Last March, I posted several items about the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture, which met for two days on the theme of "Pathway to Evangelisation and Dialogue." The topics included such things as "The Mysterious Beauty of God Shining in the Liturgy" and "The Beauty of the Christian Life: Holiness." Earlier posts are: The Way of Beauty, Calendar for the Plenary Assembly: Beauty as a Pathway to Evangelisation and Dialogue, and The Gospel Message in All Its Beauty.
The Concluding Document of the Plenary Assembly is now available online in English. I am not quite sure how long it has been there, but I only recently realized it was there. Here is the section on Beauty in the Liturgy (footnotes omitted):
"Beauty in the Liturgy. The beauty of the love of Christ comes to meet us each day not only through the example of the saints but more so through the holy liturgy, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist where the Mystery becomes present and illuminates with meaning and beauty all our existence. This is the extraordinary means by which our Saviour, once dead and resurrected, shares His life with us, making us part of His Body as living members and making us participate in His beauty.
"Florenskij described beauty in the liturgy, symbol of the symbols of the world as that which permits the transformation of time and space "in the holy, mysterious temple that shines with celestial beauty."
"During a conference at the 23rd National Italian Eucharistic Congress, Cardinal Ratzinger cited in his introduction the old legend about the origins of the Christian faith in Russia. According to this legend, Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided to adhere to the Orthodox Church of Constantinople after having heard his ambassadors who had been sent to Constantinople where they had been present at a solemn liturgy in the basilica of Saint Sophia. They said to the prince, "We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth… We are witnesses: God has made His dwelling place there among men." And the Cardinal theologian took from this legend the basis of truth: "it is in effect certain that the internal force of the liturgy played an essential role in the diffusion of Christianity…That which convinced the ambassadors of the Russian prince, that the faith celebrated in the Orthodox liturgy was true, was not a missionary style argument whose elements appeared more convincing to those disposed to listen than those of any other religion. No, that which struck home was the mystery in itself, a mystery that, precisely because it is found beyond all discussion, imposes on reason the force of truth." How can we fail to underline the importance of icons, the marvellous heritage of the Christian East, which still today gives something of the liturgy of the undivided Church: its rich and deep language thrives on its roots in the experience of the undivided Church, the Roman catacombs, the mosaics of Rome and Ravenna as well as Byzantium?
"For the believer, beauty transcends the aesthetic. It permits the passage from "for self" to "more than self." The liturgy which is disinterested and does not seek to celebrate God for Him, through Him and in Him, is not beautiful, and therefore not true. It should be "disinterested" in "putting oneself before God and placing one's eyes on Him who shines with the divine light on the things that pass." It is in this austere simplicity that it becomes missionary, that is, capable of witnessing to observers who let themselves be taken over by the invisible reality that it offers.
"The French writer Paul Claudel allured to the internal force of the liturgy in witnessing to his conversion during the singing of the Magnificat during Vespers on Christmas Eve at Notre-Dame de Paris: "It was then that the event happened that has dominated all my life. In an instant, my heart was touched and I believed. I believed with such force, with such relief of all my being, a conviction so powerful, so certain and without any room for doubt, that ever since, all the books, all the arguments, all the hazards of my agitated life have never shaken my faith, nor to tell the truth have they even touched it."
"The beauty of the liturgy, an essential moment in the experience of faith and the pathway towards an adult faith, is unable to reduce itself to mere formal beauty. It is first of all the deep beauty of the meeting with the mystery of God, present among men through the intermediary work of the Son, "the fairest of the children of men" (Ps 45, 2) who renews without end His sacrifice of love for us. It expresses the beauty of the communion with Him and with our brothers, the beauty of a harmony which translates into gestures, symbols, words, images and melodies that touch the heart and the spirit and raise marvel and the desire to meet the resurrected Lord, He who is the Door of Beauty.
"Superficiality, banality and negligence have no place in the liturgy. They not only do not help the believer progress on his path of faith but above all damage those who attend Christian celebrations, and in particular, the Sunday Eucharist. In the last few decades, some people have given too much importance to the pedagogical dimension of the liturgy and the desire to make the liturgy more accessible even for outsiders, and have undermined its primary function: the liturgy lets us immerse ourselves completely in the salvific action of God in His son Jesus, which makes it missionary. Essentially turned towards God, it is beautiful when it permits all the beauty of the mystery of love and communion to manifest itself. The liturgy is beautiful when it is "acceptable to God" and immerses us in divine joy."