Bp. Barron at the synod: Catholicism has consistently embraced the beautiful

Bishop Robert Barron, speaking at the Synod on youth, called for catechesis and apologetics that goes beyond the superficial to look in depth at the questions people are asking.  Among other things, he said:

Our apologetics and catechesis should walk the via pulchritudinis, as Pope Francis characterized it in Evangelii Gaudium. Especially in our postmodern cultural context, commencing with the true and the good—what to believe and how to behave—is often counter-indicated, since the ideology of self-invention is so firmly established. However, the third transcendental, the beautiful, often proves a more winsome, less threatening, path.

And part of the genius of Catholicism is that we have so consistently embraced the beautiful—in song, poetry, architecture, painting, sculpture, and liturgy. All of this provides a powerful matrix for evangelization.

And as Hans Urs von Balthasar argued, the most compelling beauty of all is that of the saints. I have found a good deal of evangelical traction in presenting the lives of these great friends of God, somewhat in the manner of a baseball coach who draws young adepts into the game by showing them the play of some of its greatest practitioners.

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“God does not promise a sterile existence but a life that is itself beautiful”

This week at the Synod on youth, Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport urged participants to look to the way of beauty as the transcendent value particularly needed in efforts at evangelization:

It was Saint Thomas Aquinas who taught that the human person can encounter God by three privileged paths: truth, beauty and goodness. In terms of technology’s formative influence on young people, I would respectfully suggest that it is the path of beauty that must be better explored for the sake of evangelization and catechesis.

In my experience with young people, the questions that haunt them are not simply intellectual ones. They are first and foremost affective questions (i.e., “questions of the heart”), that ask about their self-worth, the reasonableness of hope, the ability to commit to another and to be loved in return. We must unlock the power of beauty, which touches and captures the heart, precisely by utilizing the many opportunities now afforded by digital communication and social media to accompany young people to experience beauty in service of the Gospel.

Let us offer the sacred liturgy as a celebration of the beautiful, the transcendent, with an engagement of the affective senses. Let us work to capture the heart of all believers to encounter a God who does not promise a sterile existence but a life that is itself beautiful, rich in meaning, that invites one’s heart to dare to believe that this earthly life is worth living and worth fighting for in light of an eternal life where the restlessness of the heart will find its final rest in the salvation that alone comes from Christ Jesus the Lord.

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At youth synod, Abp. Fisher apologizes for failures to hand on Catholic tradition

At the Synod on Youth, Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P., of Sydney has made a quite unconventional apology to Catholic youth: not only for wrongful acts committed, but also for failures to hand on the faith in its fullness, including “unbeautiful liturgies” and poor preaching.

The Catholic Herald writes:

In addition to apologising for the Church’s failures with clerical sexual abuse, the archbishop also apologised for the ways in which the Church had failed to “introduce you to the person of Jesus Christ, his saving word and his plan for your life.”

“And for the times when you were searching for your sexual, ethnic or spiritual identity and needed a moral compass, but found Church people unsympathetic or ambiguous: I apologise,” he said.

The Catholic Church, Archbishop Fisher said, often “sold you short” by not challenging young people to live up to their baptismal call to holiness, by offering them “unbeautiful or unwelcoming liturgies” and by not sharing with them Church traditions such as the sacrament of reconciliation, pilgrimages and Eucharistic adoration.

He apologised for “poor preaching, catechesis or spiritual direction” that failed to inspire conversion and for families, dioceses and religious orders that adopted a “contraceptive mentality” that did not even try to give birth to new vocations.

In addition to his apology, the Sydney archbishop pleaded with young people: “Never give up on Jesus because of our failures. Never give up on the Church that you can help make more faithful. Never give up on the world that, with Christ and the Church’s help, you can make a better place.”

Photo credit: screenshot from Twitter.

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Guest Post: The devotion of a bygone time

Musician Randolph Nichols offers reflections on a work of art that depicts the Kingship of Christ among the lowly:

A year ago this Corpus Christi Sunday I listened to Fr. Michael Kerper, pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Nashua, NH, develop his homily around a painting of the Irish artist Aloysius O’Kelly (1853-1936). Until that moment I was unaware that Ireland had produced any prominent painters. I suppose one can be forgiven that lapse given that O’Kelly’s work in question, “Mass in a Connemara Cabin” (1883) – the only painting of an Irish subject ever to be exhibited at a prestigious Paris salon – vanished at the end of the nineteenth century and remained missing for a century before turning up in a rectory in Edinburgh. That painting now resides in the National Gallery of Ireland.

“Mass in a Connemara Cabin” by Aloysius O’Kelly (1883)

As a painter, O’Kelly doesn’t demonstrate any of the breakthrough developments of his more famous contemporaries like Monet, Manet, or Degas and the religious subject of the aforementioned painting was by then out of fashion. There is something about “Mass in a Connemara Cabin,” however, that compels. It successfully captures the mood and atmosphere of a particular time, place and people and the viewer senses the religious, political and economic repression without having to know the details of 19th-century Irish life.

Looking closely at the painting, many factors come into play: the claustrophobic feel of enclosure, the women’s well-worn yet evocative shawls and scarves, the kneeling bodies directed toward the focal point – the young white-clad priest (even the cupboard dishware leans toward him); and of course, there is that dramatic gesture of the woman in the lower right corner.

As its title suggests, the painting reflects the deep piety of parishioners crowded into someone’s home as a young priest says Mass. Others see more, particularly since the priest seems to be giving the final blessing and that Aloysius O’Kelly and his family were steeped in revolutionary politics. His three brothers were Fenians and his sister married into the family of James Stephens, founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. After the failed Rising of 1867 two of the artist’s brothers were exiled to New York and during this period Aloysius moved to Paris to begin studying at the École des Beaux-Arts.

After O’Kelly returned to Ireland in the early 1880s, he began to visually capture the bleak existence of working class people on the west coast during very turbulent times. Against the backdrop of the struggle between tenants and landlords, the celebration of Mass was often a precursor to social and political gatherings. The significance of O’Kelly’s Mass may not be the Mass itself but what comes after, the unseen but anticipated.

However you read this painting, I find painful irony contrasting recent events in Ireland with this scene of devotion from the early 1880s.

The Duruflé Requiem at 70

Maurice Duruflé
(image from Wikimedia)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Duruflé Requiem, and an article in the Boston Globe tells a bit of the work’s  and the composer’s history.

For those in the area, there will be an opportunity to hear the work Friday, March 9, when the Choir of St. Paul’s sings the Requiem at St. Paul Church in Cambridge:
https://stpaulparish.org/2018/02/maurice-durufles-requiem-march-9th/

July 2018: Sacred Music Symposium in British Columbia

News from the north:

Saints Joachim & Ann Parish, Aldergrove B.C., will be hosting the inaugural B.C. Sacred Music Symposium, July 20-22, 2018. 

The aim to bring together musicians of all skill levels, and all people of good will with a general interest in sacred music, for a weekend of instruction, collaboration and fellowship. There will be an opportunity to attend practical workshops (beginner, intermediate and masterclass) and lectures; and to experience the riches of the Church’s musical tradition in the celebrations of Mass (in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms) and the Divine Office.  

We are also very excited to announce that our keynote speaker and celebrant of the symposium’s principal Mass will be Bishop Joseph Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Early registration for the symposium opens January 2018. Please see the parish website for more information: http://www.stsjoachimandann.org/symposium .

Blessing of a Church; Dedication of an Altar (official texts)

A generous reader has sent in a document that came his way, comprising two rites excerpted from the Pontificale Romanum: the Order of Dedication of an Altar, and the Order of Blessing of a Church.

It’s not often easy to locate a copy of this specialized liturgical book, so we are happy to share it. If anyone has a church construction or renovation project underway, it could come in handy for preparing those services.

This (partial) book (11 MB) contains the edition issued by Pope Paul VI in 1977, with instructions and text, all in Latin, for those two rites, and it provides the relevant chants for the psalms to be sung at the various stages of each rite.