Fr. Dermot A. Lane, PP

One of the most striking developments in the twentieth century has been the emergence of a strong visual culture through the advances of Information and Communications Technology: CDs, DVDs, and PowerPoint.  The power of the visual image – a good image is worth a thousand words – is the object of much research within advertising, media and newspapers.

One of the primary ways of communicating the Good News of Jesus Christ prior to the advent of the printing press in the fifteenth century was in and through visual art and music.  Indeed, the primary mode of catechesis in the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity was largely visual until the printing press.

One of the principal patrons in the development of visual art in the first millennium and right up to the time of the printing press was the Catholic Church.  A close connection exists between art and worship.

There has been a revival in the primacy of visual imagery within contemporary communications.  The power of the image should not be underestimated.  Good art activates the religious imagination.  Through the power of the image, we can move from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the visible to the invisible, and thereby recover the sacramental imagination of Catholicism. 

The Religious Imagination can become ‘an epiphany of mystery’ (John Paul II, Letter to Artist, 1999, a.10).

 The world “in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair.  Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart and … resists the erosion of time” (Paul VI, Message to Artists, 8 Dec. 1965).

 Today we live in a world in which beauty is often more compelling for many than truth.  Religious art, through the power of imagination, is a vehicle of beauty.

In the course of refurbishing the Church of the Ascension in Balally in 2006, a considerable amount of effort was put into highlighting the importance of visual communication through:

The introduction of stained glass windows depicting the story of Creation as outlined in Chapter 1 of the Book of Genesis;
A bronze representation of the washing of the feet in front of the altar highlights the link between the Eucharist and the service of others as recounted in the Gospel of John Chapter 13;
A symbol of an ancient Torah scroll of Judaism on the lectern containing a verse from Psalm 40;
A tapestry behind the tabernacle depicting the Burning Bush from the book of Exodus Chapter 3;
An aumbry containing the sacred oils for Baptism, Confirmation and the Sacrament of the Sick.

Images tease the mind, open the imagination and help believers to penetrate the great theological mysteries of life and death, human experience and divine transcendence, God and history.  It is essential to establish a relationship between the viewer and the work of art.  Every human being brings his or her own subjective dispositions to a work of art, whether it is sacred or secular – but equally important, every viewer should be able to receive something from the work of art.  The discovery of beauty in art is a two-way process: being open to the work of art and being able to receive what the work of art has to offer.