Sunday, January 4, 2009

Art and the New Liturgical Movement

I was just at the website of Juventutem Ireland. I have nothing against the aims of this group. In fact I heartily endorse anyone that tries to bring young people to faith in Christ and support them in that, even more so when it is done with fidelity to and respect for the Church's tradition. But the art? Not bad, worse! Awful kitsch that IS NOT part of the Church's tradition. It is the by-product of the long standing failure of the Church to take art seriously. Instead the Church is supposed to embrace all art forms and in the end supports none. The faithful are left with the trash. This is where dialogue with the East is so vital to the renewal of the Liturgy. Liturgy is more than ritual and music for art belongs in there too. Gregorian chant and the Roman liturgy were born in the very milieu of the ancient Mediterranian that gave birth to her tradition of icon-painting. Icon-painting was part of her tradition until the drift began in the Middle Ages. That drift slowlly sapped her art of its theological and Liturgical role and it became devotional. Indeed it became dominated by the artists and their patrons. Caravaggio was even to use the body of a drowned prostitute as the model for the deceased Mother of God! These two images of Christ represent what I see as our problem: the icon of Christ the Pantocrator or 'Ruler of All' on the left (I've lost the source- apologies- but it may have been done by Aidan Hart) and the painting of Christ the Sacred Heart. One keeps the liturgical-theological purpose of the image but the other (and it's by no means the worse I've seen) subordinates it to a devotional purpose. If the visual dimension of spirituality, of liturgy is neglected or under-nourished; if it is not restored then the whole will be unbalanced. Restoring access to the best of her art - especially the liturgical-theological tradition of icon-painting via the Christian East - is part of the renewal, it must be or the whole enterprise will be lob-sided. As a first step we must banish the trash!

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