As Catholics, we are blessed with a rich culture of two millennia of poetry and music and art. The best of our Catholic architecture is peerless, and our visual art defines and pushes forward what we think of as “western” culture (although it needn’t be in the west, nor did it all start in the west). In our Latin Rite Church, there are many art forms we strive to keep alive, to restore, and to update here at Our Lady of the Mountains.
Our use of chant is one obvious example. A parishioner recently admitted that traveling led her to realize that compared to our music program here at OLM, even much larger parishes in great American cities had music that was (she was struggling to find the right adjective) almost “rinky-dink” by comparison. She wasn’t trying to be cruel or critical, only appreciating what we have here at home. Why is this? Because like it or not, chant belongs to the Latin Rite, and when chant is missing, there is something wrong with the rite (and chant is missing just about everywhere).
Our organ is another example. This instrument elevates our ritual. The organ is specifically mentioned as the most appropriate instrument for the worship of our western rite, yet in most parishes it has been utterly abandoned. Here at OLM, we are so proud of the musical advances we have made, and together we hope to make more and more.
We are also blessed with beautiful examples of the visual arts. There is the mosaic of the Lamb of God in our Narthex. An anonymous parishioner just created a beautiful piece of textile art to cover our Evangeliary (or Book of the Gospels). Our Stations of the Cross and our Altar are all hand carved works created specifically for us. And when we look around our parish, we see beautiful statues and precious, one-of-a-kind icons especially handmade for our parish. On the back wall is a hand painted image of the Virgin and child (a copy of an original work in the National Gallery in D.C., only our version is slightly changed to show the North Georgia Mountains in the background). These holy pictures are unique treasures, the work of master artisans, and they promote devotion and teach us about the saints and about our history.
That all having been said, when we think about art in the western Church, we often think of stained glass windows, so you won’t be surprised to learn that in a few months, we will begin to see some extraordinary stained glass windows making their way to our parish. As many of you know, this has been in the works for well over a year. Many of you have complained about the glare from the large windows in the front, and our hope is that the stained glass windows will help alleviate that problem. Still, stained glass windows are not shutters. They are works of art and are windows into the divine. And these windows will become an important part of our cultural patrimony as a parish, but also as part of the Universal Church.
The two windows that will be installed (they tell us before Christmas) are our Magnificat Windows named for the prayer of our Lady. These windows are primarily Marian in their theme, featuring the Annunciation on left side, and the Assumption/Coronation on the right side. They are specifically created for our parish, incorporating in their design local flora and fauna, and bringing in quilt patterns to honor our Appalachian roots. The top two triangles will include images of seven angels, who represent the seven days of creation, as well as images of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. The lower registers will include various saints from different times and places who collectively will, we hope, prompt us to learn more about them and thereby better understand our history as Catholics. The Archbishop is planning to come to OLM on December 21st to bless these new windows. If all goes well, it should be a beautiful Christmas!
The Beyer Studio in Philadelphia is currently working on our stained glass windows. If you want to learn more about these windows and see the artisans actually doing the work, we invite you to check out their website, www.beyerstudio.com. These unique works of art will soon grace our parish walls and flank the altar of sacrifice, but in the meanwhile, we can begin to appreciate all the complex stages the craftsmen and artisans go through to make stained glass windows.
In days ahead, more information will be made available about the second stage in our stained glass windows project. The Archbishop has given his nod of approval for this next step. At present, we are in the design stage, and the design process is perhaps even more arduous than the execution of the windows, as good designs lead to extraordinary windows. Even without designs to show, some folks have stepped forward to become patrons of some of these windows. Windows are still available for sponsoring, and each window will be able to be memorialized. All of these windows will definitely be an American masterpiece for which our parish should rightfully be extremely proud. In Europe, there are examples of stained glass windows that are nearly 1000 years old, so this art form has the potential to speak to the ages about our Catholic Faith, and influence and inspire people yet unborn. As such, we have a responsibility as a parish to use these windows to evangelize, to catechize, to foster devotion, to lift up, and to give ourselves and others a glimpse, here and now, into the heavenly realm of the saints.