'Beauty' in the Sacraments

One of my favorite subjects to study (although not necessarily my favorite class at the university right now) is the Catholic liturgy, namely the Holy Mass. There is just so much to be said about the beauty of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which happens to occur only within the context of the Mass. Because the Eucharist is inherently beautiful, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the Mass, if done in accord with the authority and teachings of the Catholic Church, is also an innately beautiful activity. I’ll try to explain what I mean (with a slightly philosophical bent, as always)…

It seems to me that there are a few types of beauty that we can and do experience in the world. The first type is the kind we see in, say, paintings, music, other artwork, etc. This type of beauty is perceived by the viewer, and is dependent on his or her own disposition toward the object of beauty. For example, one person may love a certain Bach violin concerto, and another person might utterly hate it. We cannot be offended either way, though, since the music itself is neither ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but is specifically designed to appeal to the human senses and therefore be judged by the individual as worth listening to or not. In other words, the music itself is not ‘objectively’ good or bad, but is deemed so by the ‘subject’—the listener.

Another type of beauty exists in the Sacraments. The form of the Sacraments comes through the Tradition of the Church, which was first initiated by Christ in his public life and revelation. Even though our Sacraments nowadays look different than they would have in the year 34 AD, the same essential elements have certainly been preserved. What’s more, even though the outward appearance may differ over time, the inner substance of the Sacraments—i.e. God’s efficacious grace, the fact that he really is doing something through them—remains forever. In this case, the beauty of the Sacraments is a sort of ‘objective’ beauty, it seems, or a beauty that exists not because of the viewer saying it does, but rather because the very act of God’s grace flowing into the human world is something in and of itself beautiful. If God is the perfection of beauty, which he is, than how could his very life, being poured out in the Eucharist and the other Sacraments, not also be something altogether beautiful?

Having said all that, we can see how the Mass—the only place where the Eucharist can really be celebrated—is also something very beautiful. It is not beautiful in the deepest sense because of what we do to it, or the things we add; for example, the songs we sing and words we use, while they may be beautiful in the first sense (like the Bach music), are not as beautiful as the Eucharist, which sustains its own perfection. The Mass is beautiful because it was given to us substantially (in it’s very core) by Jesus Christ, who celebrated the first Mass the night before he died; likewise, the Son of God continues to be present at every Mass, celebrating each one by way of the priest, who acts in persona Christi.