God is Being, its very fullness and source. Which means that God is One, is Truth, and is Goodness. God, in fact, is each one of the transcendentals (dictionary definition, Wikipedia article). Why? Because He truly has these properties, and God’s properties — which are all one — are also identical to His essence.
Which means that God is also Beauty, which property is on the larger, expanded list of the transcendentals.
Beauty is id quod visum placet (that which, being seen, pleases). It is also defined as the splendor ordinis (splendor of order) and the splendor formae (splendor of form).
Catholic doctrine and practice, theology and life should reflect all these properties of God. Beauty, then, must have a place in the Religion. Without becoming mere esthetes (which mode of living can lead to degeneracy quickly as it lacks proportion), we need apologize to nobody for loving and relishing beauty.
These truths came to my mind recently because of the exquisite spectacle I beheld last week: the ordination of one subdeacon and four priests for the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, in Saint Louis. The neo-Gothic church where the ordinations took place, the Oratory of Saint Francis de Sales, is stunning. The four-hour ceremonies (Solemn Pontifical Mass with the ordination rites) were perfectly executed in the traditional rite — and were therefore beautiful. The music was a lovely Mass setting I had never heard by a composer I had never even heard of before: František Xaver Brixi. If you guessed he’s Bohemian (Czech), you are correct, assuming that you, like me, had not heard of him before.
Not surprisingly, the Mass setting is on YouTube.
The Wikipedia article about Francis Xavier Brixi — to Anglicize his name — mentions that he was educated by the Piarists, This is the short name for the Order of Poor Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools founded by Saint Joseph Calasanctius. (It was inevitable that a short name for this order would come into being!) Of course, the composer is named after that great Jesuit apostle to the Indies, arguably the greatest missionary since Saint Paul.
The Pontifical Mass and Ordination Rites were moving for all their grace and artistry. It also helped that I know one of the ordinands, and was thrilled to see this fine young man invested with the priestly office. When he was complemented on his vestments (which were exquisite), he made a comment something like this: “There is so much ugliness in the world, we want to make the worship of God beautiful.”
The Church’s universality was also on full display, as it so often is at traditional-rite events. Aside from Europeans and European-Americans, in attendance were numerous people of Asian, African, and Latino heritage, all united in peace and concord by God’s grace and the Church’s tradition.
Catholicity is a beautiful thing.
One last note: I read somewhere that Saint Eugene de Mazenod, the founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (the OMI), would build or restore magnificent churches in poor areas so that those who live in material impoverishment might experience the grandeur and majesty of the Church’s solemn worship just as could the rich. This great apostle for the poor — who lived evangelical poverty to a heroic degree himself — understood that divine worship is not to be slopped over in the name of poverty. He also understood that beauty is for the poor, too, and that the common man loves it. There is no opposition between a poor Church and a Church that expresses the worship of God with care, solemnity, grace, and elegance.
That false dichotomy belongs to the liturgical minimalists of another age, one that is (hopefully) passing into a much deserved oblivion.
Below are some videos featuring Brixi’s music: