This is what I have learned. Very little attention is paid to the visual experience of Liturgy. I’m not referring to the architectural surroundings of the church, its statuary, permanent furnishings, stained glass, or vestments. I’m talking about sacred art which, in a manner similar to sacred music, but without a specific location in the ritual, is created and installed for a limited time for the purpose of serving the liturgy. This art’s creation emerges from a process of theological reflection and is skillfully crafted. It is evocative, inspiring, and draws the assembly into the worship experience in ways that are at the same time, silent and vocal.
When I speak of art in this way, I get a lot of blank stares. Granted, the predominant expression of the Word is both oral, and aural. It is spoken. It is sung. It is heard. Even the language of liturgy reflects a kind of sensory prejudice. We proclaim. We listen. We profess. And after all, Jesus did say “Whoever has ears ought to hear” (MT 13:9). But Jesus also attended regularly to the concept of sight, healing the blind and opening eyes. Spiritual sight is an essential part of a deepened liturgical experience. Still, the dearth of attention given to the place of liturgical art, its mistaken identification as mere decoration, and its optionality as a ministry, much less a liturgical ministry, serves to make it an endangered species.
I once worked at a parish where the fruit of an active art ministry led me to the wrong conclusion that liturgical art was the norm. It is not. And the more I look around, the more obvious it is that some kind of resource is needed so faith communities, like my own, can develop their own art ministry. Gathering information on the topic posed multiple challenges for me in that very little comprehensive information exists. I soon realized that the information I sought, once assembled, could serve other communities: logistical details such as how to design a rigging system that was discrete and safe, and how to actually install the art so it serves its purpose and most importantly how to lead a generative, spiritually enriching creative process that is both theologically and liturgically correct. This is the motivation behind “Art in the Sanctuary.” Additional content and case studies will be added over time, so please visit this page as well as the accompanying Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/artinthesanctuary.