"Lex orandi, lex credendi," "The Church prays as the Church believes." Saint Prosper of Aquitaine (c. 390 – c. 455) is accredited with this phrase. Simply put, the law of prayer (is) the law of belief! We further extrapolate," The Church prays as the Church believes." This thought by Saint Prosper is pregnant with centuries of our liturgical expressions ever since the fifth century. Catholic liturgy, is reflective of what the Church believes and we celebrate those beliefs in our Sacred liturgies, our expressions through Sacred art as the embodiment of those beliefs rooted in the Incarnation.
Catholic sacred art calls us to transcend the mundane experiences of the here and now and presents a higher expression of existence through the arts as a manifestation of our Catholic faith. Unfortunately we don't always pay enough attention to the art that goes into our Catholic churches or to the very skilled artisans that provide that art. Catholic liturgy demands that we give our gifts to God the Father as the highest expressions of our human offerings. Collectively, the sacred art we place in our Catholic churches should also reflect the highest quality of artistic expression available in the parish community for use during meditative prayer, liturgical celebrations and as a visible presence of Church as presented through architecture.
With many parishes closing or consolidating throughout the United States because of the shifting demographics of Catholics towards the sunbelt, there are many examples of qualitative art that should be recycled whenever we build new parishes or renovate our old parishes. Antique stained glass is readily restored and installed into new churches. An example of this is the new cathedral in the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina . Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, currently under construction incorporates the stained glass from a Philadelphia parish that has been suppressed, Ascension of our Lord Parish in Philadelphia had magnificent stained glass, designed and created by Paula Himmelsbach-Balano, widely considered the, "First Lady of Stained Glass in Philadelphia," into the new cathedral in Raleigh. Great stewardship by Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh in using restored stained glass in his new cathedral. Fortunately, Bishop Burbidge knew of the stained glass at Ascension Parish because he was a priest and auxiliary bishop in Philadelphia before his appointment to the See of Raleigh. The reuse of quality art is a great example of the Catholic Church in the 21st century implementing recycling of quality pieces of art that deserve preservation and reuse.
At the same time, we need to avoid the temptation to always use pieces of art that are mass produces and manufactured without any considerations of quality or an intrinsic concern for the sacred places they will occupy. Many artists and artisans are available to produce sculptures, wrought iron, iconography and paintings for our Catholic Churches and they often work within a stones throw from new building projects or renovations of Catholic Churches and they are overlooked. Many reasons are used to overlook a local qualified artist. Unfortunately, the issue of cost or price is most common. That excuse should never be the reason to forget local artisans from producing original works of art for our Catholic sacred spaces. If the Catholic Church throughout history used cost as an excuse, we would not have the great cathedral at Chartres, the Sistine Chapel or the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Catholic sacred art is our human desire to present our finest gifts to God. We owe it to our parish communities of faith to present the best we have to God, through our liturgies, our prayer and most importantly our sacred art. God deserves quality from us, and we need to fulfill His requests.