Why add art to the Liturgy?

Christian Liturgy is an experience of sight, sound, taste, scent, and touch. It takes place in an architectural environment specifically designed for the purpose of worship. The assembly’s engagement in the actions of Liturgy often has much to do with the physical arrangement of a worship space.

Liturgy, a word commonly translated from the Greek “leitourgia” refers to “the work of the people,” a communal experience of prayer that includes speaking, singing and movement.

The “stuff” of liturgy is reciprocal; it requires both the sensory response and active participation of the assembly, but that’s not all. The very experience of liturgy stirs the unplumbed spiritual depths of the assembly, leading again to greater participation.

Liturgical art has a rightful place in this experience; like its architectural surroundings, it illuminates the mystery of the divine, the scripture being proclaimed, and the season being celebrated–but in different ways.

Liturgical art serves the liturgy
Church architecture can be considered a form of liturgical art—that is, art which is in service to the liturgy. The materials, furnishings and arrangement of the worship space all work together to provide an environment that encourages active participation. The floor plan itself has the potential to affect the behavior of the worshiping assembly [1].

While churches are designed to serve the full scope of liturgical activities and sacramental celebrations, they generally are not intended to illuminate any one particular rite or season. Likewise, stained glass, statuary, and mosaic art serves the liturgy broadly by providing inspiration and touch points related to the parish namesake and traditional Christian imagery, but does so as a permanent fixture.

Decorative and seasonal enhancements such as floral arrangements and greenery refresh and beautify the environment and help the assembly recall its place in God’s vast creation, and when carefully planned serve as a reminder of the liturgical seasons, but typically are not intended to deepen or transform the prayer of the assembly.

Liturgical art illuminates the liturgy
The type of liturgical art which is the focus of this website is not architecture, it is not permanent fixtures, and it is not a decorative enhancement. It is art that is installed for a limited time that is intended to intensify the experience of liturgy rather than affect the behavior of the assembly (although greater participation may result).

Its role is to visually illuminate worship by drawing out the fullness of the mystery therein. In a manner similar to sacred music, but without a specific location in the ritual, liturgical art “must be capable of bearing the weight of mystery, awe, reverence, and wonder which the liturgical action expresses.”[2] Its creation emerges from a process of theological reflection on the liturgy, season or feast it is designed to serve.

Rich in symbolism and subtle in message, well planned liturgical art points to the liturgy in ways that are at the same time, silent and vocal.

Liturgical art honors the Body of Christ
Prayerfully created, beautifully made, and carefully placed, liturgical art installed in the very place where the mysteries of the faith are celebrated honors the Body of Christ.

“When the Christian community gathers to celebrate its faith and vision, it gathers to celebrate what is most personally theirs and most nobly human and truly Church. The actions of the assembly witness the great deeds God has done; they confirm an age-old covenant. With such vision and depth of the assembly, can the environment be anything less than a vehicle to meet the Lord and to encounter one another? The challenge of our environment is the final challenge of Christ: We must make ready until he returns in glory.” —Environment and Art in Catholic Worship. #107 [3]

[1] Richard S. Vosko, God’s House Is Our House: Re-Imagining the Environment for Worship (Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2006) 67.
[2] Elizabeth Hoffman, ed. “Environment and Art in Catholic Worship” in The Liturgy Documents : A Parish Resource,  Third Edition (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1991) 322.
[3] Hoffman, 338.

IMAGE: African textile paintings rendered in paint on paper, each panel 3′ x 40′ Copyright ©Nancy Chinn, Spaces for Spirit: Adorning the Church (Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago, 1998) plate 9

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