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True Liturgy is a Reflection of Heaven

sarah-youtubeweb_810_500_55_s_c1Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, recently spoke of the importance of the liturgy and liturgical reform. His comments were read at 18th Cologne International Liturgical conference.

“the true worshippers of God are not those who reform the liturgy according to their own ideas and creativity, to make it something pleasing to the world, but rather those who reform the world in depth with the Gospel so as to allow it access to a liturgy that is the reflection of the liturgy that is celebrated from all eternity in the heavenly Jerusalem.” –Cardinal Robert Sarah

Catholic World Report has the full English transcription.

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the diocese of Sacramento as well as a working artist, he writes on art and faith at www.DeaconLawrence.org 

Bridging the Gap – Music for Entertainment That Speaks of the Liturgy

If we are to evangelize the culture we need creative artists, in all disciplines, that connect with people today. This is the primary and achievable aim, in my opinion, of the study of the arts as an academic discipline. It is not so much to develop the taste of the consumer and create a market for the traditional approach, as it is to form the creators of new works that participate in the traditional principles in new ways. The goal of these newly formed creators is then to connect with ‘the many’ – to use the phrase of Benedict XVI in this context – through the power of beauty expressed in such a way that even the untutored might respond to it.

This, is as far as I am aware, the way it was always done. The number of people who formally study Christian culture in school or college is not great today, but it is still, for all the fact that it is proportionately small, probably far greater in number than ever before. How many of those converts who converted to Christianity in the period of the early Church in the Roman empire had a liberal arts education I wonder? I do not know but I’ll bet it was pretty low. Yet once it was given freedom to flourish, a Christian culture emerged from a pagan cultural foundation; just as it can emerge again from the neo-pagan cultural backdrop that predominates in the West today.

If those who animate, design, direct, paint, sculpt, write and compose get it right, then their work will engage people today and stimulate their receptivity to God. Ultimately that will take place, most likely in connection with the artistic forms that are in the liturgy and in an encounter with God in the Eucharist, but it might also be via an intermediary aspects of the culture that are derived from and point to the liturgical. This is like the layers of an onion, or the spheres in an Aristotelian universe, in which the outer ring directs us to the next inner ring and by degrees we make the transition to epicenter.

So, to illustrate with the example of music, we still need composers of three-minute popular ditties as much as we need composers of highly elevated music or liturgical music. In today’s fragmented culture we need a whole variety of different forms that will appeal to different types of people at a superficial level and which in turn stimulate in them the beginnings of a desire for something greater. At the heart of the diagram below, at the end of the Christian’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, is the Eucharist. Christ is the node through which we pass and which connects us to the outer Prime Mover from which all of this originates. (Incidentally, I would say that looking from where we sit right now, the earth is the center of the universe as it is quite reasonable to consider the place of the other heavenly bodies relative to where we view them from…but that’s another debate!)

The measure of the quality of such modern creativity is the power and nature of the effect it has on those who hear it. The best music will be accessible to its intended audience (which not be all people, but most likely a particular section of the population) and stimulate in them a desire for something higher. The highest forms are those which are connected to the liturgy and the function of these is to lead people to God Himself in the Blessed Sacrament. This is why, however popular Christian ‘popular’ music might be and however many people might attend Masses with such music in the context of the liturgy, there is no place for such musical forms. (In fact it usually isn’t really all that popular despite what people tell you, see my article here on the subject.) Just because people are listenting to it and enjoying it, doesn’t mean that it is doing the work of directing people to the Eucharist as powerfully as it should.

We need exclusively liturgical forms, with chant having preeminance, which have the highest potential to open hearts to God in the context of the worship of Him. Even here we must have new composition too. I would not want to displace the canon of chants for the Mass, but there must be, I suggest, newer compositions that participate in this tradition for the overall impact to have real power with the greatest number of people.

As mentioned, while there is no place for superficiality in the liturgy, superficiality does have its place outside the church! There is a place for superficiality, and that is to engage people and a superficial level and prime them to engage with something deeper. Therefore we need inspired composition and creativity across the whole spectrum of entertainment in wider culture too.

The argument applies to all art forms, not just music; and to those art forms that have no direct place in the liturgy, such as film and video. Creativity in these areas ought to stimulate the potential for receptivity of the forms that are in the liturgy. So the drama of movies will prime the viewer to be receptive to the presentation of the human story of redemption that is realised in the Mass through other media, as explained here. Moviemakers who do this will not only do the greatest service to mankind, but will also make the most popular and lucrative films!

Recently I was sent this video of a performance of Schubert’s Ave Maria for the Italian senate by the Italian trio, Il Volo (h/t Gareth Genner, President of Pontifex University).

Here is evidence that beautiful music can be very popular if performed well. By all accounts these three young men (whose pop-star good looks no doubt draw in a few additional admirers) speak without inhibition of the importance they place on family values. It is a good thing that such music is still popular but we can rely solely on the good music of the past to do this..

While Schubert can be heard occasionally in the context of the liturgy, it is not, I suggest, genuinely liturgical music. Rather, it is higly elevated profane music that bridges the gap between the sacred and the mundane and its true place is the concert rather than the liturgy. This particular piece of music was not originally written for the Latin prayer at all, as it happens. It was originally a setting for a German translation of a poem, beginning with the same words ‘Ave Maria’ written by Sir Walter Scott. For all its power now, it will have been most powerful in fulfilling its function I suggest with the original text and for the ears of its original intended audience, who were the Austrians of 1825.

We need Schuberts for today too, who will compose this ‘bridging music’ for us today and is for the concert hall. To my mind, such a person is the American composer Frank La Rocca. His music has its place in that first concentric ring outside the strictly liturgical. Unlike Shubert’s Ave Maria, much of his music is inspired directly by sacred texts and themes and so is certainly not out of place as meditative or devotional music in the context of the liturgy; but it is as likely to be as effective and therefore popular, I suggest, in the concert hall. May there be more like him!

Frank has a newly composed piece, Ne irascaris Domine (Be not angry O Lord..) that premiers in a variety of locations in Europe and the US in April and May. There are concerts in Galway, Ireland and Oakland, California on April 29th; and in London on May 7th. Judging from the regularity of concerts of his music taking place as indicated on his website, here Frank is steadily gaining ground in connected with people today.

When Art Saved the Catholic Faith

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How do you make contrition and penance look attractive? You turn to the artists for help.

“The Counter-Reformation urgently needed to re-awaken the need for penance and penitential practices among the faithful, but it needed to do so by lifting up rather than beating down. Art came to the rescue by proposing models of confession and contrition that would stimulate the faithful to emulate them.”

Elizabeth Lew continues her series of articles on the art of the counter reformation at Aletia.

Read the rest here.

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the diocese of Sacramento as well as a working artist, he writes on art and faith at www.DeaconLawrence.org 

The Apostolic Blueprint for a Parish, the Model of Christian Community in the Modern Age

There is lots of discussion today about the loss of community and how the parishes, even those that seem well attended, don’t seem to be the center or the community any more.

A common response is to look to the monastic model as an antidote. My sense is that the current interest in the much vaunted Benedict Option, in which hope for the West is placed in a Benedictine led spiritual revival is as much about fulfilling a desire for Christian community as it is for the transformation of the culture. Others have painted a picture of the medieval village with its houses clustered around the monastery as the families walk to Vespers in the gothic abbey church.

The disadvantage for such an arrangement can be that the spiritual heart is a religious community which, by its nature, is separated from the rest of the world and therefore also from the lay people who identify themselves as part of the lay extension of that community. This is not an insurmountable problem and there is nothing wrong with this if those involved don’t mind this and if the fruits of it are positive, but given the low number and often the remoteness of monastic communities, even if we put aside the difficulties, it isn’t a realistic option for most until they can retire to rural France…or Oklahoma..or wherever it may be.

I have seen people try to create lay communities of working people and their families by trying to encourage those who join to live a compound of homes where all subscribe to some modified Benedictine rule. The drawback here is that it is difficult to overcome the conflict between the demands of community and of family life – there is often a tension between the two. Some seem to manage it, but others in extreme cases can have a cultish feel to them. Such communities are by necessity strongly heirarchial if they are to avoid falling into anarchy – ultimately someone or a small group of people are in charge over decisions in daily living that effect others – this immediately creates conflict because that community authority or influence will tend interfere with, or even undermine, the natural authority of parents in the family.

Such a conflict rarely arises in parish life because beyond attendance, the parish itself does not impose rules at all beyond what the Church as a whole requires. There is no rule for parish life, that I am aware of, in the way that there are rules for religious communities. But this is also the source of a weakness for the parish as a basis of community. The connection is usually so loose that it is rare, nowadays at least, for people to feel bound to it at all.

This is where the need for a set of principles for parish community might come useful and this is what I heard described recently.

St Elias Melkite Catholic Church, in Los Gatos, California had their annual visit from the bishop, Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra Eparchial Bishop of Newton recently. I attended Vespers and beforehand he spoke encouraging words, exercising his pastorial role as Bishop. The subject of his talk was how a parish can be a genuine community or as a put it, part of the Church and not simply a social club.

He began by going back to scripture and in particular he analysed the growth of the early Church as described by the Acts of the Apostles. He pointed out how the descriptions of the early gatherings seemed to point to four ministries that we should replicate today.

First (of course!) worship: Divine Liturgy (or Mass) and the Divine Office in the Church. Then he spoke of the need to take that worship back into the home by the establishment of the Domestic Church where the occupants of a house (not always families, this can be people living on their own or single people sharing somewhere) pray the Divine Office to their icon corner. St Elias’s pastor, Fr Sebastian Carnazzo has produced free booklets which he gives to everyone who walks into the church called Daily Prayer for Melkites. This give a simple stripped down version of the more complex, monastic derived full Morning and Evening Prayer, which families can do and by which they participate in the fuller monastic influenced form that a church might do at Vespers or Orthros. In doing this they are dispersing the liturgy across time and space and taking the Church out to their homes.

Second is social – he talked of the regular organization of social events and especially meals connected to the worship and how newcomers should be spotted and invited to attend the coffee social/meal after the Liturgy. Again, this structure of communal meals after worship can be replicated in the home. There is something wonderful about a social event in a home which is Vespers followed by a meal. He spoke also of how an apparently thriving parish can, detrimentally, also have this social element emphasized at the expense of the others so creating a social club and not a church. In the long run a parish that does this will die. When it is done properly, the hope will be that this will naturally generate friendships and social cohesion beyond the church, so creating a social fellowship amongst the parish community which supplements and derives its strength from those parish based social events and ultimately the fellowship of the Spirit and the liturgy.

Third is education. He spoke of how great a need there is for constant mystagogy of adults and instruction of the children and that churches should hold classes for both. The children, he said, should be instructed in the church, in the ideal, by a couple so that it establishes as a habit in the children the practice of looking to parents in the home for education and instruction. And that, of course, is the next step here – the education of the children in the home by the parents.

Fourth is charity – almsgiving. This is the spirit of love by which people donate time and money for the care of others in the church, in the community and beyond. Some of that time will be spent in contributing freely to ministries that provide these four parish functions. Again, we see the model being set in the parish, and then supernatural transformation of those involved so that they take their enhanced capacity to love out to their fellows. This dispersed charity, if I can call it that, participates in that which should be at its greatest in the parish.

Bishop Nicholas suggested that apart from the functions that are necessarily performed by a priest, these are ministries that lay people should take responsibility for. And in the ideal they will never be onerous for anyone. As he described it, this is a natural organization of community and each of us has charism that suits us to work within one form or another of these ministries. In short, we are made to be members of the Church and if not religious, very likely part of a parish, so when we find our natural niche by which we contribute most powerfully to parish life, we will flourish in a special way as part of it. This would be a true flowering of a liturgically centered ‘charismatic’ movement. Furthermore when you have people who are doing what comes naturally to them as part of these ministries, then we shine with the light of Christ and people will see something in us, and this will in turn attract them to parish life.

What he was presenting was a simple ‘rule’ for parish life. A set of guidelines by which if the congregation chooses to participate is likely to lead the establishment of a thriving church; and when each is in place the fifth element occurs spontaneously – evangelization.

He was in fact outlining a simple template for the project management of the new evangelization!…which is the same as the old evangelization, and is in fact the oldest evangelization.

It occured to me also, that this is a possible pattern for communities that are not monastic but perhaps bound together in some other way. Little neighborhood groups of families and single people – maybe in an apartment block – can each have their own domestic churches in their separate home and apartments, but then gather together from time to time as little parish sub-communities gathering in the home of one, reinforcing this parish template for community in all.

I think this may be a practical answer to the desire for community in modern man. Most of us are meant to be parish people, not monastic people (which is a special calling) and when life is organized on the pattern of the ideal pattern we will flourish and evangelize others.

The more it is replicated outside the church in different social groups the more it will create a bond of community for that particular grouping, while simultaneously priming those who have never been to church for participation in the parish community; and further developing the bond to it in those who already have a parish life.

Amongst those who are thinking about the decline of community and Christian culture in the West there is a tendency to assume that the establishemnt of the post-Enlightenment model of a city is the one of the culprits – perhaps industrialization and electronic communication, and the existence of giant connurbations of millions of people is part of the problem. This is the back-to-the-land, recreate-a-village outlook. There may be something to this, but I do wonder sometimes if this is not based upon an idealized view of what villages and working on the land used to be like. My instincts tell me that the sense of alienation arises not so much from the environment, as it much is within the person who is alienated. If I feel alienated then I must become more of a community person; it is by offering fellowship and community to others that I feel part of a community myself. This therefore, can happen wherever there are people. I should redirect my work into an effort to participate in the church-as-community in the fullest sense.

Again, this doesn’t mean that we all need to live in a village or even within walking distance of our local church; that parish community can be dispersed quite wide permeating a wider population base and still be strong. The old maxim – you get what you give – seems to be the operating principle here and in a city there always people nearby to whom I can offer community. Regardless of whether or not they accept it, I will change in the effort to bring it to them. Certainly, I should admit, Bishop Nicholas’s address made me ask a few questions of myself.

The paintings are all by LS Lowry, who made his name painting the industrial landscapes of the mill towns in Greater Manchester in England after the Second World War.

New Mural by Aidan Hart Unveiled

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Secco is the method of painting on dry plaster, as opposed to fresco which is painted on wet plaster.

Aiden Hart has just completed a secco mural at the Lancaster University Catholic Chaplaincy.

Take a look.

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the diocese of Sacramento as well as a working artist, he writes on art and faith at www.DeaconLawrence.org 

Climacus Conference Talks Online

hgwpv2y5In 2015, the theme for the annual Climacus Conference in Louisville Ky, was “Truth, Beauty, Goodness, will save us.” All of the talks from the conference may be accessed online.

“From February 13th through the 14th, St. Michael Orthodox Church in Louisville, Kentucky, hosted the 2015 Climacus Conference of Thoughtful Ascent. This year’s gathering was titled “Truth, Goodness, Beauty Will Save Us” and featured lectures on Sacral and Theological Aesthetics; Objective and Transcendent Beauty; Augustine, Aquinas, and Kant on Beauty; and Imaginative, Iconographic, Architectural, and Poetic Aesthetics.”

You can find the talks here on the Ancient Faith Ministries website.

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the diocese of Sacramento as well as a working artist, he writes on art and faith at www.DeaconLawrence.org 

A New Symphony Orchestra Founded upon an Orthodox Christian Aesthetic

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I once met a gentleman who was a Hollywood “insider.” That is, he knew how things worked in the film industry. I took the opportunity to ask him a question I had pondered for many years.

“There is an obvious trend in the types of movies that people will spend money on. Generally, G-rated family fare, with solid stories that do not insult the intelligence of the parents always do well. Given that, why do we not see more of these types of movies?”

His response?

“Too many directors think they have a better idea about how movies should be made.”

So ego, pride, vanity, however you want to characterize it, prevents us from developing the beautiful, transcendent art that we deserve. This seems to hold true for all media.

Maestro Vladimir Gorbik, choral director of the Moscow Representation Church of the Holy Trinity-St Bergius Lavra, sees this as one of the issue with modern classical music. He has created a new orchestra which will base its performances on traditional interpretations and grounded in the aesthetic of the liturgical forms of the Orthodox Church.

It has been said that all significant forms of art begin at the altar. Maestro Gorbik begins there because it is through the liturgy that we will have our most significant impact on the culture.

Andrew Gould at the Orthodox Arts Journal has an interview with the Maestro which can be read here.

For more specifics about Maestro Gorbik’s new orchestra and his partnerships with the Moscow Conservatory and PaTRAM, see this article by Seraphim Hanisch.

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the diocese of Sacramento as well as a working artist, he writes on art and faith at www.DeaconLawrence.org 

The Artist as Priest

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When does an artist take on the role of priest? When he makes the invisible, visible. The priest does this when celebrating the sacraments, but the artist can also fulfill this role by making visible the transcendent properties of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

According to John T. Spike, the assistant director and chief curator of the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary, that is what renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli strove to achieve.

Botticelli is most famous for his painting “The Birth of Venus.” But his work extended beyond mythological motifs to sacred art as well.

Spike has curated an extraordinary exhibit of the artist’s work opening at the Borton Museum of Fine art on April 18 and running through July 9, 2017.

Read more about the exhibit at Crux.

“the paintings reflect Botticelli’s “lifelong effort to make visible the invisible beauty of the Divine.”

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the diocese of Sacramento as well as a working artist, he writes on art and faith at www.DeaconLawrence.org 

Interview with Catholic Author Fr. James Schall

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K.V. Turley continues his series of interviews with Catholic authors over at Catholic World Report, this time with Fr. James Schall.

“The writer’s vocation is to save his soul and that of others by what he writes. This involves, basically, seeking and telling the truth of things.”

Read the entire interview here.

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the diocese of Sacramento as well as a working artist, he writes on art and faith at www.DeaconLawrence.org 

 

Love Made Visible

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“Pope Francis says that in our time, “humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history,” in which “our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences.” We are acutely aware that in our world abortion is tolerated, personal conscience obliterated, and the family undermined and attacked by the cultural powers that shape public opinion and policy. More personally, we are all aware that in our post-Christian culture, men and women are impacted by a terrible loneliness, a despondency, and, ultimately, by the gripping despair of life without God.”

“Encountering Christ in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is an invitation, for all people, to deepen their relationship with the Lord, and to grow in communion with his Church. In adoration, we grow in unity and friendship with him—we learn to hear his voice, to know his will, and, most especially, to know and trust the power of his love.”

Read Bishop James Conley’s pastoral letter on adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the diocese of Sacramento as well as a working artist, he writes on art and faith at www.DeaconLawrence.org