Master's Program Aims to Halt Art Crisis

Director Notes Efficacy of Sacred Images

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By Antonio Gasperi

ROME, JUNE 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Sacred art is in crisis, but a master's program at the European University of Rome aims to help, says one of the program's directors.

Father Uwe Lang, a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments and the new scientific director of the program, spoke with ZENIT about the "architecture, sacred arts and liturgy" master's program.

"Today more than ever, the Church needs to proclaim to the world the beauty of God that shines in the works of art that the faith has generated," Father Lang affirmed. "Great masterpieces of sacred art and music have been born in the Church, which have the power to raise our hearts and lead us beyond ourselves to God, who is beauty itself."

Father Lang, who authored "Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer" (Ignatius Press, 2005), said, "Sacred art is directed to the praise and glory of God and, at the same time, is popular, because it must and can be understood and touch the hearts of the faithful, also of the simple faithful."

Referring to the importance that the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives to sacred art and to the use of the many works of art as a vehicle of the mysteries of the faith, Father Lang stressed that "today more than ever, in the civilization of image, the sacred image can express much more than the word itself, given that its dynamism of communication and transmission of the Gospel message is exceedingly effective."

Losing beauty

However, Father Lang lamented, sacred art is in crisis: "a crisis of the deepest roots, a crisis that has swept away, even before art, beauty itself, of which it should be the bearer. The very concept of 'fine arts,' of which the conciliar Constitution on Sacred Liturgy speaks, is debated."

Quoting Hans Urs von Balthasar, Father Lang stressed that "together with the loss of the beautiful, the good and the true have also been lost."

"On one hand," he said, "there is a false kind of beauty that does not raise us to God and his Kingdom, but instead drags us down and awakens disordered desires." And on the other there is a need to oppose what Remo Bodei has called "the apotheosis of the ugly," which affirms that "everything that is beautiful is deceitful and that only the representation of what is raw is the truth."

"This cult to the ugly does no less damage to the Catholic faith than false beauty," Father Lang observed.

Recalling the words of Fyodor Dostoevsky, according to whom "the world will be saved by beauty," the priest specified that the author did not refer to just any beauty but instead to "the redeeming beauty of Christ."

In that context, the master's program aims to "give answers to questions coming from many ecclesial and artistic environments," Father Lang noted. "The perspective of the master's is to go beyond a solely 'normative' vision of the plan toward greater awareness of and devotion to that in which one is engaged, when acting in the realm of architecture and the sacred arts."

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