‘Beauty in Evangelization’

Sacra Liturgia USA 2015 conference in New York will attempt to revitalize authentic renewal.

St. Catherine of Siena Church in New York, where liturgical celebrations for the Sacra Liturgia USA 2015 conference will take place.
St. Catherine of Siena Church in New York, where liturgical celebrations for the Sacra Liturgia USA 2015 conference will take place. (photo: Courtesy Steven Picciano)

NEW YORK — Two cardinals, one archbishop and three bishops, along with numerous priests and lay scholars, will participate in the upcoming Sacra Liturgia USA 2015 conference. From June 1 to 4, speakers and attendees at the New York City event will attempt to build on 2013’s inaugural Sacra Liturgia conference in Italy and last year’s installment in France.

The conference, which is not meant to be merely academic, will feature liturgies (in both the ordinary and extraordinary form) and working lunches, in addition to a number of lectures. The liturgical celebrations, which include a Corpus Christi procession on the final day, will take place at the Church of St. Catherine of Siena on the Upper East Side.

The lectures, to be held at Hunter College’s Kaye Playhouse, will be given by liturgical scholars such as Father Thomas Kocik, Dom Alcuin Reid and Peter Kwasniewski, and will encompass a broad range of topics. Liturgical preaching, the role of beauty in the liturgy and the nature of liturgical music are among the concepts to be discussed.

Jennifer Donelson, who is heading up the conference, hopes to produce scholarship that helps the Church at large think clearly and critically about issues that have a real impact on the everyday lives of Catholics. Donelson, who is the director of sacred music at St. Joseph Seminary in Dunwoodie, N.Y., said, “The goal of the conference is to enhance the Church’s ability to proclaim the Gospel in the modern world.”

Donelson believes that while more Catholics are becoming aware of the role of beauty in evangelization, it is still assumed that a knowledge of the Catholic faith and a good intention of bringing souls to Christ is sufficient in the discernment of what is appropriate for the liturgy. However, she emphasized that strong training in the actual technique of art is also necessary.

Donelson’s own talk, entitled “Addressing the Triumph of Bad Taste: Church Patronage of Art, Architecture and Music,” will include examples of good and bad Church patronage of artists in order to demonstrate underlying principles that help to produce truly sacred art.

 “We really must know the principles and language of good music, painting, sculpture and architecture to make decisions that will truly benefit the Church’s mission,” Donelson said. It is for this reason that she wants to present both precision and applicability to an overall concept, which will “help busy pastors cultivate strong working relationships with artists who can lend their expertise in creating artistic works with real beauty, in order to draw souls to Christ.”


Sound Scholarship

Father Christopher Smith, one of the priest-scholars scheduled to speak at the conference, is deeply concerned about bringing souls to Christ and sees the liturgy as central to this goal: Far from being an optional or create-it-as-you-go endeavor, Father Smith believes the liturgy should be of such quality as to transform the lives of Catholics.

However, Father Smith, the pastor of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Taylors, S.C., has often found the liturgy to distort the very identity of the Church: “Our identity as Catholics has been profoundly affected by liturgical changes. There is confusion about who we really are, which is not conducive to sharing our faith with others.”

Father Smith will offer solutions to liturgical confusion in his talk, “Liturgical Formation and Catholic Identity.” He wants to bring about an authentic renewal in the public worship of the Church through accurate historical and theological analysis: “If the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, then every Catholic needs to know as much as possible about the rich history and theology of the liturgy.”

This celebration of liturgical accuracy is why Father Smith expects great things from the conference: “I think gathering people from all over the country (and world) who are passionate about restoring sacredness to the liturgy is very worthwhile. It will be a powerful time of prayer and study, with some of the brightest liturgical commentators around.”

Michael Foley, professor of patristics at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, also believes that in order to have genuine renewal in the liturgy and in the overall life of the Church, there needs to be “a solid scholarly component that involves careful historical and theological research.” He explained, “This is not to say that liturgical quality is simply a matter of scholarship, but it is true that bad scholarship has harmed the liturgy, so we’re trying to reverse some of that.”


Using the Liturgical Calendar

The liturgical calendar is one area Foley hopes to make an impact. He will give a talk on the importance of emphasizing different aspects of a particular truth of the faith throughout the year. Instead of reducing the emphasis of sacred mysteries to a minimum number of days, Foley would like to see more reminders of those mysteries. He likens this approach to “admiring the various facets of a diamond, which helps to get a more complete picture of what is before us.”

To give one example, the Church commemorated for centuries the sorrowful mystery of Our Lord’s crucifixion on Good Friday and then revisited this mystery — under different aspects — on two separate feasts of the Holy Cross and also on the feast of the Most Precious Blood. In 1962, however, one of the feasts of the Holy Cross was removed, and in 1970, the feast of the Precious Blood was effectively absorbed into the feast of Corpus Christi to create the new Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

While some see this as removal of needless repetition, it strikes Foley as the reduction of a process of “recapitulation,” a contemplative return to a mystery different from the original encounter.

“In focusing on the Eucharist as a whole, one tends to think of spiritual nourishment, communion and the doctrine of the Real Presence,” he argues. “But when you think of the blood of Our Lord by itself, the focus is drawn to the themes of expiation, cleansing and atonement: The very title of ‘Precious’ denotes a price, a ransom paid for the sins of many. It is this latter aspect that tends to get lost in the new, combined feast.”


Prominent Participants

Donelson is grateful for the interest of all the participants, especially Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, Cardinal Raymond Burke, patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Bishops Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn., John O’Hara, auxiliary of New York, and Joseph Perry, auxiliary of Chicago. Donelson said she is encouraged by the willingness of these Church leaders to explore and expand authentic liturgical renewal in the hope of reaching more souls for Christ.

In addition to the notable assemblage of clergy and speakers, which also includes Dominican Father Jordan Kelly, who is hosting the liturgical celebrations, Donelson has been impressed by the diverse group of sponsors the conference has attracted. The Knights of Columbus, the Cardinal Newman Society, De Montfort Music, Roman Catholic Books and The Latin Mass magazine are among those making the event possible.

Registration, which includes single-day or all-week options, is open until May 27. Around 300 are expected to attend the conference, which will be followed by a “summer school” in the south of France, from July 4 through July 19, and another conference in the United Kingdom in 2016.

Foley has high expectations because of the speakers: “I anticipate great conversations all day and heavenly liturgies, with beautiful music and ritual. This should be a wonderful time to expand our knowledge of and love for the Church.”

Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.