From Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: Brief Analysis of the Question of Aestheticism in the Classical Roman Liturgy

One of the best things to come out of 2020 was the terrific new book, Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius & Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass, published by our good friends at Angelico Press.  The author is a man of great learning (a graduate of TAC) - a true homo multarum literarum - a man of many letters, Dr. Peter Kwasniweski.  So impressed I am with this book, I believe it is the most important Catholic book a person can buy today on the subject of the liturgy.  

All serious Catholics who are concerned about the state of the Church (and society) should consider reading it and having it on their shelf.  The reason is, through the clarity of its study and analysis, it shows that after fifty years of hindsight,  the steady growth of the Traditional Mass movement is a genuine and mysterious act of the Holy Spirit, a refuge for all to reclaim their birthright, something so hallowed by long use.  The TLM and its relation to truth and beauty is an important development in the history of the contemporary Church that deserves our attention and study.  

Without giving away too much detail, in this blog post I wish to include a small excerpt from Chapter XIII which touches on the subject of "The Charge of Aestheticism," located in the second part of the book (the chapter begins on p. 193).   This section touches on liturgical arts, of particular interest in this blog.  It explains how the visible liturgy bears meaning and the externals of the rites speak a language that protects a mystery and defends a dogma, teaching the faithful of the importance of the sacred rites and what they illustrate: the true presence of Christ in the Blessed Eucharist.  Indeed, for this reason ugliness has no place in liturgical arts, despite mistaken claims that even for things liturgical, the "inside" beauty is all that counts.  Ugliness has always signaled untruth and filth since Old Testament times.  

Amid interesting quotes from luminaries such as Scruton, Mosebach and Newman, Dr. K writes: "The sacred liturgy, too, holds the very words of God -  indeed, astonishingly, the Mass holds God Himself, the Word made flesh.  It is utterly inconsistent with its inner content that the outward form of it should be anything but beautiful, solemn, and reverent, majestic and glorious, even fearful and difficult.  We should be able to judge this book, too, by its resplendent cover, that is, the Mass by its musical, textual, ceremonial appearances; we should be able to see the heart in the actions.  We should not 'miss the beauty of the face'." (p. 194).  For, as Newman points out, "it is precisely the inner truth that demands for itself, or builds around itself, a suitable dwelling" (p. 195).    

Dr. K continues, "Even the greatest care we can take, following the most detailed prescriptions, and with a full outpouring of signs of reverence hallowed by long use, could never be altogether equal to the task placed upon us.  No one animated with Newman's Catholic sentiments could ever fall prey to the fallacy that we needn't worry too much about the externals as long as we know 'Jesus is present'" (p. 196).

Finally, the author concludes, "Throughout history, Christians have offered the best they can to God in the liturgy, especially the beauty attainable in the fine arts, in order that the souls of worshipers might be better disposed to adore and glorify the Lord" (p.196).  The author goes on to explain how the liturgy is done for our sake as we are the beneficiaries, the baptized.  The Holy Sacrifice is offered to God the Father for the ultimate sanctification and salvation of our souls, those who worthily participate.  At the same time, man receives knowledge through his senses, through intellect and sensation, enlightened by grace and the beauty of the rites that illustrate the best we can offer to the God made man incarnate on the altars of the world. 

Maintaining beauty in the liturgy is a high priority and concern that is often voiced by serious Catholics.  Traditional Catholic practices, spirituality and liturgical rites help to best and most efficiently foster this attitude. And according to the author, "How do we know what form is the right one to use, to trust, to rely upon?"  The author ends the chapter with this important insight: "The measure must be Catholic tradition - endorsed by Church authority, yes, but neither manufactured by it nor subject to its whims.  It is not something that can be voted on by bishops, created by committees, or reconfigured by enthusiasts.  Tradition, by definition, is a reality that goes before us, remains above us, and endures beyond us" (p. 204).  

To order your copy, buy on Amazon.  

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