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Conceived by Christian architects, theologians and liturgists

“Liturgy and art. The challenges of contemporary times”, is the theme of the 8th International Liturgical Conference held a few days ago at the Italian monastery in Bose (Biella) on the initiative of the monastery in cooperation with the National Church Cultural Heritage Office of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. Some 200 participants – including architects, artists and theologians – convened in Bose from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, United States, Switzerland and Hungary to the presence of Catholic, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Reformed scholars”. Beauty – said the prior Enzo Bianchi in his opening address – is authentic if it is directed to the service of liturgy, so as to reveal what it truly is, the mystery of God”.Religious art. “Did art leave the temple?” The question was raised by Johannes Rauchenberger (Theological Faculty of the Catholic University in Vienna). “Maybe – the Professor said – it interpreted the key themes of the temple better than its guardians did”. Over the past decades, he explained, “the concept of religious art has been reconsidered in different ways starting from the question on whether it can be recovered in areas where this definition is not applied”. Religious art has thus been “recovered by artistic expressions in general on the assumption that art has been oriented towards a more generalized and wavering form of spirituality”. Another issue, according to the Austrian scholar, is: “where can God be found within profane art?” “It’s easier to convey the intensity of life through the eyes of a child, the expressions of happiness and love and through the suffering of the sick, than in religious art”. Indeed, the highest expressions of art, “highlight the capacity of humanizing life”. The third point is linked to the question: what transforms an image in an image of Christian art? In contemporary art there are “beautiful examples of religious themes”. The Christian concept of beauty, Rauchenberger concluded, “can in turn help art to extend beyond the purely aesthetic realm”.From service to autonomy. “Serving – said Francois Boespflug (Catholic Theological Faculty of the “March Bloch” University in Strasbourg) referring to the teachings of the Council constitution on religious art Sacrosanctum concilium – doesn’t imply questioning the autonomy of art but considering the Christian cult”. For Boespflug, “there are six qualities that ought to be present and remunerated in a work of art intended for permanent display inside a church”. These include the intrinsic artistic quality: “since the birth of art, the content of artwork must be easily identified, and hitherto established with an agreement between the artist, the customer and the recipients”. The quality of the artwork cannot be the result “of the reaction of the first visitor, even though art can have multi-faceted interpretations”. According to Boespflug not all works of art “are successfully grafted in the place of worship they were conceived for, and risk ‘rejection’, as in the case of a ‘heart implant'”. The work of art “must also favor co-celebration, namely, it ought to be marked by the ability to combine its voice with that of the many directors of art expressions present, including the religious building itself”. This theme highlights “the problem of the commission and of the development of an iconographic project”. Finally, the degree of beauty: “only the beauty that nourishes faith, charity and hope resists to the changes in taste”, Boespflug concluded. Co-celebrants of the religious rite. “How can artists be encouraged to be less exhibitionist in an empty space, in which the force of their original vision can be admired while they are acknowledged as co-celebrating the religious service?” For the bishop of Salisbury, in Great Britain, Msgr. David Stancliffe, this is precisely the challenge of the contemporary relationship between art and liturgy. Art, not only “to the service of liturgy but also collaborating with it”. This is an ambitious objective considering that “a large number of people have stopped believing in the transcendent and liturgy appears to them to have no evocative power”. This is due not only to “the fact of ignoring Bible accounts”. Indeed, “the understanding of the sacred realm is absent from the vital experiences of many people”. Moreover, the latter “live on one level of reality where the image is everything and a shared symbolic vocabulary doesn’t exist”. According to Msgr. Stancliffe “to stand in front of men and make them see beyond reality, namely, bringing together immanence and transcendence, is the mission of artistic expression”. There ensues that the Church “must take more seriously the discovery of art in all of its forms, as part and parcel of her fundamental mission”. This, concluded the prelate, “requires a fruitful area of cooperation where the basic questions on the meaning, objectives and value of human life can be further explored”.

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