" Liturgical Arts "
American Catholics' Achievement
By DOM BERNARD McF,LLIGOTT ,c E must build churches then," said H
Hamlet, in a somewhat satiric reference to the shortness of human memory. It is an excellent thing to build a church, but it is more excellent to build it with its true purpose solely in view.
For us Catholics, one main purpose dominates the building and fitting-out of a church. The details of architecture, planning and furnishing of the interior, the disposition of choir and congregation: all these are right when they serve one great end, the perfect participation of the people in the corporate Sacrifice of the Mass.
The church is essentially a place where the people of a parish meet to join in the communal offering of Mass and in the reception of the Sacraments. " We deem it necessary," said Pius X in his famous Motu Proprio, " to provide before anything else for the sanctity and dignity of the church, n which the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this (Christian) spirit from its foremost and indispensable source, which is active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church."
it is neither highbrow or " aesthetic " to insist that the planning and furnishing of a Catholic church should be carried out in the light of this teaching and in obedience to it.
Liturgical Requirements Liturgical requirements are the first religious consideration. The active participation of the people in the Liturgy is what every Catholic artist -architect-designer, stoneworker, musician, painter, wood-carver, and many more-must have chiefly in view when his work is engaged for a church. For in the church which he is helping to provide " the faithful assemble for no other object."
The real artist puts naturally in the first place the purpose for which the church is being built. To the Christian artist, in fact, liturgical purpose and need have an irresistible appeal. They call out his best work. In comparison, he despises any attempt to aim at beauty for its own sake. The litur
gical artist is not aesthetic "; he is utilitarian and proud of it. Comically enough, it is the providers of " wedding-cake altars, lace appendages, showy ornaments and pretty machine-made statues, who are the aesthetes.
To Misc. the Whole Point
Such things arc' chosen on the ground that they look nice or arouse sentimentthe typically " aesthetic " point of view. Whatever his standard of it may he, the aesthetic aims directly at beauty; and does not know that to aim directly at beauty is to miss it entirely. The recall of the Christian people by the Pope to a liturgical spirituality, a way of life based on co-operation int the corporate sacrifice, brings into prominence the whole question of the arts in the service of religion. In the light of liturgical teaching there is bound to be reconsideration of some of our notions about art in the church. Here let us give honour where honour is due, A group of our fellow Catholics in America is tackling this problem with con
spicuous success. They publish a quarterly called Liturgical Arts, a really splendid affair. I should like to recommend it warmly to fellow-priests, general readers of the Catholic Herald, and all who are concerned with the exterior and interior of churches and what is done there-and who is not so concerned?
Well Chosen Illustrations The photographs are superb. They are chosen to illustrate mainly modern examples of liturgical ideal, expressed in the structure and details of church planning. Under the aegis of Liturgical Arts there seems to he real scope for the creative work of 'Catholic artists working in cooperation with each other and with the architect. This is a state of things which suggests a real step forward towards a live architecture and interior furnishing, and away from a dreary copying of " styles." One comes across an illustration accompanied by a paragraph like the following: " In the case of the Dominican College Chapel, the work was under the direction of Charles Fortune and Warren Charles Perry. The following craftsmen, working under the direction of the Monterey Guild, were responsible for the individual execution of the various parts: Charles Fortune, Lloyd Hecht, Little and Langford, Myron Oliver, Neel Parker, Robert Petersen and Richenda Stevick. The total cost of the work was approximately five thousand dollars. A detailed description of what was done Will be gladly supplied to any one desiring it." The last sentence, and the comparatively low cost strike a refreshing note of helpfulness and corporate goodwill. One would like to know more about the Monterey Guild.
The photographs of this particular chapel are of considerable interest in detail because they show the chapel first in its " unregenerate " state, what might almost literally be called its salad days, and then after liturgical renewal, Actually (and to us incredibly) Liturgical Arts promoted a competition " for remodelled churches " with a jury to decide. And here (Fourth Quarter 1936) are the "Before " and
After " photographs of the two chosen churches; and extremely instructive they are.
Maurice ,Lavanoux, the secretary of the Liturgical Arts Society, Inc. (300, Madison Avenue, New York), explains in a little pamphlet the aims of the Society and -ita Quarterly.
" It is," he writes, " with the House of God that the Liturgical Art Society is primarily concerned from every point of view' spiritual and material, artistic and practical. And as a natural consequence the Society is also concerned with all auxiliary structures, rectories, schools, hospitals, orphanages. We are concerned with helping in every way possible those in charge of Catholic building operations, however modest or extensive the means at their disposal." This help is available by means of an Information Service run by the Society. The subscription for membership of the Society is 28s. a year, but it appears possible 'to obtain Liturgical Arts separately for Ss. a year. If this is so, it is an astonishingly low price. One article before me, on Baptistries and Baptismal Fonts, is illustrated by no less than fifty-three fine photographs and seven drawings, of fonts from the fourth century to modern times.
There is barely space to mention the first-rate articles in Liturgical Arts. The work of Dom Virgil Michel, 0.S.13., and Fr. Gerald Ellard, S.J., is becoming known and appreciated in this country. In the March, 1937, number three excellent and diverse articles rub shoulders; Cardinal Villeneuve on " The importance of the Liturgy," " A Contractor speaks his mind," by John M. Dooley, and Fr. John La Farge, S.J., on " The Social Mission of the Liturgy," a particularly fine study.
" The Face of God in Art "
In the March number, 1935, appeared a profound and brilliant synthesis of Christian art and spiritual life, which is the best thing I have seen on this important subject, It is by Abbot Ildefons Herwegen, and called " The Face of God in Art."
One last instance of enterprise comes from the New York Sun of September 8. It is there described how two young Paulist priests fitted up a Motor Mission (car and trailer) to the Tennessee mountains. The trailer-interior and exteriorwith its altar and all appurtenances, was designed in detail by the Liturgical Arts Society.
The Stations of the Cross in two panels were the work of Miss Adelaide de Bethune, a noted American artist.
Liturgical Arts is an achievement, in fact, for which it is permissible to envy our American friends.