Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Return of the Roman Chasuble: Beauty in the Liturgy

A beautiful thing.

With a quiet matter-of-factness, beauty is returning to the liturgy.

We are today taking into better consideration the historical, geographic and social insights of the worship of GOD in the Latin Rite.

The age of deterioration of liturgical art is ending.  Today it is okay to wear a Roman style chasuble.  At the bottom of it all is the correct concept which represents the integration of the fundamental values of the beautiful, the true and the good.  

The 1960s unfortunately coincided with a general Council of the Church.  The timing could not have been worse.  The disastrous withdrawal of the decorative behind the integral and existential meaning of the beautiful became overpowering in culture and even in church circles.  It all coincided with the extensive collapse of belief itself.

The 1960s cult of the unhewn and unfinished and cheap is already behind us.  The artistic ideas of that time no longer prevail - that the greatest possible efficacy is to be aimed at with the least possible expenditure, or that raw materials are to be employed according to their own laws governing them, or that the execution of workmanship must correspond to the not always so clear meaning of the spiritual idea which it is to express.

The sharp rejection (non-conformism) of the sixties came out of seemingly nowhere and hit the Church hard.  Since the Reformation, the aesthetic aspect of the liturgy had been frequently assessed by those outside the Church.  Building up for some years, the Church was not prepared for this change in culture.  Catholic artistic taste caved to the mounting critical observation (characteristic of Goethe, etc.) that peaked and blew open in 1968.  Any opposition was accused of clinging to nostalgic admiration (romanticism).

Catholics of today take the standpoint that a sacrament makes present in visible form an invisible and spiritual grace, indicated by its institution and containing sanctification.  It has come to pass that the sacraments are and should be enshrined in beauty.

The sixties brought metal liturgical art that resembled protruding plasticity.  This is now over.  A certain gnostic religiosity refused to allow any union of art and liturgy.  This has ended.  The similar mentality based on the independence or self-sufficiency of art is ending, too.  The modern existentialistic dislike of material objects (or multiplication of material objects) in connection with worship, remains, but this time we are ready for it. 


  1. Your critique is a bit convoluted, but I think I know what you are getting at. What you are seeking is integration. That means a lot of things. I does not mean:

    1. Defining Roman by one period. The fiddle- fronts that can stand up on their own are not intrinsically Roman, to the exclusion of anything else, nor do the enshrine beauty/

    2. Lace is not holy, I shall eschew the obvious punning, it is simply lace. It has certain historic connections, especially with power. Although better these days, machine made lace is usually inferior for ecclesiastical purposes.

    3. Massive and brass, better bronze, is not a standard of beauty unless it serves to give proper proportion to a worship environment and lift up the sacred act.

    4. There is no perfect period of Christian art. Hopefully any school is of the best of its kind and is appropriate to its purpose. We can certainly do without syrupy art and stained glass with saints with squared off heads.

    I sometimes feel that this blog has a very narrow definition of the beautiful which is colored by a narrow definition of the Roman Tradition and some sentimental feelings for historical periods which the author has not experienced. Which is not to say that you do not provide wonderful photography of wonderful things which many will never see.

    Mike Forbes+

  2. Beautiful art and architecture can by simplistic such as the many cathedrals and churches in the Romanesque style. The problem with many modern churches is that they break completely with tradition rather than evolving from one form to another (for example - Gothic evolving from Romanesque). Take the new cathedral of Coventry consecrated in the early sixties. Yes, it is very modern; however, it follows traditional lines. It has a clearly defined nave with choir, a distinct beautiful altar, etc. In addition, all the art (mostly modern and simplistic) were executed with quality materials.

    Compare Coventry Cathedral with the new Cathedral in Los Angeles – a building that does not really have any rhyme or reason to its shape, a dinky altar upon a stage like setting, a choir thrown into an upper corner. It gives the impression of a modern civic auditorium than anything else.

    Now, contrast and compare papal Masses under Archbishop Marini with those with Msgr. Marini. They are now much more dignified using a combination of older and newer vestments and appointments (rather than the flavor-of-the-day style that Archbishop Marini loved so much). And yes, the younger clergy and laity have rediscovered the beautiful and quality made liturgical objects that were once thrown into closets. The hippies know its over.

  3. When it comes to beauty, in churches, Masses, religious art and vestments, there MUST be a narrow view. Veering from that view has cost us over 40 years of "Mass" chaos, which I have had to endure. Thanks be to God things are FINALLY coming to where they were always meant to be and I pray I NEVER again have to hear the words," In the spirit of VII", after speaking to someone about abhorrent abuses, in the Mass, the vestments, or lack of them, the ugly banners, lack of reverence and catethecial training, of both the lay people and priests, no more trombones, bongo drums and the like...

  4. As the artist prepares his work, so through artistic work will men be prepared for what the liturgy refers to as meditatio and devotio.

  5. I have to say that as a Catholic Priest, I have been stationed at many different "styles" of churches, some post-Vatican II and some pre-Vatican II, some from the early 1900's, some from the 2000's. Just because something may have been built before the 1960's and the Council does not make it beautiful. There are a few churches in my diocese that were built in the 1940's that are truly aesthetically horrendous.

    All in all, any "style" of architecture, vestments, art, etc. can be perfect for the celebration of the Liturgy--if they AID in worship and are NOT the source of it. If you are focusing only on the material side of the Church (architecture, Vestments, music, and the like), I would recommend that you go back and look at the basics. I would rather be in a liturgical space that is helpful for worship, but not dependent on it. For myself, celebrating Mass in a Gothic-style building and Contemporary-style building is the same. It's the Mass. I would have an ugly church building with enthusiastic worshipers than a "pretty" building with people just sitting there and doing nothing.