A parishioner made an interesting observation the other day. It was the end of Eucharistic adoration. She had spent some time adoring Our Lord who was exposed on the altar in a fancy monstrance. “You removed the Blessed Sacrament,” she said, “and left the door open on the monstrance and just set it to the side as though it didn’t mean much more than a gum wrapper.” (At least that was the gist of what she said.)
The beauty of the monstrance became absurd – its meaning gone. That which it was meant to glorify and to which it was designed to draw attention was taken away and it became beauty without purpose. The sun rays and jewels no longer pointed to something greater, but became beauty unto itself without purpose like a body from which the soul has departed. It may still be beautiful but so what?
I’ve often thought that about beautiful Church objects in museums that no longer serve their purpose: monstrances, reliquaries, chalices . . . At least illuminated books still glorify Scripture and prayer, but these other objects have lost their meaning.
Should art, in general, always point beyond itself? If it is just beauty for beauty’s sake, is it not then a technique waiting to be applied? Can beauty really have meaning on its own or does it become absurd changing us into not much more than a wild bird that likes to collect shiny objects? Beauty should have the power to move men’s souls, not simply tickle his fancy. If it simply tickle’s his fancy, then it is pretty – if it moves your soul, it is a reflection of the Divine which is the source of all True Beauty and it is that which feeds us.