Bp. Morlino on beauty and worship: beauty is NOT just a matter of taste.

On the site of the Diocese of Madison’s paper, The Catholic Herald (not to be confused with The Catholic Herald in the UK), His Excellency Most Rev. Robert Morlino has some observations about liturgy which are worth a look.

My emphases and comments.

The beauty of our worship in the liturgy
Bishop’s Column
Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011

Dear Friends,

Clearly there has been much dialogue recently about our continuing liturgical renewal in the Diocese of Madison [E.g., his leadership on the issue of Communion under both kinds.  HERE.] — this awareness has even risen to the international level. [Gosh!  How did that happen?!?] There was, in fact, a recent blog in Spain about our local matter. It is very difficult for me to believe that the tale of a bishop, leading his diocese in fine-tuning the implementation of the correct interpretation of Vatican II, would rise to the level of an international news item.  But that says, indeed, a lot about the world in which we live, favoring as it does anarchic displays rather than a reasonable exercise of lawful authority.  [OOH-RAH!]

Be that all as it may, I myself have yet to mention in a very public way the consideration which essentially accompanies our realization of Christ’s true presence and our natural and supernatural response of reverence. The liturgy, as the worship which the Holy Spirit has given His Church, always requires beauty in its celebrations.

Since the frequently mistaken implementation of Vatican II (almost 50 years ago), [So many people getting so many things wrong for so many years.. its a miracle so many people still go to Mass…. but I digress…] many liturgies have taken place which are, at least, less than beautiful. To this statement, our country and our culture would respond immediately, “but beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” or, “everything is beautiful, in its own way.” Just as our culture has sought to relativize everything important to human nobility, asserting that it is human nature not to have a nature, so too is this the case with beauty itself.

Beauty: not simply in the ‘eye of the beholder[Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

Beauty is not, in fact, simply in the eye of the beholder, from the viewpoint of reason. For reason tells us that beautiful, good, true, and one are interchangeable; therefore, whatever is beautiful is also good and true, and expresses unity and harmony.

Beautiful can never be mistaken as an indicator of what pleases some majority of people somewhere. The fact that our parish likes to sing a particular song at the liturgy cannot, of itself, make that song beautiful. To be beautiful, indeed, is to be good and is to be true. As much as some people may enjoy the musical antics of Lady Gaga, these cannot honestly be described as beautiful. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

Beautiful means, in the first place, embodying the truth. Some of the songs that we sing at liturgy contain lyrics which clearly are not true — for example, the song “All Are Welcome.” As a matter of fact, the liturgy takes place mystically in the heavenly sanctuary. All are welcome at the liturgy who truly seek salvation in and through Jesus Christ, by following God’s Will, as spelled out through His Son’s very Body, the Church. People who have little interest in doing God’s Will don’t fit at the liturgy. [OOH-RAH!] And certainly, by their own choosing, the poor souls who suffer in Hell for all eternity are not welcome. [Do my eyes deceive me?  Must I pinch myself?  Did a Catholic bishop just suggest that hell exists and that there may be souls in hell?  Surely the Lord is about to return.] Those are simple, but true facts. Thus the song, “All Are Welcome,” gives an impression that the choice for the Will of Jesus Christ, as it comes to us through the Church, makes no difference; and nothing could be further from the truth. It could therefore be concluded that the song, “All are Welcome,” is not beautiful so as to be appropriate-for-liturgical-use. Being true is necessary before anything can be beautiful.

Ennobling the human person

But, it is equally important for something to be good so that it also might be judged beautiful. The truth, which is clothed by beauty, must be such as to ennoble the human person in terms of bringing out his or her very best, both of intellect and of will. The beautiful must embody that which is true, but also ennobling to our human nature as made in the image and likeness of God. Whatever is beautiful must fix our minds and our hearts on the things above, according to St. Paul (Phil 4).

When one realizes that to be authentically beautiful, something must be both true and ennobling of our human nature, that tells us a great deal about what exactly is appropriate at the liturgy. Because it is the source and the summit of our lives as followers of Christ, the liturgy must never be anything less than beautiful, beautiful in such wise as to evoke the correct sacramental attitude of reverence, beautiful as befitting our communion at the liturgy with all the angels and saints.  [In rhetorical terms the aptum and pulchrum.  This is about decorum.]

Thus, everything that we will be doing in the days, months, and years ahead, since it will be aimed at reverent Christ-centeredness in liturgical celebrations, must be nothing less than beautiful, reflecting the perfect beauty, unity, truth, and goodness of the object of our worship and adoration Themselves, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Thank you for reading this. God Bless each one of you! Praised be Jesus Christ!

I suspect a few parish music “ministers” are going to get their knickers in a twist about this one.

WDTPRS kudos to Bp. Morlino.  He is right about all this, of course.

When writing about music appropriate for liturgical worship I have all these years gone back to what the late, great Church musician (a real one) Msgr. Richard Schuler correctly asserted.  Since sacred liturgical music is NOT an add-on in worship, since it is actually an integrating part (pars integrans) of liturgical worship, since it is prayer, liturgical music must be both sacred and also art.  The texts must be sacred texts.  The idiom must be a sacred idiom, or at least not opposed to the sacred.  The music must be good, well-composed, of high artistic value.  It must be performed well.  It must be sacred and it must be art.  If the music chosen does not fulfill those criteria, it does not belong in the Mass.  The music itself becomes prayer within the liturgical setting.  People pray by listening to sacred liturgical music which is truly art and sacred.

We cannot ever go wrong when we stick to the texts actually assigned by the Church for each Mass or office.  We cannot ever go wrong when we use Gregorian chant and polyphony and the pipe organ, as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council established as having the first place among all genres of music for sacred worship.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Maltese says:

    Very good points. Unlike the beauty of Dorian Gray the Church’s beauty is synonymous with truth (not aesthetics for their own sake; which are fine, btw., John Singer Sargent comes immediately to mind.)

    Being Truth, the Church has always inspired the greatest beauty. But this begs the question, why is it that the Novus Ordo continually inspires banality whereas the Extraordinary form has inspired the greatest artists, from Palestrina to Mozart?

  2. TNCath says:

    What a relief to read. I hope and pray more bishops will write like this.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    Beauty and Art are my favorite topics. I am convinced that the pursuit of Beauty is the pursuit of God. Those of us raised, trained, educated in the Classical Method, know that Beauty has objectivity and rules. There are laws in Art, Music, Architecture, which provide us with harmony, appropriateness, nobility of spirit, etc. Since the end of the 19th century, Art, Music, etc. have become increasingly subjective, to the point of banality and eventually, ugliness. The cult of the ugly has taken over artistic balance and Beauty, an attribute of God Himself.

    As long as modern men and women respond to life in a subjective, personalistic, self-centered manner, in a way based on individualism and relativism, we shall not see the change we want to see in Art, Music, etc.

    Beauty must be based on objectivity, as is Holiness based on objectivity. Banality comes from egotism, the narcissistic subjectivism. My favorite example was the young, female Canadian artist, who, when interviewed in Toronto years ago, said that if she plunked mud on a piece of board, it was “art”, as “art” was merely the personal expression of the artist.

    As to understanding all of this, I highly recommend Jacques Maritain’s Art and Scholasticism, which is online, by the way, as well as his Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry. His Responsibility of the Artist is also excellent. I have used these for teaching in the past and love his work. Another great work on this subject is David Jones’ (the subject of my doctoral thesis never finished, and Cardinal Newman as well) essays on the subject in several books. Jones’ idea that Art should not be seen as Pragmatic, but as pure gift, Gratutiousness to God, is fantastic. He likens the artist to the woman who poured the expensive oil on the feet of Christ, and the Philistines, the Utilitarians, as Judas, who criticized her. Too often, Americans have followed the Protestant Utilitarianism in Church architecture, etc. to the extent that we have Liverpool Cathedral, for example. The Catholic Faith created English Perpendicular, Purcell, the Baroque, etc. Why? Of course, we have St. Augustine, our great example and teacher, who found Beauty, to help us:
    “Too late have I come to love you, O beauty so ancient and so fresh; too late have I come to you”

    God is Beauty, Truth, Love…thank you, Bishop Morlino, (who told my son to be a priest), for reminding us of all of this richness.

  4. Elizabeth D says:

    Bishop Morlino presented this same material to a group of young adults of the Cathedral Parish this past Wednesday. Extremely pleased with what he said as well as with his other recent liturgical leadership, and with Bishop Morlino personally, I said “thank you!” and not reacting he said, “are there any comments?” actually there was not much and nobody seemed upset to me nor complained about Communion under one species. He had started his talk by saying with some amazement that he makes a little liturgical decision in his diocese in south central Wisconsin, and immediately it became worldwide news, he was in Spain very recently and, as he says in his column above, even the Spanish blogs were discussing Bishop Morlino’s liturgical directives. After the story broke on WDTPRS Sunday it made it to the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday, yes Catholic liturgical discipline front page on the secular newspaper which our pastor also commented on with amazement at Mass that day. I have prayed very much that our diocese will accept Bishop Morlino’s good leadership on liturgy.

    In his talk to us, he did get specific that Gregorian chant is the gold standard, “the perfect music for liturgy, or perfectly fitting” (paraphrase). Also that rock style music is not fitting. What he said was simply a teaching of what the Church teaches on liturgical music. He also told us not to criticize our pastors or be adversarial, but thank them when they make beautiful choices for Mass, and perhaps sometimes mention in a positive way what one would like to see when one comes to church. Without directly saying “ask your pastors for Gregorian chant or thank them when they use chant” he conveyed that he would be pleased with that. He criticized the attitude of parishes having their own style and tastes and “this is what our parish likes”. In the past he has spoken of parishes mixing “liturgical cocktails” according to their tastes. Obviously Gregorian chant is the music that is not simply about “what our parish likes” because it is the Church’s own proper music, that is beautiful and suited to worship.

    Following Bishop Morlino’s talk, he celebrated the 9pm candlelight Mass at St Paul’s on the UW Madison campus, which features candlelight obviously, incense, and a cappella music by the Evangelicum choir, and everyone kneels and receives Communion on the tongue. The music was mostly not chant, it seemed to be contemporary polyphony compositions which were not bad even if not altogether traditional, and the recessional was an absolutely beautiful Marian hymn (both lyrics and music) in English which the Bishop stood at the chair through the entire hymn before processing out, obviously moved to prayer. St Paul’s is forming a “student schola” to sing at one of the Sunday Masses, probably the Simple English Propers and some Gregorian chant. But there is also the praisenworship Mass at 6pm. The music leadership there favors musical diversity and I have been told that it is ideological to want sung propers but not praisenworship, also it is always mentioned, even when announcing the “student schola” that some people hate chant. Need this be taken into account–since it is proper to the Mass? Bishop Morlino urged in his talk forming one’s taste for beauty, going to classical music performances etc. Surely it would be wrong to tell people there is no need to cultivate one’s taste for the beautiful music that is more fitting for Catholic worship.

  5. Elizabeth D says:

    Oh yeah, and his in-person talk also included the excellently bracing line about “‘All Are Welcome’ cannot be beautiful first of all because it is not true! All are NOT welcome! The souls in hell for eternity are not welcome!”

  6. Elizabeth D says:

    Just to add, the music folks at our parish are terrifically good people who live their Catholic faith. And the quality of musical performance is generally high. And they do a lot of good and praiseworthy things musically as you can tell from my post. I am happy there will be more chant at my parish and I should know better than to complain on blogs about people or parishes that could be identified, especially when they are as well intentioned and faithful as these.

  7. I continue to be amazed at how refreshing it is to see a bishop speak up about these things rather than be a wall-flower.

    Now we pray others will follow.

  8. Nicole says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z, for posting this.

    I am glad to find that I’m not the only person grated by the raucous renditions of “All Are Welcome.” I find that song most ironic, at least, when a friend of mine is accosted physically in the nave and practically dragged out of the Church by a group of men (twice at one sacred service, once before and once after) and told most pointedly he is NOT welcome complete with obscenities, profanities and more physical accosting…and that they all planned to do violence to his person if he stayed or came around again…all because he objected in a semi-private manner (to the woman’s father) to the presence of a partially nude young woman seated in front of me (likely for my sake).

    Or people from the parish council visiting him at work to tell him he is basically not welcome at the Parish Church, in public outside the front of the workplace because he left Mass during an heretical homily.

    Or some coward sending him an anonymous letter to find another Parish to attend, but definitely he is NOT welcome at the current Parish because he walked out on several heretical homilies.

    I always laugh when they strike up the chorus of “All Are Welcome.” The comedy is compounded by the apparently tone deaf rendering of the song most of the time, too…which is also sad, since Mass is supposed to be a solemn and sacred service. Definitely NOT beautiful…

  9. friarpark says:

    A Bishop after my own heart!! The Madison Diocese is just a county away from me. I may have to make the effort to drive a bit further for Mass. Please God, I implore Thee, strengthen the heart of my own Archbishop to say “Amen” to this statement and begin to change the hearts of the good people of this Diocese.

    I sent a copy of this to our music director.

  10. acardnal says:

    As one of good Bishop Morlino’s faithful flock, I hope he lives a long time and is not transferred anywhere else! This diocese is in desperate need of him, his preaching and corrective actions. And it will take a while to root out the trash here. The bishop had some heart issues a some years past and is in need of our prayers for his continuing good health. FYI, two more deacons will be ordained next June, God willing. Praise be Jesus Christ.

  11. Last night the city of Madison was privileged to have the Westminster Cathedral Choir sing in concert. The program was entirely comprised of sacred music (selections from Victoria, Guerrero, Howells, and MacMillan). Master of Music Martin Baker spoke briefly about the choir’s role in the Catholic liturgy at Westminster Cathedral, which this attendee very much appreciated, especially given everything that has been transpiring in Madison in general, and the Madison diocese in particular.

    The power of beauty cannot be underestimated. The concert began with the Introit from Victoria’s Requiem for six voices. The choir sang their first note, and a gentleman four seats over started sobbing quietly.

  12. James Joseph says:

    I am no smarty pants, but recently began reading the Etienne Gilson book on the arts and the beautiful.

    Most of the book is way over my head, but I am glad I have read some of it.
    The good bishop’s statement made a lot more sense than if I hadn’t. Of that I am sure.

  13. Robert of Rome says:

    Fr. Z, from me you hear several Amens.

  14. lkapell says:

    To be sure, the bishop is to be commended for speaking frankly about Hell. Yet I found that the phrase “poor souls who suffer in Hell” disturbed me. We often refer to the “poor souls” in Purgatory but I have never (to my recollection) seen or heard the word “poor” applied to the damned. It seems to imply that they deserve pity? Even though he also used the phrase “by their own choosing”, which reminds us that God is not unjust by allowing souls to be damned, still the use of that word is, I think, inappropriate. In our current environment where the concept of Hell is misunderstood or rejected by many, we need to be careful how we express ourselves. The damned are souls who chose an existence without God, and that is what they have. They chose to set their faces against truth, against goodness, against love. They have exactly what they deserve, and we should carefully avoid any verbal expressions which suggest or imply that the souls in Hell deserve pity or sympathy (which, in turn, would undermine belief in the goodness of God).

  15. DeaconPaul says:

    I find it disturbing that anyone should rejoice in the fate of those condemned to hell (and as the final judgement has not yet taken place, their number is as yet unknown -other than to God!).
    All are welcome is a hymn sung by the living for the living, it has nothing to do with the dead. We have to presume that all who enter our churches are capable of salvation and that it is God’s will that they should be saved. Let’s get a grip and hope (theological virtue) that the Father can work trough Christ to save all. Paul tells us that those who judge condemn themselves, I pray to God that some of those who post here do not suffer that fate.

  16. tonesing says:

    An aside: Perhaps in the “Spirit” of the revised NO, they will change the hymn to Many Are Welcome…

  17. catholicmidwest says:

    Perhaps we get rid of that pointlessly politically correct modern hymn?

  18. Supertradmum says:

    For the record, and to my great disappointment, Friday at Mass, the Offertory hymn was the “kumbaya” tune with Maltese words in a 17th century Baroque Franciscan Church. If it weren’t for Our Lord in the Eucharist, I would have left the church in frustration tears….and Pete Seeger is in NYC with the Occupiers. Any connection?

  19. Lurker 59 says:

    I live in the diocese of Madison.

    At the parish where I frequently attend, all members get a free subscription to the Madison Catholic Herald, if I am recalling correctly.

    One guess as to what the opening hymn for the Mass was today.

    Please keep Bp. Morlino in your prayers as he has a task before him.

  20. jhayes says:

    As someone whose church had a sign on the lawn saying “Whatever you have done you are welcome here”, I am greatly puzzled by Bishop Morlino’s statement “All are welcome at the liturgy who truly seek salvation in and through Jesus Christ, by following God’s Will, as spelled out through His Son’s very Body, the Church. People who have little interest in doing God’s Will don’t fit at the liturgy.”

    Leaving aside the “poor souls suffering in hell”, who I never imagined marching into the church, is Bishop Morlino saying that there are living people who are not welcome to attend mass?

    Even Catholics who are excommunicated and, therefore, cannot receive Comunion are entitled to attend mass and, in fact, still have the obligation to attend mass on Sundays and Holydays of Obligation. Non-Catholics have always been welcome to attend mass, either on their own or in the company of a Catholic friend or family member.

    Can anyone explain who are the living people who are not welcome at mass?

  21. catholicmidwest says:

    In answer to your question, those who come in only to start a disturbance or to cause trouble. The mass is for worshipping, not grandstanding one’s own views.

  22. jhayes says:

    In answer to your question, those who come in only to start a disturbance or to cause trouble. The mass is for worshipping, not grandstanding one’s own views.

    Well, of course that’s true whether it’s a mass or a city council meeting. Just after I posted, I drove by the Catholic book store and noticed they had a big “Welcome” sign out front. I’m pretty sure that if you walked in there and started tearing up “heretical” books they would call the police and have you removed.

    But I doubt that they would take down the “Welcome” sign.

    Changing it to: “Welcome – except people who are going to create disturbances” seems like unnecessary detail that would discourage people they really want come in.

    Why would we want to say that about people coming to mass?

    I’m replying just to your suggestion that Bishop Morlino was thinking of people who might create disturbances. There may be other possibilities, so I’ll leave the question open for anyone else who may be able to suggest what the Bishop had in mind as to people who are not welcome at mass.

  23. Elizabeth D says:

    One thing I observe is that Bishop Morlino has emphasized in the past that assent to Catholic teaching is inseparable from Catholic identity and if I understand correctly he has taken the stance that rather than misleadingly continuing to identify themselves as Catholics perhaps obstinate dissenters should go elsewhere. The idea is that they cause scandal and harm by calling themselves Catholic and receiving the Eucharist but believing and acting seriously at odds with that. Thus I don’t think it necessarily refers only to people who cause a disturbance or publicly obvious scandal at Mass. But there are people who proclaim proudly and incorrigibly that they are pro-choice Catholics or pro same sex marriage Catholics–and although those are not actually Catholic opinions at all, the public, and many Catholics, increasingly think they are. There is relatively little that bishops can do about that directly. Since everyone habitually goes to Communion at most parishes, even if they’ve incurred latae sententiae excommunication it is not going to have the medicinal effect on them that excommunication is meant to have, but letting them know they’re not welcome at Mass if they’re determined to be like that, still has some chance. I am just speculating, ignorantly.

  24. jhayes says:

    @Elizabeth D

    I hope that’s not what he had in mind. If it is, it’s strange that such an important point only gets communicated to people as an explanation of why he feels a particular song isn’t appropriate for use at mass in his diocese.

  25. schmenz says:

    I am encouraged by the Bishop’s words and actions and wish him long life. The people of Madison are lucky to have him. Here in Milwaukee we could use someone with his taste and erudition occupying the Archbishop’s chair.

    Speaking of beautiful music it is kind of sadly ironic that our Traditional Mass here in Milwaukee once had a brilliant choir and choir directors (Father Skeris was one of these talented directors for a time) but ever since the Bishop handed the Church over to a traditional order of priests, who I swear are tone-deaf, things deteriorated rapidly. A skilled choir master was unceremoniously booted out and replaced with a mediocre director who completely lacks the artistic touch. Many choir members drifted away in disgust at this turn of events (One of the new tenors sounds like a strangled chicken). Much beauty was thrown away during this nonsense. This situation surely underlines the fact that beauty is such an essential part of worship, both in music and liturgy. Even attending a beautiful traditonal Mass can be a chore when the musicianship is dreadful. I hadn’t realized how important beauty was until I read this fine blog post.

    Quick comment for Deacon Paul: Sadly, sir, when you are condemned to Hell you’re there permanently. Once you’re in, you’re in. The Final Judgement is not for people who have already been condemned. That’s just Catholicism 101.

    For jhayes: if you are puzzled by Bishop Morlino’s statements about “welcoming” then I fear you must be puzzled by many aspects of the Catholic Faith.

  26. jhayes says:

    For jhayes: if you are puzzled by Bishop Morlino’s statements about “welcoming” then I fear you must be puzzled by many aspects of the Catholic Faith.

    @schmenz, I do admit to being genuinely puzzled as to whether Bishop Morlino is saying that there are some people who are not welcome at mass in his diocese (leaving aside the question of whether they can receive Communion once they are there – and disregarding souls in hell and people who create disturbances in church and should be dealt with by the police).

    What do you think?

  27. Elizabeth D says:

    Nobody here can speak for Bishop Morlino or knows exactly what he thinks, but I suspect that all people who want to come to Mass behaving appropriately and not receiving Communion if they are aware of not being in a state to receive Communion, would be welcome at Mass.

  28. FrAWeidner says:

    Re: Madison and Milwaukee:

    I think Bp. Morlino will finish his career in Madison if one of two things happens: 1) he gets hit by a bus, or 2) Jesus returns in the next couple of years. No chance otherwise. San Francisco, Denver, Indianapolis, and Baltimore are all open right now, and guess what Archdiocese will be available in four months…

    As for Milwaukee, whatever else may be said of Abp. Listecki, he was responsible for the gorgeous renewal of St. Ignatius Church in Chicago. Don’t know about everyone else, but I think it’s beautiful.

  29. Springkeeper says:

    Silly little “7-11 songs” (as my previous pastor used to call P&W songs) are just a way to make us feel better about us and Mass really isn’t about us (as the focus) at all. As far as the unwelcome part, I think anyone who snorts and rolls her eyes every time “Christ is really present in the Eucharist” or something similar is mentioned during the homily would tip a bit into that category. Anyone who respectfully attends to learn and observe (as I did for almost 1.5 years before I converted from being a Fundamentalist Baptist) is certainly welcome. I’m inclined to think the Bishop would agree.

  30. Centristian says:

    If only more bishops even realized that the banality of modern liturgy is actually a problem to be addressed, not to mention confronted. This was a wonderful statement to read, nevertheless I wish our right-minded leaders would take more decisive action, and not merely suggest and posit. I say that with all due respect to our good bishops, such as this bishop. But really, don’t be afraid to bang those croziers on the ground once in a while and just do what needs to be done.

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