This was from a class discussion post. Once I’d finished, I realized over 800 words might make a great blog post…so here it is!
I remember reading about the early Church. As some of you know, the members of the early Church were essentially illiterate. Education was not as available or even necessary for daily life. That’s difficult to comprehend in our era. However, the Sacred art and music that was present spoke to them in a real way. We are people created by God to be reached by our senses, not just our intellect. So for these early Christians, the art and music reached their souls in ways the written word could not.
In our modern lives, our senses have not disappeared. In fact, we know how it all works simply by observing advertising, television, radio…and even the Internet. Senses can be reached for both good and evil. This is why the pornography industry thrives.
But in the context of faith, the senses can evoke the emotional side of man in order to make a more real connection to God. When we look at La Pieta, no one needs to speak to us of the magnitude of Mary’s suffering. When we see a crucifix, our hearts are pierced with the knowledge of how our sin caused Christ to die. And when we see depictions of Christ risen, our understanding of His purpose and our hope is awakened. Certain musical passages can cause a similar reaction. Hearing a chant choir…listening to Handel’s Messiah…listening to a beautiful rendition of “Ave Maria”…all these and more reach us in places words cannot. At times, simply reading passages (though necessary for our intellectual side) cannot bring to us the reality of faith as clearly as the arts.
As far as Sacramentals, there is a reason to use them that sometimes is due to our own physiological make-up. The example of this is in the Rosary. I don’t have access to the reference, but there was an article I’d read about the Rosary and its required manual participation. When the fingers of the person praying touch and move through the beads, there is a physical hand-brain connection that makes it a stronger exercise. It is similar to why taking notes on a computer is better than simply listening to a lecturer…but using pen and paper brings about the most learning. Why? The brain records the hand forming the actual words created by the writer. And so in the Rosary, though all prayers said are beneficial, it is most beneficial to the one praying to actually feel the Rosary beads in his/her hand.
I also think of those unable to process reading. Children, the disabled, and even those for whom English is not the native tongue benefit from the arts and sacramentals far more than trying to plod through the written word. I remember my childhood attending the St. Joseph Basilica in San Jose, California with my Sicilian Nana. It was magnificent! Mass was in Latin, so as a young child it was lost on me. But the Sacred art and statues…wow! And then at her home, watching her devoutly say her Rosary with those beautiful beads in hand was a teaching moment. Did I mention she was Sicilian? As in very little English? Yet her model of that Rosary sacramental was powerful. All of these things made more of impression on me as a child than anything I could have read at my kindergarten-1st grade level.
The use of all these beautiful tools can easily be presented in the catechist’s lessons. There are ample opportunities. When teaching on the Passion, bring in a visual presentation of the Stations of the Cross. This is much stronger than just reading. When teaching on the parting of the Red Sea, bring a video clip of the 10 Commandments with Charlton Heston. Who doesn’t love his Moses portrayal! When teaching on prayer, have your Rosary Guild provide rosaries for the catechumen. When teaching on a saint, be sure to obtain that saint’s medals as a gift to your catechumenate.
The importance of these cannot be overstated. These compliment teachings on the faith. But one of the most important reasons is that at some point in every person’s life there will be some kind of unexpected sadness or illness. In those times, our intellect cannot deal with it…we are in pure emotional mode. The Sacred art, music and sacramentals in church (and especially in our own homes) may be our only lifeline at those moments. The priest who blessed our new home commented that he felt like he was in a rectory because of all the Sacred art we had from our pilgrimage. No one needs to go to that extreme (LOL), but each home needs a few important ones. Crucifixes. Holy water fonts. Sacred Heart of Jesus pictures. CD’s of Gregorian Chant or vocalists singing Sacred music. Any of these will reach a person’s heart when words might fail.