Bearing the Weight of Mystery (Ann Aubrey Hanson)


(Part 5 of a 6-part series based on an interview with George Hoelzeman, Medieval scholar and liturgical artist.)

Eglise Abbatiale St. Pierre, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (Correze)

Why do these churches resonate with us today? In lands that have often denied the need for, and indeed the existence of, God, these magnificent edifices often sit empty, bereft of believers, silent sentinels to a heaven no longer sought. But when you enter, you are filled with awareness of other, of God. These mute monuments testify to the mystery that is faith.

“Environment and Art in Catholic Worship,” a 1978 statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated that the art, furnishings, and building of a church “must be capable of bearing the weight of mystery, awe, reverence, and wonder which the liturgical act expresses,” so that “we see and experience” both the art and architecture and something beyond it. Mystery is the central focus of Catholic liturgy, the changing of wine and bread into the Body of Christ, and the salvific act of Christ on the cross. Surely the House of God should stand apart from all other dwellings in art and architecture.

Nave of Basilique Saint Remi, Reims (Marne)

These are places of worship, for believers long gone and for those who remain. The Church is God’s dwelling on earth. In it, He resides, whether or not mankind enters into His embrace.

Eglise Saint-Pierre d’Airvault, Airvault (Deux-Sèvres)

Hoelzeman says that the photography of Dennis Aubrey and PJ McKey “captures the sacrality of the churches, captures the transcendence” of the buildings of mute stone.

(Next, The Sensual Is Not Sinful.)

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