A Peritus of the Second Vatican Council on the Church and Modernistic Art in the Liturgy

Msgr. Bandas in the Church of St. Agnes, St. Paul, Minnesota ca. 1950's
The Second Vatican Council's most competent American peritus was the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Rudolph G. Bandas, Ph.D., Agg. S.T.D. et M (1896-1969).  Catholics of today should know his name.  In the 1960s he was labeled a "staunch conservative" by the Catholic press.  In those days that was not a compliment.  A native of Silver Lake, Minnesota, at the time of his death Msgr. Bandas was pastor of the church of St. Agnes in St. Paul, Minnesota.  

In the tumultuous years following the Council, the good monsignor sounded the alarm as he noticed many Catholic clergy, nuns, and lay faithful alike being swept up in the hysteria of change and modernity while suddenly taking the wrong side on issues that did not fall within their remit.  He was especially concerned with the new fad of modernistic art incorporated into the liturgy, "art" that sought to deliberately distort what it sought to represent: Christ, Mary and the saints.

Below is a typical Bandas quote from his Catholic Layman series, " In our day modernistic art frequently pictures the human body in a grotesque, deformed, distorted and objectionable manner.  It often extends this mode of representation to the bodies of Our Lord, 'the most beautiful among men', to Our Lady, whom the Liturgy describes as 'all beautiful' (tota pulchra) and to the saints.  The body is often depicted as if it were affected by elephantiasis or leprosy or arthritis.  All this is clearly opposed to the teaching of Sacred Scripture and Catholic theology."  -R.G. Bandas, The Catholic Layman in the Contemporary World.

Monsignor Bandas was a competent theologian and prolific writer, authoring many works that included religion textbooks.  In the aftermath of Vatican II he quickly sat down and authored some very important discussion club manuals, including one entitled The Church and Modernistic Art.  Msgr. Bandas wrote in a language every layman could understand, not without a dose of humor.

His book on the Church and modernistic art contains important decrees and pronouncements of the Church on sacred art from the First Council of Nicea up to Vatican Council II.  Bandas was a firm believer in the transcendental quality of beauty in the liturgy inherent in sensory objects that are intelligible.  In line with Plato, his thought was that visible and audible beauty points to a higher reality.

For a sample of his insightful critique of modernistic art in the liturgy, see one of his typical articles from the national Catholic weekly, The Wanderer.

According to Msgr. Bandas, "Our age is witnessing a peculiar outbreak of ugliness in the domain of sacred art.  This ugliness has invaded not only churches but is found in Christmas cards, laymen's missals and even in the priests' altar missals.  In this type of sacred art, Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints are represented in grotesque, repulsive forms with cretinous faces, and pictured as though they were suffering from elephantiasis, leprosy or a deforming arthritis.  This modernistic art seems to concentrate especially on images of Christ on the cross: contrary to the teaching of the Liturgy that Christ 'reigned triumphantly' from the cross, the new art often represents him in an attitude of such abject despair that it completely distorts his human figure."

In his book Bandas confronts this new art with the age-long and unchanging legislation of the Church.  In his work he was inspired and guided especially by the publications of Celso Cardinal Constantini (1876 - 1958) who frequently characterized the modernistic productions as "pictoral horrors" and "visual blasphemies."  With the help of authorities at the Vatican where he had been serving as member of two preparatory commissions of the Council, Bandas had free time to access the pronouncements of the Church on sacred art as found in the decrees of the Councils, Sacred Congregations and of the Roman Pontiffs.  The book is illustrated by 75 photographs of masterpieces, which the author gathered during his extensive travels in Europe, and also carries a few samples of the new "art."  Original editions of this publication are rare, in paper and cloth binding.  Hopefully one day the work will be reprinted and studied.  This book is recommended to all students of sacred art, to pastors, to teachers of art and to classes in seminaries.

Monsignor Bandas was not only an expert at the Vatican Council, but also Consultor of the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities as well as a Member of the Roman Pontifical Academy of Theology.   After completing his seminary studies he spent four years at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium where he graduated Magister of Theology (a coveted degree granted only about 70 times in 80 years, the first American to be so honored).  His thesis was written on the "master idea" in St. Paul's Epistles, concluding that everything leads to or follows the cross (this is, in a word, the "master idea").  For many years Monsignor Bandas taught at the College of St. Catherine and was rector of the St. Paul Seminary, both in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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