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ASK THE LITURGIST (22) – Billboards and posters in church

– Enrico Finotti

I would like to understand the widespread habit of filling churches with billboards and posters. Is not it rather unseemly, at least in some very beautiful churches?

The many posters that invade our churches are now a rampant custom and it is not easy to resist this trend. On the one hand, the national and diocesan pastoral offices offer an exorbitant material with an almost weekly publication of posters relating to the now continuous theme days; on the other the catechesis and the various parish groups want to show their activity with posters, drawings, photographs of various kinds and of different compositional quality.

 All this material is then placed in every corner of the church, even in the same celebratory places, such as, the ambo, the altar, the balustrade, the baptistery, the side altars, etc. In this way our churches take on the appearance of an oratory and it does not matter if places of high sacred value or monuments of considerable artistic importance are obscured. Our churches are untidy, similar to the children’s playroom or to the storage of junk. Above all the art churches are offended by this improper custom and not only the faithful, but also the visitors receive an example of low profile and bad taste. The costume is but the visual extension of the continuous speaking in the liturgy and while the excessive monologues reveal the illness of the “sermonizer” with verbal language, the “poster designer” expresses it with the visual one. It is always a matter of filling a simple, noble and incisive language like that of the liturgy with useless and excessive ingredients that weigh it down and distort it.

It is certainly necessary to react and start a change of mentality and practice in this regard, setting some principles of fundamental importance. First of all, the logic and practice of publicity proper to the public square must not be applied in the church. The church environment has its own language that is that of art and of sacredness: every element speaks from itself and cannot be offended by an alternative and banal language that obscures and debases it. The beauty of sacred places, such as the altar, the ambo, the tabernacle, the baptistery, the sacred images, the side chapels and the walls of the church, must be respected and must be able to be explained with the same force of art that covers them, without the need for such poor and sometimes unworthy additions such as posters, photographs, banners, etc. This improper invasion declines the strength of symbols and the beauty of art and completely compromises the sacred meaning of the church and its holy places. It is necessary to know how to distinguish environments. At this point the role of the churchyard or atrium becomes important. But here too much good taste and sobriety is needed. In particular, the door of the church must be respected, as a symbol of considerable importance, also highlighted in the Dedication rite. It can not be a permanent showcase, but must remain clean and decorous as a symbol of Christ who said “I am the door.” It will then be a matter of finding the right format for posters and notices, not to mythize them to such an extent that they assume the insistent and impacting logic of commercial advertising and not to indulge in visual pressure on the faithful, who are almost necessarily forced to pay attention to the sometimes excessive accumulation of pastoral activism. All this would take away importance and effectiveness from the contemplation proper to the sacred place.

(From Il mio e il vostro sacrificio. Il liturgista risponde, 2018©Chorabooks. Translated by Aurelio Porfiri. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved)

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