Objects of Art and Ritual Objects

Sandro Magister’s recent column “Only Beauty Will Save Us” excerpts from art historian and “immortelJean Clair’s speech to the “Court of the Gentiles” in Paris in March.

He writes

How many of the works in the state museums concern Catholic iconography? 60 percent? 70 percent? From the crucifixions to the depositions in the tomb, from the circumcisions to the martyrs, from the nativities to the Saint Francis of Assisis . . . Unlike the Orthodox who kneel and pray before icons, even when they are still found in museums, it is rare, in the grand gallery of the Louvre, to see a believer stop and pray in front of a Christ on the cross or in front of a Madonna. Should we regret this? Sometimes I think so. Should the Church ask for the restitution of its assets? I tend to think this also. But the Church no longer has any power, unlike the Vanuatu or the Haida Indians of British Colombia, who have obtained the restitution of the instruments of their faith, masks and totems . . . Should the Church be ashamed of having been at the origin of the most prodigious visual treasures that have ever existed? Being unable to have them back, could it not at least become aware of the duty not to leave them without explanation in front of millions of museum visitors?

I think about this every time I go to the Met. Could not, for some objects at least, some accommodation be made. Could relics be venerated liturgically? Could chalices be used, say, once every ten years without seriously endangering them. Could we sing a Missa Cantata (because they probably wouldn’t let us use incense and thus a Solemn Mass is out) on a portable altar in the Fuentiduena Chapel at the Cloisters. Etc.

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