There are a couple of things that really seem to be popular in the world of liturgical art and architecture. The first thing is to make parishioners and clergy aware of the fact that they both have a responsibility to procure the highest quality of available materials available for use in their sacred liturgical space. Quite frequently, renovation of parish facilities and the decision to make such renovations is made without the input or use of parishioner’s individual expertise. It is really a sorry state of affairs when a community of faith cannot rely on its own individual members and resources to discuss, plan and implement architectural and artistic enhancements in a parish without distractions towards external influences. What I mean by this is quite simple, the parish community with should investigate all of the potential resources available within a local parish or diocese or region to fulfill their artistic needs and expectations. There is no need to go to Italy or Spain or anywhere else to see exceptional examples of artistic works in various mediums. There are quite a few local artists and craftsmen available in our own faith communities. Frequently, there is a misrepresentation made by architects that quality artisans are not easily available in the United States. This is just plainly false. Just about every type of artistic and architectural craftsmen and artisans can be found in our own country. While I am not anti-foreign trade, it just seems that often parishioners and priests alike are misled to believe that if something is commissioned from a European source, it must be better, original and more superlative in every way than the American counterpart. That quite honestly is an example of unsurpassed artistic snobbery and ignorance of what is available throughout the United States.

There are a lot of things that need to be considered when a parish community decides to commission a new statue, or an altar or some other liturgical accessory. One thing that especially and foremost needs to be considered is this…we are an American church, not a Spanish one, or an Italian one and so on. As a faithful community, our worship space, or rather our churches should reflect our American identity. It seems that one of the biggest problems that are faced by American artists and craftsmen is the feigned and often unsupported notion that non-domestic artists must be better trained; more experienced and yes…the ugly word…CHEAPER than their American counterparts. Unfortunately, there is a misconception that foreign labor is less expensive than individually crafted American labor. Well, this is just an underrated untruth with the intent to deceive. In other words, it is a lie.

Quite often American architects and liturgical design studios use the opportunity to travel abroad to visit liturgical guilds and artisans studios as an excuse to use the trip as a professional perk or a fact-finding junket. There is never really an intention to utilize an American artist…these architectural professionals just “pick the brains” of the American artists, solicit drawings and bids from them, and just use the foreign “artistic-factories” because they mass produce drawings and sculpture designed to fit in anywhere with just a few modifications. These modifications, then make, the work an “original” designed and conceived for your church or parish. The only true original feature that results from the studio in Italy or Spain is the packing crate with an original address where the work needs to be shipped.

As a Church, we need to educate everyone about the true value of procuring quality examples of liturgical art that are not only of the highest quality, but truly unique and original to each situation in which they are injected. That is not to say there cannot be a good and acceptable reproduction of an artistic work in a local parish church…but if there is an “original” example of an artistic representation of a saint or patron, why not commission the original work? Really, there is only one…Pieta…and it is in the Vatican. Why not, if your parish wants a Pieta, search for an artist that can provide a new and original interpretation of the image for your parish.

Also, it seems that as always price is the major consideration in all of the artistic endeavors we encounter on a parish level. Our concept is that expensive is best, regardless of the quality of materials or integrity of the artist. Well…that is really not a realistic expectation and appreciation of the purpose of sacred and liturgical art. The monetary factor involved in the commissioning of a piece of statuary or liturgical renovations should be commensurate with the budget your parish community has to allocate to the work of art or the project. Don’t be misled as a parish into purchasing a piece of art for the Church environment that is disproportionately valued in its cost…if the quality is poor. Artists and craftsmen are more than willing to work within a projected budget and will be very thankful for a parish’s honesty regarding their financial resources (or lack there of)!

Finally, I guess the most important thing to consider is that an artistic project or liturgical renovation is intended as a parish’s intention to glorify God, and enhance the prayer experience for a local parish community. We need to always remember that it is about deepening our understanding and appreciation of our ever developing relationship with God that is important here. We are a faithful people that are trying to enhance and develop our communal act of liturgical worship and praise. If we can go about including artistic expressions that keep this point in mind, we are at least at some point towards a deeper theological appreciation through our liturgical art closer to the Deity.

Hugh McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that writes on Catholic topics and issues. He writes daily at http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com & http://pewsitter.com “Nothing Left Unsaid!” is his daily column @ http://catholicnewsagency.com Comments are always welcome @ hugh.mcnichol@trinettc.com

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