Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

The Via Pulchritudinis, Faure's Requiem, and the Eucharist

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

The Via Pulchritudinis, Faure's Requiem, and the Eucharist

Article excerpt

"BEAUTY WILL SAVE THE WORLD," affirms Prince Myshkin in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot. This prophetic statement is cited in both Pope Saint John Paul Il's Letter to Artists (1999) and the concluding document from the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture entitled The Via Pulchritudinis: Privileged Pathway for Evangelisation and Dialogue (2006). (1) In their proclamation that beauty is revelatory, disclosing the presence of God at work in the world, these documents among others highlight the important role that beauty occupies in the Church's mission to continue the redemptive work of Christ on earth. They insist that beauty is uniquely capacitated to serve as a locus of divine encounter, an insight of particular importance for those in the Church striving to further the work of the New Evangelization. If beauty can begin as a point of encounter with God, a revelation of the divine presence, then it can become a catalyst for conversion, for transformation. The beauty that guides the heart to God is the beauty that "will save the world."

The beauty of the created world is a reflection of the beauty of the Creator; as one of the ways in which God reveals himself to humanity, it testifies to God's providential love as the source of all life. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Starting from movement, becoming, contingency, and the world's order and beauty, one can come to a knowledge of God as the origin and end of the universe." (2) Yet such is the "divine pedagogy [that] God communicates himself to [humanity] gradually." (3) Just as divine revelation occurs gradually, so too does one's immersion into beauty take place in stages on a trajectory, steps along a pathway. The more deeply one is immersed into beauty, the more fully one ascends into an awareness of God's love revealed in the world, a revelation reaching its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. The purpose of this discussion, then, is to examine the stages or steps of this immersion into beauty in order to demonstrate the trajectory or pathway along which an aesthetic experience becomes a point of divine encounter and ultimately a catalyst for conversion. Step one on this pathway consists of establishing the parameters for exploring aesthetic experiences through a theological lens, discerning the ways in which beauty can point to God. Because beauty's manifestations are myriad, it becomes necessary following these general considerations to limit subsequent discussion to a specific form of beauty, in this case, music. Step two will engage the ways in which sacred music heard in a concert hall provides an inroad to divine encounter, and step three will examine the ways in which liturgical music heard during the Mass becomes a means by which one may encounter Jesus Christ, present in the Eucharist. This final step will also explore the ways in which an aesthetic experience contains within it a call to conversion.

To illustrate this ever-deepening trajectory of encounter requires an examination of a particular piece of sacred music that has resonated with listeners in both concert and liturgical settings. Gabriel Faure's Requiem, op. 48 provides such an example. Both its instant reception into the standard choral repertoire and its long performance history prove its artistic merit as a beautiful piece of sacred music. In concert hall and cathedral alike, Faure's Requiem has opened the hearts of listeners to the presence of God, yet it is only when the piece is heard within the celebration of the Mass that it reaches its full potential as an inroad of divine encounter. Because the eucharistic liturgy comprises the culminating step on the pathway of beauty, music heard within this context transcends itself and contains within it seeds for conversion and transformation that are nourished by the eucharistic presence of Christ. The beauty of the liturgy is the "beauty [that] will save the world," for liturgical beauty is the beauty of Christ himself. …

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