Catholics in areas of the United States are always reading about parishes and Catholic facilities either closing or merging due to the shifting demographics of the Catholic population in the country. One of the fortunate side effects of this parish consolidation is the opportunity to rid ourselves of quite frankly “bad” Catholic art that has cluttered our Catholic Churches. While there are scores of examples of poorly executed pieces of art that has made its way into our Catholic sacred spaces, there are many talented and capable artists and artisans that labor to introduce their quality art on a regular basis.
The Second Vatican Council made it especially clear that artisans were extremely important in the design and furnishing of materials intended for our most sacred places. Subsequent Popes since Paul VI, including Benedict XVI have made the restoration of quality art as an important mission of the Church as it plans its liturgical structures. Last year, Benedict XVI even had a conclave of artists at the Sistine Chapel to illustrate the critical importance their talents and artistic inspirations are to the life of the living and worshiping Catholic community.
Unfortunately, however, the planning and design of Catholic parishes does not always make considerations for the inclusion of original and qualitative art into the liturgical design of a new parish church. In most cases, architects are enlisted to provide the plans for the Catholic parish, but they have little understanding of the ritual and sacramental form and functions required of the new building. In addition to this oversight, architects and liturgical designers are drawn to,” over the counter,” statuary and, “catalog,” ordered artistic accessories that are mass produced and found in Catholic Churches in some variation all over the United States.
The Catholic Church historically has always been one of the strongest patron and supporter of artists and their respective crafts. Unfortunately, since the rise of the Industrial Revolution with the ability to mass produce articles, the Church has been caught in the machinery of, “off the shelf,” ordering of sacred art and liturgical accessories. The significance and magnificence of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is simply this: It is a one of a kind work of art! Appreciation of original commissions of liturgical art is something that needs a boost of confidence in the United States as we redesign and redistribute our parishes into new geographical distributions of the Catholic faithful.
Artist Paul Whittle at work on Our Lady of the Word
There are examples in every location in the United States of qualitative artists working in their uniquely vocational field of liturgical arts. In the Philadelphia metropolitan area, one artist of particular note is Paul M. Whittle. Mr. Whittle attended and graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1995 with a BFA degree. He has also received the Perkins Scholarship for the, “Visual Arts” for six consecutive years.
A particular project that Mr. Whittle has completed and installed is, Our Lady of the Word at Saint Aloysius Church in the Diocese of Trenton. If your parish is considering adding a new piece of Catholic art, they should consider Mr. Whittle. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
His work is an example of superlative artistry, available to Catholic parishes throughout the United States. Catholics from all walks of life, clergy and hierarchy and local parishioners should really seek out artisans like Mr. Whittle when building or redesigning their local parish churches and not settle for over the counter art when an original piece of art is readily available.
While the migration of Catholic parishioners continues to change and evolve, we have the chance to artistically accentuate our new Catholic parishes with works of artistic quality that are befitting our worship of Almighty God.
Catholic Sacred Arts are indeed alive and well in the United States. As a faithful community of Catholic believers, we need to cultivate the patronage of these talented artisans and include their artistic interpretations of Catholic images as part of the evolution of Catholicism in the United States.
The Catholic Church in the United States is no longer an immigrant church, one that needs to rely on importation of statuary from foreign countries. We are a vibrant and living People of God that includes many talented vocational Catholic artists in our own parish communities. We have an opportunity to utilize their God given talents that are reflective of a Catholic Church in the 21st century, living and growing in faith and love and hope.
About the Author:
Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist writing on Catholic topics and issues. He attended Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, where he studied both philosophy and theology. He writes frequently at http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com.
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