Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On Beauty

In his book The Feast of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI (then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) addresses the question of sacred music in a passage well worth pondering:
The movement of spiritualization in creation is understood properly as bringing creation into the mode of being of the Holy Spirit and its consequent transformation, exemplified in the crucified and resurrected Christ. In this sense, the taking up of music into the liturgy must be its taking up into the Spirit, a transformation that entails both death and resurrection. That is why the Church has had to be critical of ethnic music; it could not be allowed untransformed into the sanctuary. The cultic music of pagan religions has a different status in human existence from the music which glorifies God in creation. Through rhythm and melody themselves, pagan music often endeavors to elicit an ecstasy of the senses, but without elevating the sense into the spirit; on the contrary, it attempts to swallow up the spirit in the senses as a means of release. This imbalance toward the senses recurs also in modern popular music: the "God" found here, the salvation of man identified here, is quite different from the God of the Christian faith.

So what is beautiful and what is not? Well I reject the notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I could upload several images for you to review and it would not be difficult to determine which one is beautiful and which one is not. The truth is beauty needs no explanation, needs no defense. Beauty is always uplifting. Beauty moves towards the perfection, it moves towards the Perfect One. What has permeated our modern culture is the notion that there are no absolutes and that we are obligated to "accept" the "beauty" in all things. It is this relativism that has cause us to put hideous music in our churches, build these utilitarian, multifunctional, high tech, audio/video buildings that have no art whatsoever in them and call them churches, to take a step down away from God in our worship and liturgy.

"Indeed," the Pope writes, "searching for a beauty that is foreign to or separate from the human search for truth and goodness would become (as unfortunately happens) mere asceticism and, especially for the very young, a path leading to ephemeral values and to banal and superficial appearances, even a flight into an artificial paradise that masks inner emptiness." Pope Benedict also calls on contemporary reasoning to rediscover the link between beauty, truth and goodness. "And if such a commitment applies to everyone," the Pope asserts, "it applies even more to believers, to the disciples of Christ, who are called by the Lord to 'give reasons' for all the beauty and truth of their faith

If we don't experience the liturgy of the Mass as something different, beyond what is in our daily "pagan" world, then we are stepping down and making our Creator and King of the Universe a caricature of Himself. We are "dumbing down" to the secular society. That is why it is imperative to retain a sense that what is happening in church is not what is happening outside. Jesus Christ in His splendor and glory is more than some tv reality show, let's stop being on "autopilot" and going through the motion when it comes to our worship.

No comments: