(A)t the end of the Council the Fathers addressed a greeting and an appeal to artists: “This world—they said—in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration!”.(19) In this spirit of profound respect for beauty, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium recalled the historic friendliness of the Church towards art and, referring more specifically to sacred art, the “summit” of religious art, did not hesitate to consider artists as having “a noble ministry” when their works reflect in some way the infinite beauty of God and raise people's minds to him.(20) Thanks also to the help of artists “the knowledge of God can be better revealed and the preaching of the Gospel can become clearer to the human mind”.(21) In this light, it comes as no surprise when Father Marie Dominique Chenu claims that the work of the historian of theology would be incomplete if he failed to give due attention to works of art, both literary and figurative, which are in their own way “not only aesthetic representations, but genuine 'sources' of theology”.(22)—Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to artists, 1999.
As the Council recalls, the liturgical action of the Church is also a part of her contribution to the civilizing task (cf. Gaudium et spes n. 58, 4). The liturgy is indeed the celebration of the central event of human history, the redemptive Sacrifice of Christ. By this, it testifies to the love with which God loves mankind, it testifies that human life has a meaning and that [man] is called by vocation to take part in the glorious life of the Trinity.
Mankind needs this testimony. It needs to perceive, by way of the liturgical celebrations, that the Church is conscious of the Lordship of God and of the dignity of man. It has the right to be able to discern, beyond the limitations that will always characterize her rites and ceremonies, that Christ "is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister" (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 7).
Aware of the concern which you have surrounding your liturgical celebrations, I encourage you to cultivate the art of celebration (ars celebrandi), to help your priests in this sense, and to work ceaselessly in the liturgical formation of seminarians and faithful. Respect for the established norms expresses love and fidelity to the Church's faith, to the treasure of grace that she protects and passes on. The beauty of the celebrations, much more than innovations and subjective adaptations, is what makes the work of evangelization durable and efficacious.—Benedict XVI, Address to the bishops of France, ad limina visit. (Rorate Cæli blog).
Monkey see monkey do.
Is Mass the liturgy of heaven descending into the midst of the congregation, or is it merely a happy fellowship time replete with glad-handing and devotional ditties that focus on the worshipper instead the One worshipped? If priestly behaviour at the altar is any indication, the concept that Christ acts in His Liturgy is ignored more than embraced in far too many theological institutions that ready priests for service (cf. Cardinal Sarah's missive, HERE).
Ars celebrandi at its roots is, as we saw, not so much a matter of a series of actions put together in a harmonious unity as much as a deeply interior communion with Christ — the art of conforming to Christ, the High Priest, and His sacrificial and salvific actio. It does not so much connote the freedom to do as one pleases as much as the freedom to be united to the priestly mission of Christ. To understand this concept well, we need to look at it as being effective at three different levels: an interior level in which the priest becomes a listener of the Word of God as it has been mediated by the Holy Spirit within the Church (interiority); an attitude of total obedience and identity with that Word (obedience to norms); and finally a profoundly absorbed celebration of the sacred mysteries in the liturgy (devoutness).—Archbishop Ranjith, Towards an Ars Celebrandi in Liturgy, 2008.
Now, imagine a drama more vast that you can possibly imagine with a list of cast members constituting a litany spanning all time and eternity. That is the Mass, for in the Mass Christ makes present all of history. We, in Christ in the Mass, are present to eternity with the saints and the holy angels of God.
3. The "Ars Celebrandi"
Here are the reasons why in the last four decades the Magisterium has reminded priests several times of the importance of the "ars celebrandi," which -- although it does not consist only in the perfect execution of the rites according to the books, but also and above all in the spirit of faith and adoration with which these are celebrated -- cannot be carried out, however, if it is removed from the norms established for the celebration.
It is expressed thus, for example, by the Holy Father Benedict XVI: "The first way with which the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is fostered is the proper celebration of the rite itself. The
'ars celebrandi' is the best premise for the 'actuosa participatio.' The 'ars celebrandi' stems from faithful obedience to the liturgical norms in their plenitude, as it is precisely this way of celebrating which has ensured for two thousand years the life of faith of all believers, who are called to live the celebration as People of God, royal priesthood, holy nation (cf. 1 P 2, 4-5.9)."—Observance of Liturgical Norms and "Ars Celebrandi": Father Gagliardi Reflects on Abuses in Celebrating the Mass (Zenit, 2010).
Men and women—parents—must be trained to see and hear the details. Otherwise, from whom will children learn to delight in their surroundings and learn to listen deeply into the music and prayers they hear, to invest themselves in experience to find and savour authentic meaning? If people do not move beyond the flat screen of a text message, souls will become even more arid, scoured free of depth by emotionless two dimensional 140 character fits of madness.
Cardinal Ratzinger, a few years before he became pope, observed how some appeals can be like the “experience of beauty of which Genesis speaks in the account of the Original Sin. Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was ‘beautiful’ to eat and was ‘delightful to the eyes.’” “Who would not recognize,” he went on to say, “in advertising, the images made with supreme skill that are created to tempt the human being irresistibly, to make him want to grab everything and seek the passing satisfaction rather than be open to others.” He contrasted this with an experience he had in Munich soon after the death of Karl Richter. He was sitting at a Bach concert, next to the Lutheran Bishop Johannes Hanselmann, and when the performance was over he said,
When the last note of one of the great Thomas Kantor Cantatas triumphantly faded away, we looked at each other [and] said, “Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true.” The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s inspiration.
I have been arguing that the arrow between intellect and virtue travels in a different direction than scholars sometimes suppose. That the cultivation of virtue prepares the ground for the work of the intellect, because “virtue makes us aim at the right mark.” Let me give one more example. When we went off to college my mother would say, after the fashion of St. Monica, “Don’t forget your prayers.” After I got out of law school she came to visit me in New York, and I told her about a book I had just read (by J.N.D. Kelly, as I recall) on early Christian doctrine. I asked if she knew that the words “light from light” that we recited in the Nicene Creed were meant to resolve the Arian heresy about the relation between God the Father and God the Son. She said, “Dear, the important thing is not that you understand it. The important thing is that you believe it.”—from Intellect and Virtue: the Idea of the Catholic University. Inaugural Address, President John Garvey, 2011.
The Church's story is a witness to the Gospel, a legacy of centuries of experience, wisdom and Christian living.