This is a long essay in which I explore how we might create something that as yet does not exist – a canon of sacred art for churches of the Roman Rite; and a set of principles that will guide us on how to arrange them in a coherent schema that is integrated with worship. I present this in five themes after an introduction:
The texts of the liturgy and an examination of how the Byzantine liturgies relate their liturgical texts so as to inform the approach taken in the Roman Rite.
Liturgical Action – how we can change the way we worship, in accordance with existing rubrics and Tradition so as to engage with visual imagery more directly.
Catechesis – how we teach congregations to understand what they are seeing so that it they are able to engage with the art naturally during the course of their worship.
Architecture – consideration of how the architecture ought to reflect
Anyone who has ever read a book on Eastern icons will know that the Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox Churches have a well established way of arranging the icons in their church. Not only are there clear directions on who or what to paint and what style to paint it in, they also know exactly where they are supposed to put each piece of sacred art in their churches. Furthermore it is clearly understood how each image relates to every other, and how each person ought to engage with each piece of art in the course of the liturgy itself.
So for example when the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington DC put out a call for icon painters, a couple of years ago, they did so in accord with this tradition. In my understanding, the rules are not absolutely rigid; most Eastern Rite churches will conform to this while accomodating some aspects that are particular to the church community – the patron saint of the church for example.
What should we do in the Roman Rite? I know of no established schema with anything like canonical status. The Church’s guidelines, (for example, the GIRM, Canon Law and in the US a booklet produced by the bishops called Built in the Living Stone) offer suggestions as to the broadest principles for choice of art, but aside from asserting the centrality of the crucifixion and images of Our Lady and the saints we (Read More)