 1 Nov 1997, n° 19, p.588-589]

Human beings can indeed produce moments of magnificence. Often enough one sees awe in efforts produced in secular culture. The real test, as the follow-up here suggests: it is also possible to find God’s presence in very humble circumstances. Do we expect such things to happen, not just in catacombs, but rural churches, or worn buildings in urban centers, or even unremarkable corners in suburban campuses? From a God who surprises, why wouldn’t we?

How can we fail to underline the importance of icons, the marvelous heritage of the Christian East, which still today gives something of the liturgy of the undivided Church: its rich and deep language thrives on its roots in the experience of the undivided Church, the Roman catacombs, the mosaics of Rome and Ravenna as well as Byzantium?

For the believer, beauty transcends the aesthetic. It permits the passage from “for self” to “more than self.” The liturgy which is disinterested and does not seek to celebrate God for Him, through Him and in Him, is not beautiful, and therefore not true. It should be “disinterested” in “putting oneself before God and placing one’s eyes on Him who shines with the divine light on the things that pass.” It is in this austere simplicity that it becomes missionary, that is, capable of witnessing to observers who let themselves be taken over by the invisible reality that it offers.

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,

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Art, evangelization, Via Pulchritudinis. Bookmark the permalink.

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