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BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (112) – Why employ art and music in the liturgy?

admin / January 15, 2021

Rev José Mario O Mandía 

The work of evangelization nowadays can become difficult when we start off from discussions about the truth and the good, thanks to the “dictatorship of relativism” (Joseph Ratzinger, 18 April 2005), where everyone decides what is true or good for himself. This should not lead us to apostolic despair, however, as there is an even more direct approach – the way of beauty (via pulchritudinis). We may have arguments about truths and morals, but when we see something beautiful, we are simply enthralled by it. There is no arguing or bargaining.  

This is why Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote: “I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful” (Message to the Communion and Liberation meeting at Rimini, 24-30 August 2002).

In the introduction to the Compendium, he also wrote: “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 color 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” (Card Ratzinger, Introduction to the CCCC).

Indeed, the CCC tells us: “Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth, God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation, the work of his Word, of his wisdom: the order and harmony of the cosmos – which both the child and the scientist discover – ‘from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator,’ ‘for the author of beauty created them’ (Wis 13:3,5)” (CCC 2500).

Art is man’s imitation of the natural beauty of his Creator’s handiwork. “To the extent that it is inspired by truth and love of beings, art bears a certain likeness to God’s activity in what he has created. Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by the ultimate end of man” (CCC 2501).

Art is elevated and sanctified when it is used for the liturgy. “Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier” (CCC 2502).

“For this reason bishops, personally or through delegates, should see to the promotion of sacred art, old and new, in all its forms and, with the same religious care, remove from the liturgy and from places of worship everything which is not in conformity with the truth of faith and the authentic beauty of sacred art” (CCC 2503).

What we say of art can be said of music as well. What are the criteria for the proper use of singing and music in liturgical celebrations? The CCCC (239) replies: “Since song and music are closely connected with liturgical action they must respect the following criteria. 

[1] They should conform to Catholic doctrine in their texts, drawn preferably from Sacred Scripture and liturgical sources. 

[2] They should be a beautiful expression of prayer

[3] The music should be of a high quality

[4] Song and music should encourage the participation of the liturgical assembly. 

[5] They should express the cultural richness of the People of God and the sacred and solemn character of the celebration. ‘He who sings, prays twice’ (Saint Augustine).” (Image: Making Holy the Family, Celso Duazo Pepito, Wood 65” × 111”, 2021)