“Holiness Flees to the Mountains”

I frequently enjoy reading the contributions of Professor Peter Kwasniewski on the excellent blog, New Liturgical Movement, and today’s article is no exception. He writes about a topic that is very important to me: beauty in our churches and our worship. And he does so with great, well, beauty – and a lively rhetorical style.

For example, here is his comment on the current state of music in parishes:

In particular, we’ve all heard music that seems neither beautiful nor holy; its mawkish sentimentality, circus-like tunes, predictably syncopated rhythms, and simpering lyrics are an appalling combination from which beauty must hide her fair head while holiness flees to the mountains to bewail her virginity.

He also offers a diagnosis and treatment plan for the current problem:

Take Americans: we are a wealthy and industrious country. If we had a proper religious formation combined with some education in virtue and nobility, the trite ditties of our hymnals would evaporate and our churches would be filled with music of artistic merit. We would insist that it happen; we would make it happen through personal sacrifices; we would absorb its fruits with gratitude as we let these heavenly harmonies penetrate and shape our very souls. The same would be true of the churches we build.

People in the past made such sacrifices – even people like the Franciscans (though nowadays it is fashionable to think that St. Francis was against beauty and order):

Franciscan churches are some of the most beautiful in Europe, magnificently decorated—even those that were built in periods when the friars themselves were dirt-poor beggars who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, except that the Lord would surely provide. They knew what came first; they knew that when it is God who is to be honored, the work calls forth everything in us, everything great and glorious we can muster, for His sake. This is why the Catholics of old never built cheap churches, if they could help it, and, at least on special occasions if not more often, brought together the best musical forces they could find, to provide the most glorious music they knew.

The entire 1,425 word article is really worth a read, also for the two beautiful photos appended to it.

Beauty in glass. Detail from a photo I took of a window in New Orleans.

It’s time for us to summon holiness back out of hiding, placing a real priority on offering to God things that are beautiful and decorous!

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3 Responses to “Holiness Flees to the Mountains”

  1. Patrick L. says:

    I was in the Catholic student center at a (public) university this evening, and there was piano music playing over the speakers in a common area near the entrance to the building. It took me a minute to place it, but I eventually recognized it as an instrumental arrangement of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” If you look at the lyrics to the original song, it is a bit peculiar (at least to me) that this song would be on the playlist at a Catholic student center.

    I’d guess that recordings of beautiful sacred Catholic music available are more than sufficient to provide music continuously in that building for the remainder of the lifetime of anyone who enters it. That John Lennon’s music is being played instead is quite unsettling.

    • Maybe they had a piped-in service, like muzak, or maybe they had it on an internet music feed, like an I Heart Radio instrumental station or something. Not everyone appreciates sacred music, and having some “lite” popular stuff in instrumental format my do more for making folks feel welcome and at ease than having Palestrina.

      • Patrick L. says:

        After the Mass this morning, there was a coffee hour for which a trio of string instruments provided music. Their repertoire included pieces by Vivaldi, Handel, Pachelbel, and … the Beatles. No joke.

        On a brighter note, I had the blessing of the opportunity to perform Byrd’s Ave Verum with the choir today. 🙂

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