|"Good Shepherd" by William Dyce|
At Christmas, especially, many Catholic Churches are decorated as beautifully as possible. Some Protestant churches are suspicious of such decorations, fearful that all that "stuff" will distract from a "pure" worship and focus upon God. Yet the Catholic instinct, as soon as the early persecutions ended (by mid-4th century), has been that beauty in our churches focuses and deepens our appreciation for God’s beauty, for we believe God is All-Beauty.
I have reflected upon this previously (HERE) and I believe it is part of the sacramental approach of the Catholic Church, shared by the Orthodox Churches and to some degree by certain Protestant churches, as well.
This is how the Catechism (CCC#41) explains it:
"All creatures bear a certain resemblance to God, most especially man, created in the image and likeness of God. The manifold perfections of creatures - their truth, their goodness, their beauty all reflect the infinite perfection of God. Consequently we can name God by taking his creatures' perfections as our starting point, 'for from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator'." (Wisdom 13:5)
I have studied the subject of "religious beauty" for a number of years now. It is quite fascinating to me. I remember once reading a certain Christian author’s critique of the Church’s preaching and teaching. He said, many do not dispute that what we teach is true or reasonable (though many others would disagree); rather we have not made our teaching and preaching beautiful enough. Love should attract...
The late Pope John Paul II wrote about the "Consecrated life" of those men and women in religious orders, such as Sisters. But we are first consecrated by Baptism, so I believe that the Pope’s words can apply appropriately to all of us:
Saint Augustine says: "Beautiful is God, the Word with God ... He is beautiful in heaven, beautiful on earth; beautiful in the womb, beautiful in his parents' arms, beautiful in his miracles, beautiful in his sufferings; beautiful in inviting to life, beautiful in not worrying about death, beautiful in giving up his life and beautiful in taking it up again; he is beautiful on the Cross, beautiful in the tomb, beautiful in heaven. Listen to the song with understanding, and let not the weakness of the flesh distract your eyes from the splendour of his beauty."
Quoted in John Paul II, POST-SYNODAL APOSTOLIC EXHORTATIONThe quest for divine beauty impels consecrated persons to care for the deformed image of God on the faces of their brothers and sisters, faces disfigured by hunger, faces disillusioned by political promises, faces humiliated by seeing their culture despised, faces frightened by constant and indiscriminate violence, the anguished faces of minors, the hurt and humiliated faces of women, the tired faces of migrants who are not given a warm welcome, the faces of the elderly who are without even the minimum conditions for a dignified life.
VITA CONSECRATA. March25, 1996: 24 &75)
For a long time I have seen that in our Catholic Faith, Beauty and Justice are partners in serving God. Beauty without justice (especially caring for those unjustly treated), could lead to an escapist aestheticism. But justice without beauty would be a diminished justice, since justice is to bring us into "right relationship" with God, who is Just, Good, True, and Beautiful in his love. (To read more about this: HERE)
If we follow Christ, he will lead us as the Good and Beautiful Shepherd into his beauty and truth and empower us to work to restore beauty and dignity to people’s lives, the original beauty for which God created us. This is why he came into our world and why we make Christmas as beautiful as we can.