Catholicism has always embraced the Arts. All through her history, she has given her imprimatur to paintings, poems, sculptures (much in opposition to other religions who felt this art smacked of idolatry) and other media in the artistic world. Many call this the ‘Incarnational Principle’. By that is meant that the invisible world of the spirit becomes visible and therefore able to be appreciated through the means that daily life and the material objects of life can give.
Thus, the grandeur of God can be seen through the means of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is not God or His grandeur, but this inspiring natural landscape conveys in a material way the spiritual reality that is not available to the human eye.
This is also true of the work of the great artists. The Pieta of Michelangelo is a block of stone that has been worked on. But its spirituality touches us with the reality of the pain of Mary as she held the body of her dead Son.
There have been good Christians in many ages who wished to smash statues like this because they believe that the symbol is being worshiped as if it were the reality.
But the Church has always maintained both the usefulness of external signs (like paintings and statues, incense and candles, art in all its manifestations) and a distinction from the sacred that is signified.
During the iconoclast controversy in the Orthodox Churches and the Protestant Reformation in the West, attempts were made (successfully in some of the Western Churches of the Reform) to destroy all images and externals that have been shown to nurture faith. What was left was decidedly poorer than the richness of art expressing faith.
Even today, the Vatican has embraced modern art through the many modern art galleries established by Pope Saint Paul VI and by the yearly Film Festivals celebrated in Rome by the Church. Not since the Medieval Mystery Plays has the Church given such approbation to dramatic forms like the play and the movie.
I write this as a long preamble to my meditation on our yearly Rosary and Eucharistic Procession through the streets of Astoria.
First of all, it has been our habit to have this procession of faith one week after our retreat at the Seminary; this is not an accident. We must be prepared in the solitude of our hearts in faith for the call to outwardly express our faith for the building up of the Kingdom and for the evangelization of peoples who have not been awakened to the deeper spiritual levels of their being. Our retreats have always had this preparatory role in our community’s outward expression.
Thus, when we hit the streets, we proclaim the goodness of God in calling Our Lady to her role in the Incarnation of her Son. We do this through the public recitation of the Rosary. We also convey to the onlookers the international character of the Church Universal and of our own parish. We do this through the carrying of images of Mary that are venerated in the many countries from which our people come from. This is a powerful witness to a secular world that values multiculturalism, but only practices it in a limited way. Not so the Church.
It also makes real to us the reality of what we are trying to do in the world: bring Christ to others. This is done in a very apparent and concrete way when the Monstrance carrying the Real Presence of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist mixes with the noise and the grime of the street. This shocking coming-together of the Sacred and the Profane is a necessary sign and prelude to the evangelization that we were charged with at our Baptism: to be priests, prophets and kings with Christ in his sanctification of the world.
How appropriate it is that Christ in His Real Presence walks down Ditmars Blvd! Every place this shining presence beckons with its welcoming love is made holy and special to the Lord. To be an instrument of that presence, testifying by our being and our prayers to Jesus right here in Astoria, is a great privilege for each of us who participate. All the onlookers, whether they have the gift of faith or not, must acknowledge seeing this moving and strange sight.
Saint Elisabeth Ann Seton was converted to Catholicism when she saw a similar procession in her trip to Italy. Who knows what effects our Procession has to individuals that God has placed right there at that particular moment!
And so, we use externals to express our faith and leave the evangelization to the Spirit of God! What a gift it is to process with our faith in such an external way! May God give the Church an increase of members through this humble means we use each year!