Where Angels Fear to Tread

As someone who produces art intended for the liturgical use of the Catholic Church, I can testify to the fact that it is a very intimidating ambition.

As Catholics, basically, we’ve already won the art contest. Any historical survey of visual or musical art makes it perfectly clear that the Church is peerless. In order to maintain “top chef” status, the Church in its art simply has to basically not ruin its own reputation.

It is worth asking whether we are currently meeting the standards that have been set over the two millennia. How is our drawing in the churches, for example? How is our sculpture? Do our churches show a concern for proportion and shape? How are we doing with verbal art, in hymnody?

And of course, how is our music?

My sense is that we’ve lost a dimension or two over the last century. For a thousand years, the visual quest involved depth: portraying the third dimension as a way for the viewer to enter into the frame.

Often enough now, and disappointingly, this third dimension is missing from liturgical visual arts. We’ve gone from paintings, which invite the viewer in, to flat cartoons.

Music, uniquely capable of providing a fourth dimension and an artistic representation of life in time, has similarly lost richness and joy. Too often, liturgical music is merely serviceable, barely imaginative, and almost entirely a matter of patching things through from one cadence to the next.

My purpose here is not to cast blame but to suggest that our devotion to God should involve the highest aspirations possible, particularly in our art, which, when excellent, has the power to make one Christian’s devotion accessible to another.

What does the present look like–and what would we like the future to bring?