Saint Pope John XXIII, multi-colored bronze by Sondra Jonson, Cambridge, Nebraska

Often when we attend Mass at our local Catholic churches in the United States we are greeted with many works of art that have been created on a massive scale, designed for inclusion into our Churches with little concern for the unique artistic needs each parish might need or want.

Quite often, pastors and administrators of our Catholic parishes look upon the need for artistic expression as merely utilitarian tools that decorate open spaces in the local church. Such an attitude is unfortunate simply because the need for qualitative art in our Catholic sacred spaces is intrinsically a critical component towards restoring an understanding of transcendence in the way we celebrate Eucharist and all our Sacraments as Catholics.

Coupled with the need for art in our parishes, Catholics need to demand that the artistic works that are displayed in their parishes are of the highest artistic quality that the local parish community can afford as well as having the works commissioned by an artist from the United States. Traditionally, many parishes purchase statues and other artistic pieces from catalogues that procure their artwork from China or Italy. American Catholic Churches need to foster artistic development in the United States and then commission artistic works from those in the United States whose very vocations are focused on the sacred arts. We are not an Italian Church, nor one in China. The practice of ordering devotional works of art from catalogues that procure mass produced works of art are over. If indeed we truly want to celebrate the arts in the American Catholic Church, we need to celebrate the talents of the vocational liturgical artist.

There are highly qualified liturgical artists throughout the United States and they are not always sought out for their talents because it is a common misconception that commissioned works of art are always more expensive than purchasing, “off the rack,” works of art from the catalogues. Such misconceptions are wrong and whenever a parish community is even considering new sacred art for their parish church there are dozens of options throughout the United States with devoted and viable artists that are deeply committed to both the Catholic faith and their talents as Catholic artists.

As a collective Catholic Church in the United States there are many examples of artistic works that have been purchased in the past one hundred years that are terrible examples of what good art in our churches should be. Mass produced works of art, like what I often term, “salt and pepper statues of Mary and Joseph,” dot the ecclesiastical landscape and they should be retired from our Catholic sacred spaces.

Experienced Catholic artists are quite capable of expressing their talents in various mediums, bronze or canvas, mosaics or wrought iron, there are capable artists that will fulfill all the parish’s needs when it comes to replacing pieces of worn art in the parish or creating new works of art as well.

Qualitative art signifies the commitment of quality in the way are churches are designed, constructed and maintained as the place where we meet God and celebrate the transcendence of greatest mysteries of our Catholic faith. Representational art in our Catholic parishes invokes the realities of the saints we commemorate and invoke as we journey together in faith towards our mystical reunion with God in eternal life.

While the liturgical renewal of the 1970’s often resulted in the destruction of many pieces of art in our Catholic parishes, we now need to restore and renew our tasteful understanding of the place art has in the history of Catholicism. As we seek to appreciate the role of the fine arts in our celebration of the Sacraments, the time is now to develop strong relationships with the many vocational artists in the United States that are devoted to not just their expressions of art, but to the Church as well.

If your parish is in the process of commissioning new pieces of art, stained glass, statuary or any other significant form of artistic expression for your parish church please look towards utilizing the local artist for those works. Parishes will find that the misconception of commissioned art is more expensive is one perpetrated by those that wish to continue the terrible practice of ordering, “off the liturgical rack,” and they have not done any exploration of local Catholic artists.

Renew, restore and in some cases replace artistic pieces of art that no longer deserve a place of prominence in our Catholic sacred spaces. Look to American liturgical artists to decorate and adorn our Catholic Churches, it is good for your parish’s budget, good for local artists and especially good for all our souls when we celebrate the role of art in Catholic Churches.

 

 

 

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