Page 4, 8th May 1953

8th May 1953
Page 4
Page 4, 8th May 1953 — WORSHIP

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Organisations: Holy Office
People: Pius Xll, Eric Gill
Locations: Rome


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By Fr. J. D. Crichton IT is undeniable. I think, that there is a certain tension between the Church and the modern artist who would work for the Church. Since the directive of the French Bishops issued in April, 1952, and the Instruction of the Holy Office of June, 1952, there has been widespread and sometimes furious, controversy all over the continent, but especially in France.

Not even the echoes of it seem to have reached this country—which perhaps is just as well for it is difficult as vet to discern the elements of a solution—and I have no intention of trying even to review the controversy. (A complete dossier and a full account will be found in Les Ques1ions Lilurgiques et Paroi.ssales,

No, I. 1953—Mont Cesar---Louvain.)

What follows is the fruit of re

flection on some of the issues as they

concern the parish clergy at a prac tical level.

Things in Church are both the instruments needed for worship, such as chalice and vestments, and things that are the objects of some kind of worship or veneration, such as

statues and pictures. They are there for a practical purpose. The church is not a picture gallery nor is the sacristy a museum.

Priests and people who worship in churches are not concerned primarily, or at all with art but with worship. They go to church to pray and all the things used in church are subordinated to that end. As Christian men and women they may be, and indeed ought to be, concerned with art. For, as Eric Gill insisted, art is making and the artist in his making is a co-operator with the Creator. But when the Christian gets down on his knees he is concerned primarily, and in a sense, exclusively with worship.

It seems to follow, then. that artobjects which do not assist his prayer are not valid objects of worship. Artistically they may have a high interest—like Stravinsky's Mass— but liturgically they will be null.

If I am asked to say Mass with a chalice as narrow as a tulip or flatter than a champagne glass, I know I am going to have difficulties. Such chalices are bad as instruments of sacrifice, however beautiful they may be to look upon.

The Problem

HALICES are, however, a

simple . matter—though silly chalices have been made in modern as in past times. But when we come to pictures and statues (and indeed churches themselves), we find ourselves up against an as yet unresolved problem.

What sort of images help the ordinary member of the ordinary parish to pray? The answer is immediately obvious: he wants the sort of thing the modern artist is least happy about, the thing he will condemn and reject out of hand.

The ordinary man prefers the

naturalistic, anatomically perfect, image that he can immediately understand, and usually will be utterly unconcerned by what debased methods it is made.

The more refined who know about art (i.e., medieval—usually mock— and Renaissance) will require something that is an imitation of what they have always known, and thus they put all modern artists immediately out of work.

In other words, the gap between the ordinary man in the pew and the contemporary artist could not be wider. They do not speak the same language, they have no understanding of each other at ail.

Clergg can help

HOW is this gap to be bridged?

Indeed can it be bridged? Indeed can it be bridged?

The clergy can do a little by employing artists to make the things that must go into church; but often, since he is spending other people's money, the priest will not want to buy things that horrify his congregation. Often, too, artistically speaking, he is in exactly the same position as the man in the pew. But it may hap

pen also that having asked for a

statue of Our Lady, he is presented with some strange twisted "moostrosity" (as he would call it) and is accordingly revolted, as well as

exceedingly angry.

The fault, then, is not all on the side of the simple people (including their priests). Things in church are made for church. Liturgical art is a specific form of art for a specific purpose: to assist people to pray.

The abstract patterns of some modern artists do not and will not ever help ordinary Christians to pray. and one does not see why they

should ever he bothered by such


The thing the artist needs to concern himself about more than he has done is what St. Thomas called the finis opens. The end and purpose of a religious statue is to help ordinary people to pray. As the Holy Office has said, it should be intelligihle, within the capacity of ordin

ary folk.

Rome's view

THAT does not mean that Rome is obscurantist in this matter— far from it; the Church has shown her interest in modern art in many ways, and has indicated that the artist's terms of reference are very wide indeed.

Pius Xll in Christian Worship (247) has said that "modem pictures and statues, whose style is more adapted to the materials in use at the. present day, are not to be condemned out of hand," and be goes on to make the enormously important plea that artists should "take into account more the needs of the Christian community than the personal taste and judgment of the artist" (ibid.)

Liturgical art, i.e., the making of

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