Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ritual Texts and Art

I don't think it's unfair to say that there has been a bit of a dearth of religious art which appeals easily to the senses and, through them, to the intellect and will. Sure, "art," which gives us artifact, in the strictest sense is anything made or changed by man. Yet, when speaking specifically of aesthetics and beauty, "art" cannot merely mean anything made by man. Rather, it must portray truth and goodness, and the more simply it portrays it, the more beautiful - or so some (myself included) would argue. This simplicity, however, is not merely in the making of it but rather the simplicity of the mind to grasp what is being portrayed. Then, altogether, the purpose of art ought not to be simple entertainment, but (like all things) the raising of the mind to God and the perfection of man!

Liturgical books themselves, as well as Daily Missals, have had art such as the following in them:

This is from a Daily Roman Missal from yesteryear.

More recently, however, some of our English ritual texts utilize more abstract images. Here are some examples:

This is from the cover of a current RCIA Study Edition

This is from the cover of a book printed for use in the liturgical celebration of the rites of the RCIA

Some don't have any art other than an image on its cover, like this one
(the same is true of the previous image and its book)

The reason I bring all of this up is that I ran over to Ireland Library to pick up the Latin version of the RCIA so that I could check a couple of minute details. When I found it, I opened it and the first thing I noticed was the art - on a page all on its own - included right on the back side of the book's title:

It's as if they rightly understood that a picture really can speak a thousand words. I dread the cliché except that it is cliché only because so many know it to be true. Though I might argue it isn't the most beautiful art, it is not overly abstract, it portrays Christ himself, and it calls something specific fairly easily to mind.

There are signs of improvement. Take this one, for example:

Why is this important? Because man needs beauty; art aids us in recognizing the fuller character of something (perhaps the liturgy which we are celebrating) and helps us to enter into the mystery of whatever is portrayed. Yet, this does not fully explain it. I am too inadequate. Forgive me, but allow me a quotation from the Introduction to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

A third characteristic is the inclusion of some artistic images which mark the elaboration of the Compendium. These are drawn from the rich patrimony of Christian iconography. The centuries-old conciliar tradition teaches us that images are also a preaching of the Gospel. Artists in every age have offered the principal facts of the mystery of salvation to the contemplation and wonder of believers by presenting them in the splendour of colour and in the perfection of beauty. It is an indication of how today more than ever, in a culture of images, a sacred image can express much more than what can be said in words, and be an extremely effective and dynamic way of communicating the Gospel message. (n. 5)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


This does say it very well, "Why is this important? Because man needs beauty; art aids us in recognizing the fuller character of something (perhaps the liturgy which we are celebrating) and helps us to enter into the mystery of whatever is portrayed." Your post will make the excellent basis of a homily, Lord willing, someday.

Regarding RCIA: I have encountered this recently too, in that I will be making my own Rite of Initiation certificates (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist) this year, because all those offered commercially are lacking in transcendent art. Regarding the Rites book in Latin: Wish I had one!

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