Monday, May 03, 2010

Thoughts on Ars Sacra

Very penetrating essay here from Fr. R. Skeris.

A couple of clips...

Ars sacra is at bottom a pastoral art, at the service of the praying community whilst expressing genuine Catholic truth in the vesture of beauty. Even in the field of music for worship, this effectively rules out "the gaudy, the ornamental, the petty, the ostentatious" and "all stereotyped commercial imitations" abusively termed sacred art, such as the hee-haw anthems of countrified sacro-pop which can be heard in all too many Catholic sanctuaries on any given Sunday ... with sackbut, organ, pipe and drum -ad terrorem omnium.

The term "beauty" MEANS "beauty," by the way...

In the early years of the nineteenth century, a great bishop, Johann Michael Sailer of Regensburg (1751-1832) recognized that one of the main factors contributing to the deterioration of Musica sacra was the fateful chasm which had opened up between religion and art. His thesis is simply stated: Religion is leagued with art through an alliance which is neither accidental nor preconcerted, but rather necessary and essential, and which did not arise yesterday or today, but which is everlasting.

That is to say, the phrase "Ars pro gratia Artis" is effectively meaningless. Continuing with Bp. Sailer:

...whatever permits the life of interior religion to become "exterior," is "sacred art" in the widest sense of the term...sacred art does not rest until she has made a wonderful mutual consonance out of the tones produced by men, by the organ, and ... by other instruments, tuning them all to the song of the spheres until the whole has become heavenly music, and the mighty Hallelujah of the higher choirs of Heaven echoes and re-echoes in the lower choirs on earth.

Such is the nature of Beauty, if one first understands the identity-relationship between Truth, Beauty, and Goodness as did the ancients. (What does NOT impel towards God is not 'sacred art.')


The alliance between religion and art is therefore twofold: art does not merely assist religion in an outward fashion, but she also assists religion in an inward direction. "The selfsame music, for example, which reveals inner devotion also preserves, strengthens, and heightens devotion wherever it is present, just as it arouses devotion wherever it is not yet present."

Sailer's thought has implications:

"A religion which were to give up this alliance with the fine arts" would be contradicting itself, indeed is dead. "Just as it is proper to eternal Love to utter Itself in an eternal Word, the Logos, and to make this eternal Word known through creation, the governance of all things and through the Redemption, so too it is impossible for religion to shut itself up within itself - the impulse to reveal itself is quite as much a part of religion's nature as it is part of the Father's very nature to utter the eternal Word," which was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.

And this:

...the fine arts, music included, "must have deviated from their inborn nobility to the precise extent that men themselves have done so. In other words, men have fallen away from the idea of art just as much as they have fallen away from the idea of religion. If the Whole collapses, the parts collapse along with it."

So perhaps 'versus populum' is merely another sign of the same malady...

The entire essay is worth your time and thought.

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