The Way of BeautyThe Church, beauty and the Christmas season

The Catholic Church has earned a lasting place in history for inspiring Christian culture through the literary, visual, and musical arts, understood as beautiful. For centuries, the Church has celebrated the beautiful as the splendid guardian of truth and goodness. By commissioning the finest artists to express the faith in music, the visual and literary arts, the Church has stood as their foremost patron as well. When illiteracy was common, the visual arts served as catecheses that persuaded by their beauty. Every year tourists are overcome by the beauty of the great cathedrals, and, during the Christmas and Lenten-Paschal season, many attend Vespers and Mass to hear the Church’s great heritage of sacred music. Benedict XVI observes that “cities and countries throughout the world house treasures of art that express the faith and call us to a relationship with God” (“Beauty Can Cause a Conversion,” Aug. 31, 2011).

It is especially during the Christmas season that the Church’s special affection for the feast of the Nativity of the Lord overflows with magnificent splendor. The Church cannot contain herself from again bursting forth her joy, wonder, and gratitude as she commemorates the birth of the Messiah into the world, God who became a human being that we might become like God.

The good news of Jesus Christ expresses itself not only in the heightened intensity of the eucharistic liturgy but also in sacred music with its soaring prose and poetry. Christ’s coming in history raised beauty to a new level of significance, and this beauty is to be renewed and restored in Christ. Christianity proclaims that those “who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). The sacred arts are also to be “clothed in Christ” (Rom 13:14).

Among the many Protestant hymnodists and composers is gifted Charles Wesley (d 1788). His famous and enduring Christmas carol, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” expresses through Old and New Testament references a fulsome theology about the birth of the Incarnate Word. We know the lyrics by memory, and meditating on the rich meaning of these words repays the effort. The italicized words below in the first column alert the reader to the scripture reference in the second column. (This analysis is taken from Dr. Ralph F. Wilson’s web page, “Joyful Heart.”)

herald angels sing
Peace on earth
mercy reconciled nations
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!" newborn King! 2. by highest Heav’n adored

More in The Way of Beauty

everlasting Lord Late in time Offspring of a virgin’s womb Veiled in flesh Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary incarnate Deity in

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carne in flesh to dwell Emmanuel 3. Prince of Peace Sun of Righteousness
Light and life Ris’n with healing in His wings lays His glory by man no more may die raise the sons of earth second birth 4. Desire of nations humble home; woman’s conque’ring Seed Bruise in us the serpent’s head Thy saving power Ruined nature now restore mystic union join Thine to ours, and ours to Thine 5. Adam’s likeness Thine image Second Adam from above Let us Thee, though lost, regain the Life inner man to all Thyself impart Formed

Ambassadors for Christ

The feast of Christmas is in fact the feast of Christ the King, which boldly affirms the sovereignty and rule of Christ over persons, families, human society, the state, and the entire universe. Great figures in history have built a better world, but there is none other than Jesus Christ who saved the world. The feast of Christmas bids all men and women, and particularly Catholics, to find meaning and hope in him who is the wisdom and power of God. Each of us is an “ambassador for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20) every hour of every day through the power of good example in attitude, word, and action—in serving others.

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