It is no accident that much of the most beautiful art and music in the Western tradition has been religious, and that a good deal of that has been produced for use in the sacred liturgy.
Evangelization isn’t just giving people a set of propositions, or a rulebook to follow. It’s inviting them into a relationship with the living God. But first we must get their attention. Human beings are by nature drawn to beauty. If we want people to fall in love with God, we must give them a glimpse of His loveliness.
Of course, love is the primary way we do this. But it’s a mistake to think that the outward forms of the Faith—liturgy, music, art, architecture—are superfluous. Nothing could be farther from the truth. These outward manifestations of beauty reveal something of the great love of God for us. They are also a sign of our love for Him.
There’s so much ugliness and banality all around us—it’s the hallmark of our post-Christian age. The Church must provide a refuge from all that.
The article linked below describes the connection between beauty and right worship, and explains why “there are no box stores… in the City of God.”
This is not what we council fathers decided; this is against the decisions of the council. I cannot understand how the Holy Father could give his consent to such a thing.
Josef Cardinal Frings, 1969
The short article linked below gives us a little insight into how the Mass of Paul VI (aka the Ordinary Form) came to be.
The point of sharing this is not to shock our readers (though it might indeed raise some eyebrows). Rather, we just want to reaffirm why we are so concerned with conforming our liturgical celebrations to the authentic vision of Vatican II, as revealed in the document Sacrosanctum concilium.
It’s not about mere aesthetics or nostalgia: it’s simply about being faithful and giving God what is due Him.
For your weekend viewing pleasure, here’s a tour of 10 amazing Catholic churches in the American South. There’s a surprising amount of notable Catholic heritage in our Protestant country (link below).
Here’s some food for thought: Throughout much of American history, Catholics (with some exceptions) tended to be an out-of-favor minority. They also tended to be working-class immigrants. Yet, they managed to fund and build many beautiful churches like the ones in this article, giving glory to God and visually propagating the Catholic Faith. How did they manage that? Is there something we can learn from our Catholic forebears?
Unless you happen to be an architecture buff, you may not know the name Pugin, though you’ve certainly seen some of his work. The Houses of Parliament and St. Stephen’s clock tower (known colloquially as “Big Ben,” which is actually the name of the bell inside) in London are two of the 19th century architect’s most famous contributions. But they’re not his most important contribution.
Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was born in 1842 and died a mere 40 years later. During his short life, his work inspired an architectural movement that changed the British landscape and gave us many of the structures that today we so readily identify as British.
Pugin had a powerful moral vision for Britain, which was at that time experiencing the disruption of the industrial revolution and the decadence of the Georgian monarchy. A convert to the Catholic faith at a time when being Catholic was still a risky career move, he believed that architecture was the key to bringing about a renewed Christian society. For him, this Christian architecture was Gothic. The Gothic style represented a pure, medieval Christian faith and morality: precisely what the country had lost after the Protestant revolution. His Gothic revival churches in particular, such as St. Giles in Cheadle, Staffordshire, are testaments to his Catholic faith and medievalist vision.
Why is Pugin important for us today? We’ve talked a lot at St. Mark about the concept of lex orandi, lex credendi. That is, the way we worship both influences, and is influenced by, what we believe. There’s a similar idea in Pugin’s thought. For him, “bad” architecture is a sign of a spiritually sick society. But he also proposed that creating better, spiritually uplifting architecture would help cure society’s ills. He believed in the power of beauty to change souls.
Take an hour sometime to watch the video linked below. Not only is it a superb presentation, but it tells the deeply moving story of the young man whose heart burned to restore a more moral, a more Catholic, Britain.
What is clear… is that forcing modernist principles of building design upon unwilling church congregations and passing them off as if they were principles of the Council simply must stop.
We’ve talked a lot on this blog about what church architecture ought to be; that there is a “theology of architecture” developed and passed down over centuries that should inform how our church buildings are designed.
Today, I thought I’d share one of my all-time favorite pieces of sacred music: a setting of In manus tuas by English composer John Sheppard (ca. 1515—1558). For what it’s worth, I actually consider this one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard.
The Church’s existence lives from proper celebration of the liturgy, and the Church is in danger when the primacy of God no longer appears in the liturgy nor consequently in life.
Pope Benedict XVI
If you would like more insight into the reform of the liturgy, both before and after the Second Vatican Council, this article from Adoremus is worth your time. In it, the author traces liturgical developments in the 20th century through the eyes of Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI.
There is only one inner direction of the Eucharist, namely, from Christ in the Holy Spirit to the Father. The only question is how this can be best expressed in liturgical form.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 1986
There continues to be considerable misunderstanding of ad orientem worship by many Catholics, which is unfortunate, because there is so much depth of meaning and rich theology involved in the simple gesture of the priest facing the same direction as the people during Mass.
One of our goals at St. Mark has been to gradually restore Gregorian chant to its rightful place in the sacred liturgy. This is specifically in response to the call of Vatican II: “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specifically suited to the Roman liturgy; therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (Sancrosanctum concilium, 116).
One might be tempted to think that there was an unbroken tradition of Gregorian chant in the Roman liturgy right up until the 1960’s, when “everything changed.” But that’s not quite right. It turns out that Gregorian chant fell on hard times from the about the end of the Middle Ages up until the mid-19th century. It’s ironic that it was that other venerable liturgical musical form, polyphony, that worked to undermine the purity of chant and initiate its decline.