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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Fr. Ron Rolheiser has kindly written a column expanding on a talk I gave this summer at a conference on the affective formation of seminarians. My talk was on the connection between the arts and affective formation. (The notes for said talk are somewhere in the archives on the right. Somewhere around July 12 if you're the curious sort.)

Fr. Rolheiser picked up on the second part of my talk which had to do with the spiritual power of beauty. Go here to read the whole piece.

I have reworked the talk as a three-part series for the National Catholic Register. Quite by weird accident it seems, the "kinder, gentler version" of the first piece ended up not getting printed in favor of the original "mean" version. I'm getting a lot of very positive mail about the article from beauty-starved Catholics in pews everywhere. Seems like the column really hit a chord.

Here are a couple of the letters:

(from a pastor)

Dear Barbara Nicolosi,

Thank you for your clear and enjoyable article “Art and Liturgy” in last week’s National Catholic Register. I am the pastor of a large Catholic church, 4300 families. I am trying to bring beauty back into the weekend Masses and it’s not so simple. The biggest problem is our church building, which neither acoustically nor visually supports Catholic liturgy (we are hoping to demolish and rebuild). Another problem is lack of talent or even basic understanding. I myself began a Gregorian Chant schola but am not qualified to direct any level of polyphony. I hired a competent organist as music director, but she is Orthodox and does not have a clear idea of what makes for Catholic liturgical music. I have seven different choirs and not nearly enough time to review weekly music lists. While our music director makes beautiful music, I can’t depend on her to do beautiful liturgical music. She was the best director we came up with in a 10-month nationwide search. It’s slim pickins out there!

I write for three reasons:

* to thank you for articulating, in winning prose, our current distress
* to offer you some insight into what your pastors face in trying to rebuild a lost patrimony
* to ask if you know of anyone whom we might hire as “liturgical director.” You might observe that the pastor should invest his time into directing his own liturgies, but should I do that with all of our choirs, lectors, altar servers, altar guild, environment people, extraordinary communion ministers, etc., I would have very little time left to visit the sick, direct our building program, counsel the doubtful, etc. I am quite willing to invest parish funds into the liturgy, as I know it will come back (“I can’t afford not to”). But who?

Someone with both an appreciation for beauty and an education in authentic liturgy. The latter just means, I suppose, a “Catholic” sense of sacramental rites and a knowledge of the pertinent documents.

Thank you again for articulating the problem in your article. Perhaps you can help this one parish with a solution. If you know of anyone, have them email me, or shoot me over contact info.

Fr. M.S., CA

[Note from Barb: Does anybody know of a liturgist I can refer on to Father? Thanks..]

Dear Ms. Nicolosi,
You cannot imagine how relieved I was to read your article on the Arts and the Church. I have often felt like I was the only person left in the Church who feels that what we offer God in the sacrifice of the Mass is less than stellar. I am not an artist myself, therefore, I did not feel it was appropriate to criticize and judge. However, I know something about art appreciation having spent a good deal of time in Europe and status quo isn't cutting it! When our Byzantine priest was new to the parish, he was appalled at the lack of a crucifix (we had a Resurrected Christ instead, and, by the way, what are known around the state as "Precious Moments" stained glass windows) and proceeded to "Catholic Up" the place. What an improvement! We got real icons and holy objects, he used incense and beeswax candles...it was amazing! Our Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies are a true offering to God. It is beautiful and Holy and one's worship is, therefore, more intense and meaningful. Thank you for writing this article! Perhaps more parishes will wake up and offer the best of our humanity through the arts to Our Lord who deserves nothing less.
In Christ,
Lawton, OK

...and another...

I just finished reading your piece on the death of beauty in Catholic worship and I couldn't agree more. From the total banishment of Mary to the hideous new churches we are building, it seems as though there is no place for many Catholics to turn... It's almost as though the modern American Catholic church is ashamed of what we believe as Catholics and why we believe. I conclude this because one of the last things you'll ever hear at Mass is any attempt at explaining to the faithful why they believe what they believe. I now see it as almost completely my job to pass my faith on to my children. Whether its the artistic heritage that past generations took for granted or the spiritual heritage, I am primarily responsible. Sadly, I am, many times, up against my own church in accomplihing this task. Thank you for your efforts and keep up the good fight, it's worth it. God bless you.--T.B.