Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Mere externals"

From Father Z we get this collection of abandoned churches. They're abandoned, they're falling into ruin, and yet they're still more beautiful than many modern churches which have all the charm and religious beauty of an airport terminal.

There's a strain of thought among many Catholics that goes something like this: "Who cares about the architecture? What difference does it make if our art isn't so hot? Why are you so concerned with things like high altars, and stained glass, and crucifixes, and chalices of precious metal? All of these things are mere externals. Our focus should be on Jesus alone."

Our ancestors were not stupid or crazy. There's a reason why they thought it was so important that churches be aesthetically pleasing: God is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Beauty of itself raises our minds to God who is the source of all Beauty. The second person of the Trinity became incarnate. The Catholic religion, by its nature, involves the senses. Vatican II did not mean for us to turn our Catholic parishes into Quaker meeting houses. Do you think our working class great-grandparents donated their hard earned money to build beautiful churches just so they could show off? As a secondary purpose, religious art and stained glass can be excellent pedagogical tools. Before literacy became universal, illiterate medieval peasants often learned their catechism through art pieces.

Obviously not every parish is going to look like St. John Lateran. But these mere externals are not things that can or should be tossed overboard lightly. Our clothes are mere externals to who we are as persons, but that doesn't mean a man should go out wearing ball gowns.

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