The following video is of a traditional Latin, or Tridentine, Mass in Paris (so you will hear both Latin and French). What the video does not say is that this is a Mass of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), taking place at their only Paris church, Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet. However (I say “however” because SSPX is nearly, but not quite, a schismatic church), I love this video for how it captures the sense of ordinary humanity attending a Mass, and of the beauty of the 1962, pre-Vatican II Latin Mass — and the strong sense of a truly Catholic culture surrounding this Mass. (I imagine it’s more than just the Mass, though that’s the biggest part. I imagine there are numerous traditions this community keeps alive.) I wish dearly such masses occurred in my home town.* I love the Latin, I love the solemnity — I believe our world today is craving solemnity and true worship. I would like to see more videos of this, or better quality from parishes that have actual canonical status in the Catholic Church.
NOTE: I am no fan of the SSPX, but I think they have some valid concerns. This letter of caution sums up my feelings fairly well. I get the struggles some Catholics have with all the changes and turmoil in the Church since the roots of modernism and complacent sluggishness began rotting the core (heart? passions? justifications?) of the Church in the early parts of the last century, and then the winds of the radical 1960’s rushed through the Church, as they did through all of society. Some want to blame the Second Vatican Council, but I don’t believe it. The Church has suffered since the sixties, just as it has at many times in its history, and those times become the soil from which a better Church grows — it is the constant process of reformation that has gone on since St. Peter denied Christ, and the Corinthians were sowing disunity among themselves, and the Galatians were being foolish with their doctrine. We should welcome the past fifty+ years like we welcome suffering — not wishing it on anyone else, but willing to embrace it personally for its deeper value. (Keep in mind I say this being a Catholic less than three years.) I honestly think we might be on the verge of something like a new rebirth of the Church. We typically don’t know what we have lost until we have lost it. But it takes time, not as long as geologic time, but it can feel that way. Regardless, I am not a fan of the SSPX because I can smell Protestantism from a long ways away, having spent forty-seven years of my life in that world, and now am a Catholic happy to not be protesting anymore. Beware Catholics, don’t play with fire. I know that spirit of protest, and of pride, which is the real rot at the heart of the SSPX. Rebellion is not the same as true reformation. One is of pride, the other of humility. HOWEVER, I firmly believe there are many good Christians attending SPPX masses (for a variety of reasons), just as there are many good Christians in other Protestant churches. AND I pray for reconciliation. AND, given Pope Francis has granted SSPX priests the ability to licitly provide absolution during the Jubilee Year of Mercy one can probably hope even more confidently.
* Lately we have been attending a slightly more traditional Mass at the oldest (though not truly very old) parish in our town. Though in the Ordinary Form, and with the priest facing the people (with which I don’t have an issue), the Mass is very solemn, and we sing the Gloria in Latin, with a few other parts in Latin. There is also an organ for musical accompaniment, and at least one song is from the St. Michael Hymnal. I find myself nearly overcome with emotion at times.
David Clayton is a professor at Saint Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH, where he has designed the Way of Beauty program which focuses on the link between Catholic culture and liturgy. I think this kind of talk is very important. I would like to see more people, more “average folks,” more in-the-pews people, that would think about these things, and speak up.
I am curious what others think. Do you think about these things? Do you care, or think they are important? I recognize that most folks are not into listening to lectures, but the connections between beauty (one of the transcendentals) and the Christian life, especially the liturgy and Cristian architecture, music, and other aspects of worship, seems really important.
A comment on the production: I am continually finding it troublesome that lectures on art and architecture seem to be video recorded by rank amateurs. Lighting is almost always bad, framing is generally poor, camera quality and movement indicate they are using cheaper equipment, and overall it always seems like recording lectures is, at best, an afterthought. I understand most of the time they cannot get professionals because of the cost (though more professionals should volunteer as a way of supporting the Church and tithing) but they can still do much better. In short, video of art lectures should be beautiful and well done, and they almost always are not, including this one. If the lectures rely heavily on PowerPoint (et al.) then get the presentation and add it directly to the video — don’t video the screen; at least use two cameras, one for the lecturer and one for the screen. Just as we Christians generally tend to lack the commitment anymore to build beautiful churches or commission beautiful liturgical music, we make lots of bad videos. Nonetheless, I do appreciate the content of these lectures. And I’m glad someone captured the lectures at least.
Here are a couple of lectures from art historian Elizabeth Lev.
Unfortunately, so many art lecture videos online are not well produced. In this case the content is very good, but the audio is only passable, and the images of artworks are poor on the video. I would love to see more videos made with an understanding and care that they will live on for years online — especially when it comes to discussing art and architecture. But I love the historical perspective Lev brings to the study of art. Art history has not always existed, nor did it arise within a vacuum — and it has had a profound influence on the Church.
Here is a better reproduction of the final artwork she discusses:
Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647–52) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, in Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome
There’s so much more than can and should be said, but these videos can function as kinds of introductions. I don’t know yet what I think of Lev; she seems to know her stuff (though these are not in-depth lectures), she lives in Rome, she has a story.
It is important that we Christians think about art. And I mean really think about it. We should be familiar with what art is today, what it was in the past, how it has functioned in society and history, and what it has meant to the Church. It is interesting just how important art has been within the history of Christianity, and just how trivial it has become today. I believe this has something to do with a turning away from God while still hanging on to religion. This is true for both Protestants and Catholics. Somehow I find it more sad in reference to Catholics. Fortunately, and as I perceive it, there are a number of very good Christian artists today (I don’t really like that term), a growing interest in the arts and in sacred architecture, and an increasingly impassioned younger generation becoming uninterested in the reasons (whatever they were — some kind of 1960’s iconoclasm I suppose) that led previous generations to jettison great and holy art in the Church.
Here is a great lecture on the fundamentals of why traditional Catholic churches are designed the way they are. The reasons are primarily theological, which should give us pause when we consider more modern styles.
Increasingly I am becoming convinced that the traditional styles are better — not only because they are “cool” and I like them and all that, but much more importantly because they speak to our human nature, they way God designed us, in a way that our modern culture has forgotten.
This is a great video. We do not tend to think about architecture much, and certainly not philosophically or theologically. This video is a kind of primer on sacred architecture, and its subject and contents may be more important than we realize.
“It is perfectly legitimate to search for new forms, but these forms must express a symbolic content that remains the same thought the centuries because it has a heavenly origin. Modern builders must listen to and appreciate the suggestions of the chief architect, the Angel of the Temple.” ~ Paul Evdokimov, The Art of the Icon, p. 143
I wonder about this quote. Clearly the main thrust of modernity is the willful shutting of one’s ears to the voice of our Creator. But I also wonder about architecture, and that modern architects have not merely shut their ears when it comes only to church designs, but to all designs. I suppose one could say that modern architecture has become an expression of an incorrect anthropology. Also, can we not say that architecture itself should be seen as a kind of sacramental, that architecture, because it is about being human, must reflect the proper understanding of being human?
Filed under Architecture, Art, Catholic Church, Church History, Eschatology, Gospel, Kingdom of God, Language, Liturgy, Marriage, Sacraments, Theology, Tradition
Here is another lecture from Duncan Stroik. Most people are not going to find a lecture on sacred architecture to be all that interesting, but I find this fascinating. In fact, I think it is quite important.
I’m not going to say much here about church architecture, but it’s clear that many, perhaps most, of our churches today do not serve us in the way God designed us to be served. We do not generally build sacred spaces anymore — except maybe in sports stadiums and museums. Too many Catholic churches today, those built over that last 50-75 years or less, have designs that seem to be based on assumptions (if anyone assumes at all) that the space will be made sacred by the Real Presence and a few common Catholics items, and thus we don’t need to have architecture that reaches towards Heaven. In one sense it’s true that we don’t need church buildings to point us to Heaven, or at least it’s logical, but in practice there is often a corresponding denial of the more mysterious aspects and needs of our humanity in our church designs.
I wonder what cultural forces have shaped our world such that many Catholics see no problems with, and even love, lousy church architecture. Perhaps we have lost the understanding of what a sacred space truly is, and that, I suppose, only comes about because we have lost the understanding of what a human being is — a sad thing indeed, especially for Catholics.
This is a good lecture. Christians should invest in the arts more. This is a big topic. There are no easy answers, except maybe to just embrace the arts, invest in the arts, encourage the arts, etc., etc. Anyway, listen to what he says. It’s good.
It’s a tragedy that Christianity, as a whole, has become largely irrelevant when it comes to the arts (even though there are many excellent Christian artists — or excellent artists who are Christian). And if this is the case, then Christianity is largely culturally irrelevant — not in terms of its content, but in terms of its reaching people and speaking to them meaningfully.
Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. If we have lost Beauty, can we really say at least we’ve still got Truth and Goodness? Probably not.
So maybe some of the content isn’t so good either.
Anyway, it can’t just be artists crying for support. They sound like whiners to everyone else, even though they are not. Others need to cry to, and then support the arts.