This is a multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.
We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
Part XXVII: Chapter VII: Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings, continued
Sacred art — music, architecture, paintings, furniture, etc. — isn’t for it’s own sake; it’s always subservient to the Liturgy and to the Faith. It’s purpose is to help us enter more deeply into prayer, to raise our hearts and minds to contemplate the mysteries of God, and to teach us about the Faith. Hence, the nature and purpose of the Liturgy is the measure by which any work of art is evaluated in order to be called ‘sacred’.
These works of art should seek for noble simplicity rather than sumptuous display (no. 124). As the current General Instruction for the Roman Missal explains, the nobility and beauty of vestments, furnishings and art are found more in the quality of their materials and construction than in their outward decoration (see no. 344). The sacredness of these objects comes from their use, not their beauty or value. Nevertheless, these objects should reflect the beauty and value of the sacred actions for which they are used.
Therefore, the laws that govern the provision of material things involved in sacred worship are to be revised (no. 128). Especially those that refer to the worthy and well planned construction of sacred buildings, the shape and construction of altars, the nobility, placing, and safety of the eucharistic tabernacle, the dignity and suitability of the baptistery, the proper ordering of sacred images, embellishments, and vestments (no. 128).
The Council Fathers also insisted that the use of sacred images in churches for the veneration of the faithful be maintained, but that their number should be moderate and their relative positions should reflect right order. For otherwise they may create confusion among the Christian people and foster devotion of doubtful orthodoxy (no. 125). Sacred images are praiseworthy and useful to the faithful, but they’re not more important than the sacred mysteries celebrated in church. There shouldn’t be multiples of the same image (i.e., only one image of Divine Mercy), and there’s a hierarchy among the images themselves: images of our Lord are of the highest importance, then those of Mary and Joseph, then those of the other Saints. Titular or patronal Saints should have a greater importance than other Saints. In the same way, it wouldn’t be logical for the Priest’s chair to be larger and more elegant than the Altar.
Consequently, it’s desirable that schools or academies of sacred art should be founded… so that artists may be trained. For, prompted by their talents, [and] desire to serve God’s glory…, [they] should ever bear in mind that they are engaged in a kind of sacred imitation of God the Creator, and are concerned with works destined to be used in Catholic worship, to edify the faithful, and to foster their piety and their religious formation (no. 127).
Seminaries are also to include courses about the history and development of sacred art, and about the sound principles governing the production of its works, so that Priests themselves will be able to appreciate and preserve the Church’s venerable monuments, and be in a position to aid, by good advice, artists who are engaged in producing works of art (no. 129).
This concludes our review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the sacred Council’s first document, and perhaps the one that has most impacted our lives since.