What Is This I Don’t Even?!

The glorious period of waiting that is Advent begins today, which means a sense of anticipation of the coming of the Lord, no Gloria at mass, lighting the candles on the wreath, deep meditation on the mystery of the incarnation, and the annual abomination that is the unveiling of a new Breaking Bread book from OCP.

This year, OCP (Oregon Craptacular Publishing) has outdone themselves with awfulness.  This thing is going to be stabbing me in the eyeballs every Sunday for the next year.

What even is it? My son asked me to put it away, saying it was “too disturbing.  It looks like some kind of cult sacrifice thing.” Yeah, that’s an image Catholics want to reinforce.

We were making guesses as to what it could possibly be. A shattered stained glass window reassembled by a team of colorblind iconoclasts? Melted colored cellophane? The thing in the middle that (I think) is supposed to be a jug looks like a skull out of a Santeria ritual.

OCP Art Director Judy Urben surveyed the grandeur that is 1700 years of Catholic visual arts and said, “Gimme the one that looks like someone puked confetti into a centrifuge.” Hey Judy: here’s a tip, for free: Art is supposed to be beautiful or true. Ugly and confusing? Not so much.

Then again, maybe she was just being honest about what’s inside. We had to sing “Maranatha” today, which is the sonic equivalent of this picture. (It makes me think of this.) OCP figures if they’re going to publish a book containing the Greatest Hits of Bad Church Music, they might as well produce packaging that matches the quality of the songs inside.

By the way, have you figured out what this art depicts? Give up?

It’s called “The Pilgrims of Emmaus” by Alfred Manessier.

Yeah, me neither.


Here’s something to refresh yourself after that.

YouTube Preview Image

You know, Latin is not a particularly difficult language, and our heritage of hymns is filled with many wonders. I get angry about music and art in Church because we’re denied beauty by purveyors of ugliness. As Catholics, we have a right to beauty in our worship.

READ the follow-up about how the masters painted the same subject.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • http://geeklady.wordpress.com GeekLady

    !!! And I thought our new missalette covers and music were bad!
    …the music isn’t technically bad, but the organist is determined to ‘pep up’ anything that she thinks is too slow. So while we got O Come O Come Emmanuel, it was played ~25% too fast which ruins it in its own sad way.

  • PLynn

    Your son makes a good point.
    Perhaps it is meant to inspire you in the penitential aspect of Advent? That’s my bet.

  • Maggie

    Truly hideous. Our normal parish has pretty decent music at the 10:30 Mass, but we went to a different church today and they sang ‘Maranatha’. Ick.

  • mama of many nerdlings

    One of my daughters, insistst that these covers are likely “Magic Eye” art gone terribly wrong. Makes you blind instead of showing you some kind of 3D image. She sat through Mass with this cover about 3 inches from her eyes, squinting at it. She’s also 21 and has Asperger’s so I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

    She laughed when I read the Oregon Craptacular Press to her. Yes, she agrees thoroughly craptaclar. We wen to a mass that is at 5 pm, NO MUSIC so we didn’t have to have our earrs assaulted by the contents. Just the covers.

  • mama of many nerdlings

    One of my daughters, insistst that these covers are likely “Magic Eye” art gone terribly wrong. Makes you blind instead of showing you some kind of 3D image. She sat through Mass with this cover about 3 inches from her eyes, squinting at it. She’s also 21 and has Asperger’s so I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

    She laughed when I read the Oregon Craptacular Press to her. Yes, she agrees thoroughly craptacular. We went to a mass that is at 5 pm, NO MUSIC so we didn’t have to have our earrs assaulted by the contents. Just the covers.

  • Clinton R.

    Yes, the OCP artwork is horrendous. And the music that OCP forces on us? Awful! Oh for the days of Gregorian Chant. This “Spirit” of Vatican II is banal to say the least.

  • smk

    I agree that this cover is pretty horrid. However, OCP does in fact have another hymnal which my parish uses, the “Heritage Hymnal”. It has a more traditional selection. Our cover is beautiful and is a thorough pleasure to see. And no, thankfully, we did not sing “Maranatha” yesterday – we sang “O Come Divine Messiah” (a favorite of mine, although my husband thinks it sings like a drinking song from Octoberfest).

    I am not a cultured person, but I think if the viewer of art isn’t sure what he or she is looking at, especially if it is religious art, the artist and the organization buying it (OCP) maybe should rethink the selection.

  • Marguerite

    Went to a Latin Mass for the beginning of Advent. The music soared to the heavens and the reverence filled my soul. Only advice I can offer those who attend the Novus Ordo is either wear earplugs, especially after Mass or get thee to a Traditional Latin Mass. You won’t regret it!

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    Oddly enough, my son who made the comment is also an aspie. Maybe it’s an anti-aspie conspiracy from OCP.

  • Betsy

    My parish has used the Breaking Bread Missal in the past, but this year we are using the Heritage Missal. I like to think that it’s the influence of our new sisters. http://www.sistersmdg.org/ My suggestion is to print a piece of artwork that you like and clandestinely start taping them to the covers. To accomplish this probably means you will have get out of your comfort zone and sit in a different pew each week. ;-)

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    “Pilgrims at Emmaus.” Okay. I see it now. Sort of. Jesus at the top (or, er, middle), a disciple on either side, sitting at a table of some sort. I gather they’re dining on something vaguely bread-like.

    I realize art is a matter of taste. But as my sainted mother once said, eyeing a church lady’s particularly outlandish hat: “All her taste is in her mouth.”

    That cover is just bad-ass ugly.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    I can roll with the cubists when I have to, but this is petty low-rent cubism, and as you say, just ugly.

    What it says to me is that someone wasn’t interested in conveying a message of faith to as many people as possible using the visual arts, but in showing off their own progressive artistic credentials. Do they really believe the church of the masses will look at that and be uplifted, or even recognize it? Or are they just trying to impress us with their “mature” understanding of modern art?

    This says nothing about Christ or His Church. It says volumes about a self-selecting elite trying to impose a vision of the Church.

  • Advocate

    My guess was that it depicted “The Spirit of Vatican II”.

  • http://www.thecurmudgeonlycatholic.com Ol’ Uncle Lar

    I can see this portraying the pilgrims of Emmaus – right after they were nailed by a 2005 Peterbilt tractor going 20 miles over the speed limit.

  • Carl Matzke

    “…and they recognized Him in the shattering of the glass…”

  • Dale Price

    Remember this the next time you hear the “Goodbye To All That!” faction gripe about pre-Vatican II “kitsch.”

  • Stacey Johnson

    One more reason for me not to like them. 2/3 of our household (4 out of 6!) is blessed with Asperger’s. Thankfully, we go to a TLM and get the good music. Palestrina, Schubert, Victoria, Mozart, etc. Don’t hate me. ;)

  • http://cs.gettysburg.edu/~tneller/ Todd Neller

    Oh dear. I looked at the image and, before knowing the source of the “art”, assumed it was a bizarre common attempt to defile the sacred. The reason is that, in my first glance at the low-res version on the main blog stream, I focused on simple light intensity boundaries, and came up with the following interpretation: Thanksgiving turkey with Jesus head. To see this, you really need to go back to the low res: The central ellipse is the turkey breast, the arms of the two people at the sides of the ellipse are the legs, their head/hair make convincing wings, and the Jesus head is, well, the Jesus head atop the turkey. Perhaps I’m the only one to see it this way, but it’s hard not to, once seen. Enter His gates with thanksgiving … but not like this.

  • http://www.themediareport.com DPierre

    Thomas – Pardon the capital letters but THANK YOU for this post! I thought I was the only one who thought this!

    When I was at Mass on Sunday, I was astounded at the hideously ugly cover that I saw. I opined to my wife about it. She was not nearly as upset as I was, but she said, “Well, why don’t you write to them (OCP)?”

    Now that I know I am not alone, I will do so.

    Thanks again.

  • Mike W.

    I call this cover “Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Jesus & the Disciples at Emma’s!” What a dismal failure of the powers that be here. While I might sympathize with Manessier”s tortured soul from enduring the horrors of the first and second World Wars, this it not the proper place for therapy. What a pathetic reductionism of appropriate Church Art and a form of nihilistic arrogance to shove it in the face of the faithful as a type of disturbing endurance test. It would have been far more appropriate to have a photo of an aborted unborn child laid out in the form of the crucified than the present cover. I think I need to order the Magnificat books now. I also hope we can get tons of Catholics to protest and write this company. We need to put pressure on the powers that be and hit them were it hurts, in the pocket book. The fact that this cover was permitted reveals a profound loss of the sense of sacred. We are inundated with the degradation of the human person on the daily basis in the culture and it has even entered the church. Some appropriate quotes to send the publisher during the Year of Faith: “Sacred art is true and beautiful when its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God – the surpassing invisible beauty of truth and love visible in Christ, who “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature,” in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.“ –Catechism of the Catholic Church (2502)” “Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place where beauty – and hence truth – is at home. Without this the world will become the first circle of hell.” -Cardinal Ratzinger, (Pope Benedict XVI) Ratzinger Report. “Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.
    “Hans Urs von Balthasar

  • Jenb

    For all those criticizing- rightly – and fleeing to traditional enclaves may I beg you to get on parish councils, volunteer to teach RelEd or RCIA or get a job at places like ocp and change the culture. We are called by our baptism to be light to the world and salt of the earth. As someone who works at a parish with quasi acceptable music I need you there!!

  • Mike W.

    Agree 100%!

  • chris

    according to the inside cover, Manessier painted this in 1944. so that’s a little late for contemporaneous fauvism, but their influence is still felt. ditto cubism. i see Braque, Dufy, Gaugin and even Matisse derivatives. while i understand and appreciate these influences, to me it’s mostly reminiscent of stained glass, which is entirely appropriate for the church settings where this will be. after a few minutes of inspection and analysis, more and more details emerged- the plates of fish in front of each pilgrim, the chalice at the bottom of the table, the broken bread loaf by Jesus’s hands, which are folded in prayer- all of these are perfectly appropriate images relating to the Eucharistic Mass. but what touched me most of all was the expression on the Left-hand pilgrim (Jesus’s Right)- with some simple, geometric brush strokes, Manessier has conveyed both the moment of recognition as well as awe and reverence. i found myself more moved the longer i regarded him. that is the frame of mind i seek at Mass.
    i, for one, applaud this cover- albeit challenging, i found it ultimately rewarding. faith, after all, is meant to require a little effort, a little work- this cover is metaphor on many levels.

  • Mark Graham

    Thomas L. McDonald, it’s called abstract art. It’s for people who are close to God. Don’t worry, you will never have to worry about that.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    Thank you for taking to the time to say nothing and be snotty while doing so. It’s not always easy to tell “who is close to God,” but it’s certainly easy to tell those who are very far away from Him: those who presume to judge the state of another’s soul, particularly based on nothing more than a difference of opinion. Congratulations!

  • Justin Kolodziej

    So close! I thought it was a version of the famous Rublev icon of the Trinity, aka The Hospitality of Abraham.

    Darn. I see it now though.

  • Hal

    The picture is not to my taste either, but it was pretty obviously three people around a small table with jug and some plates on it. The person in the middle has a halo. That immediately says “Emmaus.”

  • http://remnantworksfabricmosaics.wordpress.com Kerri

    There is beautiful contemporary Catholic art being made… and in Oregon, too.
    I invite you to visit my RemnantWorks site to view my sacred artwork completed in a fabric mosaic medium.

  • http://remnantworksfabricmosaics.wordpress.com Kerri

    There is beautiful contemporary sacred art being made by Catholic artists… and in Oregon, too.
    I invite you to visit my Remnantworksfabricmosaics.wordpress.com site to view my artwork completed in a fabric mosaic medium.