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The Beauty Of Holiness

December 1, 2022 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


I was invited to a fundraising dinner recently at which a bishop spoke about the need to promote goodness, truth, and beauty in the Church. He has undertaken a multi-year project to beautify the celebration of Holy Mass as the key to Church renewal, liturgical and otherwise.
Salvation of the world begins in and through the Church, but the Church must first pray properly according to her true faith, lex orandi, lex credendi, in order for this work to come about. This is a common theme among those who love our Church and her sacred liturgy, as it should be. These themes of goodness, truth, and beauty are mentioned often by bishops who are deeply interested in the much needed renewal of the liturgy and who have made promotion of it their mission.
I do not speak here of the Traditional Latin Mass, which has never spawned a crisis of faith such as surrounds us now and can never be made more perfect than we find it in its current form as codified by Pope Pius V.
The Church has officially decided to attempt exclusive promotion of the new Mass, imposing the conditions under which most Catholics must keep the Lord’s Day holy. This is the point at which most of the faithful intersect with the larger Church.
The new Mass is vulnerable to abuses by poorly trained and poorly formed priests. There is no accounting for taste. In the preconciliar period, too many in authority left certain matters of the liturgy up to the taste of the priest, or possibly a lay person who presumes to take control of the liturgy in any given parish.
Beauty is often mentioned along with goodness and truth as the answers to the various crises afflicting the Church. But at the same time the concept is not fleshed out to a very great extent.
There are various means of promoting beauty. In the liturgy these can mean the surroundings, vestments, vessels, music, incense, Latin, chant, and organ, these last three officially prescribed by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council in the document Sacrosanctum Concilium. The most important beauty, however, is not in the things of the liturgy, but rather in those souls sanctified by the offering of the Church’s sacred rites.
The highest purpose of the sacred liturgy, after that of rendering Almighty God the worship which is His due, is the sanctification of souls. This also is for His greater glory as well as for salvation.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: The “beholder” in the case of the liturgy must be the Church. Any persons responsible for serving the liturgy and the ministry of the priest must be immersed in the wisdom and traditions of the Church as these have unfolded under the guidance of the Holy Spirit over the course of millennia. This is necessary for understanding the concept of truth, goodness, and beauty which serves sanctification through the work of the sacred liturgy.
Sadly, for many this has not been the case. The Mass has too often been twisted to adapt to the ever-changing modern context, resulting in the degradation of beauty with incalculable damage to souls by frustrating or impeding the growth in holiness, the beauty of the soul for which the liturgy exists.
Just as the liturgy brings about the gift of the Lord’s Body and Blood, to be consumed as spiritual food for the life of the soul, so the purpose of the liturgy is final union in Heaven with God. Salvation begins here and now through the beauty of the virtues which adorn the soul, attracting others to God as He thus manifests Himself through the work of grace in the human person.
Holiness is the beauty of the human person in a state of grace, pursuing salvation through growth in heroic virtue. The saints shine with the love of God. They draw us and inspire us to follow their example. In our desire to be like them, we seek the communion of friendship with them.
It is this beauty, of God made manifest more fully through His image and likeness in the human person by the work of grace, which we should preach and teach most often. The crises in the Church, liturgical or otherwise, have not suspended the laws of grace and holiness. Sin is always sin, an offense to God and a mortal danger to souls.
Of course, blasphemies and sacrilege, which directly offend or attack the honor of God through abuses of the liturgy, are more offensive for that reason. All sin can “cast both body and soul into Gehenna.” The added scandal jeopardizing souls calls for reparation, public renunciation and correction.
Holiness through the life of virtue is not a matter of extremes. Extreme love of God does not mean extreme severity toward those who may wrongly love God less. None of us in our human weakness will ever love the Father as He deserves. Only the Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, will ever be capable of such a superhuman feat. That is why we must always pray through, with, and in Him, particularly by means of the perfect prayer, His prayer, of the holy Mass.
As St. Thomas teaches, virtue is strength because it is in the middle of two extremes resulting from either excess or defect. We can see in the example of the saints our tradition of holiness in human form. St. Philip Neri was both traditional and had a sense of humor. St. Catherine of Siena was traditional and corrected the Pope, never rejecting him. That would have been a violation of a tradition. St. Francis de Sales was both traditional and legendary in gentleness.
The saints respected all traditions to include that which never rejects persons while seeking their holiness. Sainthood has not now become a series of ever-more severe purity tests, failure for which to pass muster consigns the offending soul to the outer darkness, “where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” None of the saints from our tradition would have recognized anything Catholic or Christian in this perversion of the faith which shuts doors to souls rather than opening wide hearts and minds with Christ on the cross, to love sinners while correcting them. We cannot correct and help those whom we reject by banishing them from our presence.
Charity is the tradition of holiness and the beauty which adorns souls who know and love Christ, heroically loving souls as Christ does, no matter how much they be steeped in sin or disbelief. Offering Christ through the beauty of personal holiness is the greatest service the faithful can render to others and to a world often darkened by sin, violence, and hatred.
Division offends Almighty God, particularly when it masquerades under a claim to love Christ. The Devil is the author of division. Using things Catholic to shun and reject other souls is a scandal and an offense to the Lord, and never the way to Heaven.
Another year of the Lord is quickly coming to an end with the annual Advent of December. Our gaze is directed to the end of our lives and the end of the world. Death, judgment, Heaven and Hell: The four last things are the subjects of our meditation. The beauty of holiness, a life of grace through growth in virtue, is our best and only preparation for the day on which each of us will render an account to God so as to live with Him, beholding face to face His true and infinite beauty forever.
Thank you for reading and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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