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Beauty disarms, speaks of God

· In the face of the symbolic universe of the liturgy ·

On 30 May and 1 June, the 11th International Liturgical Congress will be held at the Monastery of Bose on the theme: “The Second Vatican Council. Liturgy, Architecture, Art”. The Congress is sponsored by the monastery in collaboration with the National Office for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church of the Italian Episcopal Conference, and with the editorial staff of Rivista Liturgica .

In his talk Cardinal Godfried Danneels mentions that there are three paths which lead to God: the path of truth, the path of goodness and the path of beauty. These three are universal and are also the three names of God. God is in fact the supreme truth over and above every knowable truth. Every thought aspires to its own transcendence, to an afterlife of thought.

God, in addition, is supreme goodness and perfection and, lastly, he is also supreme beauty. These are the three doors that open on to God. Yet, for people today these doors are difficult to open. The door of truth inspires scepticism. “What is truth?” (John 18:38), Pilate was already saying and he is echoed by so many of our contemporaries. The door of goodness and perfection is in its turn hard to open, because this goodness seems too perfect for man and hence impossible to attain. For our contemporaries, however, the door of beauty opens more easily. Truth gives rise to doubt, goodness to discouragement, beauty is disarming. Perhaps other epochs were less familiar with these obstacles. Yet today the door of beauty is virtually the only one to be opened in order to find God and Christ. It is the royal route for our time in its search for God.

St Leo said that everything Christ did while he passed among us on this earth has now been transferred to the sacraments of the Church. So it is that the liturgy becomes the garden of angels: the garden of the new Eden and of its beauty. The liturgy is an immense universe of symbols which refer to the mystery of salvation and make it present.

A symbol reveals and suggests an afterlife. The symbol sparks imagination and emotion. It is not limited to meaning: it reveals, suggests, awakens, touches. It does not first inform, it touches the senses and the heart. The liturgy is that collection of veiled symbols which bring about the glorification of God and the sanctification of men and women on earth.

Beauty is often identified with the beauty of form. It is “aesthetic” beauty. However the beautiful is far more than the beauty of form. It is a “universal”, a name of God. “Beauty” is a complex term, as is the Hebrew word shalom , which does not simply mean the absence of war and violence, but a state of complete well-being, the compendium of all that makes human happiness. The pulchrum also signifies an integral, complete state of all that human beings find pleasing. This beauty has a force of its own, but it is meek and does not overwhelm, does not discourage; rather it dispels doubt. The beauty of the liturgical universe is also like this: it is disarming.

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