So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Where have all the statues gone?

Where have all the statues gone, long time passing?
Where have all the statues gone, long time ago?
Where have all the statues gone?
Gone to the trash heap everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

—pace Peter, Paul & Mary.

So many Catholic churches are barren, bereft of art, bereft of imagination. Too many churches are filled with the remnants of silly 1970s decor. Drab banners and weak stained glass images flatten the Faith. Awkward altars barely better than picnic tables suggest the Holy Eucharist is merely a communal meal no different than a visit to some fast food outlet.

Starved of the example of masterful Christian art and subject to gart, the term my philosophy of aesthetics professor used to describe an object possessing far less merit than art, is it any wonder that Catholic sensibilities are conditioned to think clumsy constructions and mind numbing melodies are acceptable in Catholic worship?

If they haven't arrived already, creches will be appearing in parishes before too long. Some are placed beneath the altar. Other parishes locate the creche before the ambo or in a side chapel where people quietly ponder the mystery of the Incarnation and Birth of Jesus and embrace God's beautiful embrace of mankind. Some creches are works of art that move the heart to burn for God and bring tears to the eyes. Other much less inspiring images cause heartburn and bring tears to the eyes for entirely different reasons.

Whatever the merit of a particular creche, it is good to recall that the practice of employing such devotional aids is blessed by the Church. We are Catholics. We are not iconoclasts whose inability to appreciate the implications of the Incarnation—i.e., the revelation in Christ of the unseen God—is not only irrational but heretical.

Celebrate with beautiful images that elevate the senses and direct the heart toward God!

The Catholic Church during the Council of Trent (1545-1563) issued a clear statement concerning images and statues. According to the 25th Session of this General Council:
The images of Christ and of the Virgin Mother of God, and of the saints are to be had and retained particularly in churches, and due honor and veneration are to be given them; not that any divinity or virtue is believed to be in them on account of which they are to be worshipped, or that anything is to be asked of them, or that trust is to be reposed in images, as was of old by the Gentiles, who placed their hopes in idols; but because the honor which is shown them is referred to the prototypes which these images represent; so that we through the images which we kiss... or bend the knee, adore Christ and venerate the saints, whom they represent. [The Canons & Decrees of the Council of Trent (TAN Books, 1978) p. 215-6]
The Church does NOT compel her members to kneel or pray before images. No one is allowed by the Church to pray to images since they have no ears to hear or power to help us. The Church allows for the veneration of images as long as the honor is directed towards Christ and His saints.

On a related issue, some Christians may object to the veneration of images of the saints since they believe that honor should be directed towards God alone and not towards Mary or the saints (1 Tim. 1:17). This objection arises from a confusion between divine honor (adoration - supreme honor proper only for God) and respectful honor proper for men. According to the Bible, the people of God bowed down before King David to show him honor (2 Sam. 24:20; 1 Chron. 29:20; 21:21). Obadiah in 1 Kings 18:7 fell prostrate before Elijah showing him reverence for being a prophet of God. In the Ten Commandments, we are told to honor our mother and father (Deut. 5:16). Even Jesus defended and obeyed this Commandment (Mark 7:9-13; Luke 2:51). At least for Mary, our honor to her is in imitation of Jesus, her Son (1 Cor. 11:1). The Church allows for the veneration of the saints and their images as long as it remains honor proper for men. It is good to honor the saints for their love and trust in God (Matt. 22:31-32; Heb. 11:1-12:1).
Latria (adoration): worship of God; worship proper to God.
Hyperdulia: honour shown toward the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
Dulia: honour shown toward the saints.
veneration (n.) early 15c., from Old French veneracion, from Latin venerationem (nominative veneratio) "reverence, profoundest respect," noun of action from past participle stem of venerari "to worship, revere," from venus (genitive veneris) "beauty, love, desire".

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