The Way of Beauty
The good life is the joyful life
Here is a report of the presentation on architecture and art by Fr Michael Lang of the Brompton Oratory at the Sacra Liturgia 2013. I hope I have done it justice.
Once again this was posted first on Catholic Education Daily. This is blog of the Cardinal Newman Society which seeks to spur on liturgical renewal in Catholic higher education, so I was very happy to be asked to report on the conference for them; and to make NLM readers aware of the efforts they are making in this direction as well as what went on in the report.
In this presentation Fr Lang stressed the need for liturgical forms that are in harmony with with well directed worship and for informed patronage; and a dialogue between artist and patron in the planning stages. In his presentation he did not rely on personal opinion as to the quality of the architecture he was showing (the opinions expressed in the article about particular churches are mine not his). Rather, he laid out the processes by which the architect was commissioned, and told us the (often absurd and grandiose) aims articulated by the architect. Then, dispassionately, he compared the stated aims with the requirements of the traditions of Church pointing out differences and contradictions if they occurred. Then without further comment after this analysis he presented us with a photograph of the final product, allowing us to make up our minds. The laughter of the audience said it all.…
Here are some photos of the gardens of the palace – the Alcazar – in Spain. Owing much in style to the Moorish builders of the palace and gardens (like the even more well known example in Granada), it has nevertheless been since the reconquista a palace of the Spanish Royal Family and so has become reflective of something that is a much distinctively Spanish.
I have wonderful memories of visiting this palace and the gardens. I went to Seville for the wedding of a friend to a Spanish lady whose family originated in Seville. The wedding was right at the beginning of September and the weather was almost unbearably hot. In the first two or three days there, we were preoccupied with the wedding and preparations. It was a wonderful occasion but by the time everything was over I was utterly exhausted. The heat was sapping and I was staying in a hostel that didn’t have good air conditioning and so I hadn’t slept well. We had put aside a few days for sightseeing and so the first place we headed for was this palace.
You enter through the main entrance of the palace building and then after seeing the interior move through to the courtyards in the back and then the expansive gardens beyond. Going out into the courtyard was like emerging into a new and wonderful world. First of all the temperature was controlled. The courtyards had little fountains and shade and the evapouration created a natural drop in temperature.…
In the opening talk at Sacra Liturgia 2o13 the wonderful Cardinal Malcolm Ranjinth of Sri Lanka mentioned, almost in passing it seemed to me, how important he felt that we assert the Pauline anthropology of body, soul and spirit. This immediately reminded me of an paper presented by my friend Stratford Caldecott that is recorded in the proceedings of the liturgical conference at Foncombault Abbey in France in 2001. This was attended by Cardinal Ratzinger and the proceedings were edited by Alcuin Reid (who was the coordinator and a main speaker of Sacra Liturgia 2013).
In this presentation entitled Towards a Liturgical Anthropology, Caldecott argued that a key reason for the stagnation of the liturgy in the 19th century, the effects of which we are still suffering from today, is an insufficient recognition of the spirit of man. This is referred to by St Paul as aspect of the soul. You can find details of this here.
In a chapter of his new book The Radiance of Being Stratford develops this theme further. This is one interesting part of this book which has the subtitle, Dimensions of Cosmic Christianity. In it he develops a number of different themes that he written about in his blog and journal Second Spring and develops further some that he introduced in his well received book Beauty for Truth’s Sake.
Almost anything written by Stratford is worth reading, if only for his beautifully clear prose.…
When I was at the Sacra Liturgia 2013 conference in Rome, we had two Latin Masses and two Solemn Vespers all with a wonderful choir leading the congregation in chant. This was a congregation that knew their chant. Many were experienced in leading and teaching and I’m guessing that pretty much all would be in accord with the idea that Latin is the norm for the Mass and that chant and polyphony are the highest forms in which it should be sung. Not surprisingly many people joined in. What was surprising though, given the company, was how poorly the congregational members (which includes me!) managed to unify their voices with each other and the choir. We really were a fragmented collection of individuals, so much so that one of the speakers – a Benedictine – remarked upon it. So here are my thoughts on how one might achieve this in a congregation. The full article is here.
It has since struck me how singing in a choir and aiming for a beautiful unified voice requires us to think about the three aspects of beauty: due proportion, integrity and clarity – simultaneously and therefore will form us in an understanding of beauty very deeply. I have written elsewhere of how I believe that singing modal music develops our sensibilities, here; but I am talking now of an additional aspect that arises by virtue of singing with others.…
Their priest Fr Jurgen Liias was ordained in April. Kevin McDermott of St Gregory’s Church contacted me because they are raising money to pay for the making of a chalice and paten in designs that correspond to those from the time of the Gregorian mission to England.
Their website has a short photo montage and description this project which they hope to have completed by September 3rd, his Feast. It is designed by Vincent Hawley, who is a Florentine trained goldsmith who lives locally. He also designed and made a medallion based upon the earliest English painting of St Gregory (below), which is in what might have been St Bede’s own copy of the History of the English Church. You can read more about this here.
This small community of about 30 people plus a similar number of more distant friends on their mailing list has so far worked hard to raise about $10,000 to get the project going (I think I might have seen Thomas Howard, the writer in the photos of the congregation!). High quality does not come cheap and they are looking for a similar amount to complete it. I am happy to see so much energy and time devoted to the creation of beauty for the liturgy.…
As described before, on my return from the Sacra Liturgia 2013 conference in Rome I wrote an article for Catholic Education Daily in which I argued that the essence of Catholic education is education in the liturgy. The article is A School of Love: the Sacred Liturgy and Education. As part of the recommended reading of the conference and since writing this I got around to reading Sacramentum Caritatis. Within the section on ‘mystagogy’ this very matter is discussed directly.
Mystogogy means literally in Greek, ‘learning about the mysteries’. Mystagogy in this context is, to quote Stratford Caldecott ‘the stage of exploratory catechesis that comes after apologetics, after evangelization, and after the sacraments of initiation (baptism, Eucharist, and confirmation) have been received’ and is sometimes referred to a formal stage of education of the newly baptised Christian in living out the faith.
Section 64 of Pope Benedicts XVI’s encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis is entitled ‘Mystagogical Catechesis’.
In this he says:
‘The Church’s great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated, offering one’s life to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world…The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one’s life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated. The aim of all Christian education, moreover, is to train the believer in an adult faith that can make him a “new creation”, capable of bearing witness in his surroundings to the Christian hope that inspires him.’
Once again, the full article is here.…
I have recently finished a course in Kansas City, Kansas and in some ways it was an experiment. I was teaching not icons, but the style of the gothic manuscripts such as the Westminster Psalter. These images are commonly attributed to Matthew Paris and the school of St Albans in the 13th century. This is the first time I have taught this style to mature students (that is those who are not undergraduates at Thomas More College). The experience proved very positive. Many of the students who came had experience of Byzantine icon painting classes and some were even teaching others. Even though these people were familiar with the Eastern styles of icons, they took to the Western form very quickly and enjoyed learning it. I cannot prove it, but my feeling is that this is because we were all of the Roman Church and these belong to our tradition. As we are doing illuminated manuscripts we painted in egg tempera on high quality paper. One brought velum. It was encouraging that there seems to be a demand for this style – we could have filled the class twice over and have already booked to do two classes next summer in Kansas, at the Savior Pastoral Center which is run by the diocese of Kansas City, Kansas.
In a posting that will follow in the next week, I will show you the work of the students. First I present here the painting I did during the class as the demonstration piece, along with a photo of the original..…
I was recently invited to write a few pieces for Catholic Education Daily and also to report on the Sacra Liturgia 2012 conference on Sacred Liturgy. Catholic Education Daily is published by the Cardinal Newman Society which is dedicated to the promotion and defence of faithful Catholic education. I will be posting several of these over the next few weeks. I cover topics such as the presentation on art and architecture by Fr Uwe Michael Lang of the London Oratory, and why Catholic education is education for the liturgy….period!
They asked me first to write a piece about the changes that have been made gradually in the chapel at Thomas More College. For instance if you look at the photograph below showing us installing the Christ in Majesty, look at the pews. They are facing each other. I explain that we do this because it helps our liturgy – we sing the Office antiphonally and so like monks in the choir, it helps the dynamic of the singing. Also, because our chapel is a funny shape – it is wider than it is long, visually it helps to create the sense of a longitudinal sweep down the axis of the church towards the altar. The article is here.
What I don’t say in the article is that when we first introduced some students were unsettled by it. Many had not seen this arrangement before and because the pews did not face forward towards the altar, they thought this was the introduction of a post-Vatican II abuse, similar to seating in the round.…
Last week I did a feature on an American artist who lived in the 20th century yet made his name painting in the naturalistic tradition. This week there is another. Andrew Wyeth died just a couple of years ago and lived in Pennsylvania. Like Hopper he would spend his summers in Maine and so his landscapes feature this beautiful coastline as well.
Wyeth is in my opinion a master of the highest quality. Unlike Hopper, he is more traditional in his use colour. Whereas Hopper would paint the whole canvas brightly coloured, Wyeth is is content to leave large areas of the painting muted in colour, rendering them tonally; and then giving more colour and contrast in those areas of primary contrast. He handles this balance masterfully. Many of his paintings are in the medium of in egg tempera - this is the one that icon painters use. This dries very quickly and is difficult to blend. In order to create a blurred effect, Wyeth tends to treat the paint as a crayon in which he blends using multiple strokes that become more dispersed in those areas that he intends to more diffuse. He also paints beautiful watercolours.
In painting grass and trees, he tends to supply more detail than Hopper. Part of this is the consequence of using egge tempera in which every stroke is so clearly dilineated. In order to avoid the sense of a painting overloaded with detail, he relies far more on muting the colour and the contrast in comparison to those areas of primary focus.…
I was invited to attend the conference on the Sacred Liturgy Sacra Liturgia 2013 in Rome by the Cardinal Newman Society and asked to write my thoughts on what I hear and how it might impact Catholic education. This was an inspiring three days. This was the Benedictine (as in our wonderful Pope Emeritus) understanding of liturgy made manifest. I will feature the articles over the next few weeks. Before I present what I wrote for them I just want to say what a star Archbishop Sample from Portland Oregon is. He spoke on how a Bishop can introduce changes in the liturgy in his diocese. He impressed my as being totally dedicated and able to win people over without compromising on principle.
In this article I discuss what is meant by a Catholic education, especially when you are teaching things that don’t seem instrically religious, such as science. The link is here.
Founded in 1993, the Cardinal Newman Society has a mission to promote and defend faithful Catholic education.