Continuing our look at how we identify and understand beauty in all its forms, we feature Denis McNamara, the Director of Benedictine College’s Center for Beauty and Culture. In Part IV, McNamara discussed the importance of liturgical music as a reflection of Christ’s own song to the Father. His conversation with Robert Mixa, the Word on Fire Institute’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Fellow for Catholic Education, follows that up with liturgical iconography and why it matters.
Robert Mixa: Earlier, you mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger. Whenever I think of Arnold—and we’re talking about the liturgy here—I think about Michelangelo’s Christ and the Sistine Chapel. I may be a little provocative in going down this route, but I’ve always been attracted to the icons of the East. I can imagine many Eastern Orthodox iconographers having heart attacks from sheer horror upon seeing Michelangelo’s art in the Sistine Chapel. There’s a very sharp divergence between the icons of the East and the art of the West. But, just as in liturgical music, is there a form of art that is proper to the liturgy?
Dr. Denis McNamara: Yes. It’s called liturgical art. Just like liturgical music, which is proper to the liturgy and has liturgical character, so liturgical art, by definition, is art that expresses the reality of the nature of the liturgy. So if you took a little paper cup and used it for the chalice, it would not be revealing the nature of the liturgy because the chalice is supposed to not only recall the Last Supper, it also fulfills the golden chalices at the temple of Solomon and anticipates the chalice, so to speak, of the cup of the heavenly banqueting feast of heaven. So a beautiful chalice has to be more than functional; it has to reveal what is true. A liturgical vessel has a sacramental role in addition to a practical role and historical source. It must reach into the heavenly future and show us what the feast of heaven would be like. In order to do this, a chalice must be made of elevated and precious materials and be finely crafted in order to make that reality knowable.