Opposites Attract -1

One of the things I find appealing about the Catholic faith is it’s practical universality. That is to say, it has room for opposites. So, for example, Catholicism is a religion with the highest levels of aesthetic accomplishment. We have Palestrina and Vivaldi and Michaelangelo and DaVinci and Caravaggio and Mozart and Fra Angelico and the Sistine Chapel and Chartre Cathedral etc. etc. etc. But we also have folk religion and kitsch. We have holy water bottles shaped like the Blessed Virgin with a crown for the cap. We have postcards that change from Jesus to Mary when you move them, gaudy rosaries, day glo vestments and awful statues with glass eyes.

Now the aesthetes among us may well roll their eyes and ‘tut tut’ at the excesses of popular devotion. They may look on the tat and kitsch with dismay, but they can’t get around the fact that this is a religion for princes and paupers. This is a religion for Phds and peasants. If a religion was all good taste, fine music, exquisite architecture, sublime artwork and refinement I would be suspicious of it for it would not be the religion of the people. Likewise, if a religion were all kitsch, tacky tat, vulgarity and ugliness I would be equally suspicious. Neither of them could be a universal religion. Instead both would be limited by the taste (either high or low) of their devotees.

What is authentic about Catholicism is that when you visit some great and marvelous expression of our faith you are likely at the same time to be confronted with some aspect of kitsch popular devotion. Visit the great basilica to St Therese of Lisieux and you have to make you way past a whole parade of street vendors hawking their tacky wares to the religious pilgrims on their way. The aesthetes would sneer and say, “How awful that in such a holy place they ply their vulgar trade.” This is snobbery. Why should not hoi polloi have the chance to purchase objects of devotion and souvenirs that are to their taste? The aesthetes may look down their fine noses, but to my mind the vulgar souvenir stands are a mark of the authenticity of the church. They say, “Look here. Christ is for everyone. You don’t need fine taste to enter the kingdom.”

Catholicism, like the Christ child, is for kings and shepherds. Spare me the religion that is only for the low and vulgar or only for the high and tasteful, for both may be more projections of one’s tastes and education than the real thing.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16750824359582445258 ~Ana Paula~A Católica

    A Big Salutation from BRASIL!!What a WONDERFUL Post. I have never thought about its subject. You are absolutelly right in what you said.And I simply loved the sentence: "Catholicism, like the Christ child, is for kings and shepherds". So true and so beautiful.And what you said about the great basilica to St Therese of Lisieux reminded me the Great Basilica to Nossa Senhora Aparecida here in Brasil – the biggest church dedicated to Virgin Mary in the world. So magnificent and full of Art and around it so many "vendors hawking their tacky wares to the religious pilgrims on their way". Stay in the Peace of God!!You and All Your Readers!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    The Catholic faith "has room for opposites", you say? Now that reminds me of a church close by – often criticised here for precisely that breadth of approach.. Now what was it called? I'm sure it's on the tip of my tongue! No! Don't tell me! Let me guess! Just give me a minute…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    Liking it Father! And Happy Thanksgiving by the way, the meal sounds awesome, it made my stomach groan audibly (that's good).I do get frightened of some of the more elite learned arty types and their knowledge of …well, just about everything that's Catholic and fine. I must admit. My ego starts feeling inadequate. So it should! It is inadequate. My spirit and true being though, that's a different matter. Jesus saw and loved me, before He made me, I'm no piece of kitsch, even if I like the odd bit or two of it in the house. So watch out, anyone judging me by appearances. I'm more precious than the greatest basilica ever worshipped in. So are all of you, by the way.Jesus was born in a very non-artistic place. And died without any finery around Him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Vic, opposites in style and culture, but unity in doctrine.Anglicans actually have opposites in beliefs. Fr. Spike and Rev. Evo hold to totally opposing doctrines.It's a whole different kettle of fish.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    Anglican! That's the word! I would have got there, you know!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04133756904607585288 Billy Atwell

    The unity of doctine is what makes the differences so interesting and even inspiring. Both the professional and amateur are equally authentic when they function with the same love and devotion. Wonderful post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18421255545472085832 Justin

    And let's not forget that our Lord as well as St. Paul condemned disunity in doctrine; but when it came to cultural or personal differences, they became all things to all men.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10503510474554718305 Just another mad Catholic

    Twit a twooo too true Father; as a TLM man I believe the same doctrines as my N.O brothers and sisters as well my Eastern Rite bretheren, yet there is room for difference in personal taste

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15298459502431357489 ben

    Thanks for the post, Father. Now I don't feel bad about ordering my Popener.http://romegiftshop.com/pojopaiiboop.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14833922604348675477 Tina

    I think you summed it up well in your statement, "Catholicism, like the Christ child, is for kings and shepherds." Love that. I vaguely remember reading something of yours where you said that Catholicism is the only religion where the Dutchess and dustman kneel together…so true.I'm learning constantly about the faith I was raised in, and I'm finding it true that Catholicism is shallow enough for a mouse and deep enough for an elephant…so much there!God bless you, Fr. Dwight!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06090444350806953332 A Catholic Comes Home

    Love this post!


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