Arts News

TORONTO - Regis College has a new resident. “Jesus the Homeless,” a sculpture cast in bronze depicting Christ as a homeless man, was installed outside the Jesuit school of theology at the University of Toronto on Feb. 23.

Vision viewers fight to keep channel on basic cable

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TORONTO - Cardinal Thomas Collins is joining thousands who want Vision TV to remain on basic cable so that its religious programming continues to be available to the widest possible audience.

Getting to the heart of Teilhard de Chardin

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TORONTO - In his new play, The De Chardin Project, actor and writer Adam Seybold draws a line in the sand — or rather two lines in sand — on the stage floor. Playing the pioneering 20th-century scientist theologian and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Seybold dramatically lays down the central fact of de Chardin's life: the cross.

Choir school marks 75 years of making music

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TORONTO - Each year, across the Toronto Catholic District School Board, Grade 2 boys take part in a yearly ritual, as adjudicators from St. Michael's Choir School visit their classrooms and listen carefully to the small, unformed voices that may one day make up the ranks of one of the finest music schools in the world.

Stained glass finishes Jesus’ story

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MISSISSAUGA, ONT.  - St. Marcellinus Secondary School in Mississauga is planning to build what may be the biggest stained glass window of the resurrected Christ in Canada.

Salt+Light covers Christmas

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Salt+Light TV has the Christmas season covered this year.

Getting to the heart of The Story

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TORONTO - Through a cold, foggy night at the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, the scent of pine and smoke from a bonfire cut through like a crisp reminder of the very Canadian setting for a very old and beloved story.

In search of the wines from biblical times

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TORONTO - In Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to Modern Times, authors Randall Heskett and Joel Butler ask not what would Jesus do but rather what wine would Jesus drink?

Meditation can lead us to who Christ is

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For most of us, stilling the mind seems too unproductive to be a good idea. But then again, it’s an attractive idea.

“Who do you say I am?” is the burning question Jesus asks His disciples in chapter nine of the Gospel of Luke. In Benedictine Dom Laurence Freeman’s 75-page book The Goal of Life, the author seeks to illustrate how Christian meditation can help us come up with our own answer.

Freeman, the director of The World Community for Christian Meditation, is essentially giving readers a road map to happiness via the mind and spirit, should they choose to follow his lead.

But first he debunks the widely held misconception that meditation is a “get-away-from-it-all narcissistic indulgence” à la Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling Eat, Pray, Love. Instead, it is “the practice of silence and stillness, of non-action beyond thought and imagination.” It’s also not a leisure activity. It’s hard work.

Meditation is the work we do to accept the gift of contemplation which is already given and present in the heart, writes Freeman.

The goal of life — heaven — is to know who we are. But to figure this out we must be able to say who Jesus is. If you’re willing to give the gift of total self, you may one day be able to answer that question. He is asking no small feat.

The book is small, but don’t be deceived. You’re in for some heavy reading. It’s also chock full of strong declarations and promises. “The humanity of Jesus and His relationship to the universe come to be experienced from within.”

Never having meditated, I read the book with an open mind. But how does one meditate? It takes a while to get to that. In fact, the majority of the book is spent discussing what it is and why one would seek to achieve Christian enlightenment, with only a few pages dedicated to the how.

Essentially, you are to sit upright and breathe calmly. Then, close your eyes and in your mind and heart repeat the word “maranatha.” It’s an Aramaic word he recommends to beginners which means “Come Lord. Come Lord Jesus.”

But it’s not quite so easy to clear your mind of your busy life. Freeman admits this and addresses the very real challenges of doing anything so counter-cultural.

To meditate, we must accept Jesus’ challenge to go beyond the fear of letting go of our favourite anxieties, the ones we’ve grown accustomed to, along with getting over our fear of peace. “The practice of meditation is a way of applying His teaching on prayer; it proves through experience that the human mind can indeed choose not to worry.”

The book successfully breaks down preconceived notions about what meditation is. Freeman shows us instead a holistic path of prayer.

So, who is Jesus? Freeman isn’t going to put it in words for you. The real goal of Christian meditation is an encounter with Jesus that goes beyond words and tidy definitions. It’s a reality that has to be felt in your heart as well as your mind. When you get it, Jesus is there in everyday life, in all the distractions and tedium of the day and in the dreams that light the still mind before dawn. Christian meditation is just one more tool to be implemented on the neverending journey of faith.

Vatican congregation sets up office for art, architecture, music

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VATICAN CITY - The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments is establishing an office to promote the development and use of appropriate liturgical art, architecture and music.

The new office was approved in early September by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state; final arrangements and the designation of personnel are being made, said Marist Father Anthony Ward, undersecretary of the congregation.

The office will provide advice, encouragement and guidance, he said, but it will not attempt to impose specific styles.

"The church has always adopted local artistic, architectural and music styles," Father Ward told Catholic News Service Nov. 14. At the same time, as the Second Vatican Council taught, "it always has emphasized Gregorian chant as the homegrown music of the Latin rite."

While the Pontifical Council for Culture promotes efforts in the area of sacred art and music, the congregation's new office will focus specifically on art, architecture and music used for Mass and other formal moments of prayer.

The Second Vatican Council document on the liturgy said, "The church has not adopted any particular style of art as her very own; she has admitted styles from every period according to the natural talents and circumstances of peoples, and the needs of the various rites."

It called for the preservation of the great liturgical art of the past and the encouragement of modern artists to create pieces appropriate for Catholic worship, "provided that it adorns the sacred buildings and holy rites with due reverence and honor."

A church built for Vatican II liturgy

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There’s more to the liturgy than which words are spoken when and by whom. There’s more to it than can be captured by any one language, living or dead.

Architect Douglas Cardinal was one of the first to show the post- Vatican II liturgy in a church. As the Second Vatican Council ended, the now world-famous architect of Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization began work on his first internationally recognized masterwork — St. Mary’s Church in Red Deer, Alta.

The story of St. Mary’s encapsulates triumphs and tragedies of the Canadian Church against the backdrop of Vatican II ideals. The church was consecrated as a cathedral by the Oblate Archbishop Anthony Jordan of Edmonton in 1968, who attended all four sessions of the ecumenical council in Rome.

Cardinal grew up going to a residential school in the 1940s — St. Joseph’s Convent School in Red Deer. His father was Blackfoot and his mother Metis. He was one of the rare success stories — a smart kid who got top marks, excelled in art and music, studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

He was also the head altar boy at St. Joseph’s and today as he pushes toward 80 years old he can still remember every word of the Latin Mass and can still sing the chants.

Cardinal’s brilliant career almost never happened. He was assaulted on the street as a young man in an ugly racial incident. In the Alberta of the late-1950s, it was naturally the native kid who wound up in jail. Jordan got him a lawyer, and helped get him out of jail.

From there, Cardinal travelled Europe — taking in everything from Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona to the baroque San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome by his favourite architect, Francesco Baromini.

That was followed by more architecture studies at the University of Texas and travel through Mexico and the American southwest, where he saw adobe missionary churches that reminded him of one of the great 20th-century masterworks, Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France.

When German Oblate missionary Fr. Werner Merx tapped the young Cardinal to design a new church the priests didn’t know of the young architect’s history with his bishop. Merx stormed off to Edmonton prepared to battle Jordan for the chance to employ this brilliant young architect, not knowing how pleased his fellow Oblate would be to see the young man he saved from jail erect the first post-conciliar church in his diocese.

Merx and Cardinal weren’t just going to design a big building with some pews and a spire. They were going to invent a church based on the liturgy.

“We started by saying, what is the reason for the space?” Cardinal told The Catholic Register. “The altar.”
Merx insisted on a spare, unadorned sanctuary without even a cross. The pastor wanted the altar to be the sole symbol of the real presence, open and accessible to everyone gathered around it.

Every day at 4 p.m. Merx and Cardinal would meet at the church, play organ music and go over Cardinal’s designs. Their instruction manual was Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. It took months to come up with the spare, unpolished altar that would dominate the sanctuary.

Cardinal designed a “light canon” — essentially a hole in the roof — over the altar.

“I wanted divine light coming from the altar,” he said. “That’s the sacrifice, the table of sacrifice. It should be the symbol of Christ. So light should emanate from the altar.”

The roof itself became a tent-like baldacchino hovering over the altar. Merx’s last church had burned down, so he wanted this one made of pure masonry and concrete. It was a tall order for a low roof.

“They told me it was impossible, with 81,000 simultaneous calculations to be solved. They said it would take 100 years,” recalled Cardinal.

The walls around the altar were laid out in a spiral form for the sake of acoustics.

“I want the sound of the Church to ring like a cathedral so that when the priest said ‘Dominus vobiscum’ it would go ‘Dominus vobiscum-um-um-um,’ ” he said. “Those beautiful Gregorian chants, I wanted them to sound properly in the church.”

Cardinal rooted his design in the spirit of baroque architecture, with its moving, dynamic forms.

“I felt the Church was better expressed by the Jesuit order, which was the baroque order, which was to bring some drama and power to the forms and shapes,” he said.

The result is something architecture students everywhere study, said Toronto architect Roberto Chiotti.

“Cardinal’s church in Red Deer always comes up as one of the case studies,” said Chiotti. “It’s very influential on the students and some of their designs.”

But Merx and Cardinal’s vision suffered in the post-Vatican II era. Merx was transferred to a northern mission almost as soon as the church was completed.

“Which really broke his heart,” said Cardinal. “He wanted to be there, but he was too liberal for the community.”

Subsequent pastors and parishioners found the design too austere and too far off the beaten path of regular Church architecture.

“No, they don’t get it. They put all those horrible statues in there. They’ve got... ugh!” Cardinal said.

At one point another architect was brought in to remove the baptistry from the entrance, where it had been a symbol of initiation into the church, and to make things a little more conventional. Cardinal tried to sue for the moral rights to his design, but the courts were reluctant to limit the parish’s right to dispose of its property.

When the church was built it stood alone on the horizon — a mysterious and beckoning shape. Today, it’s surrounded by a suburban subdivision with houses and schools. The bell tower still stands above the entrance, but the parish has never commissioned a peel of bells to occupy the trinity of open spaces left for them in the wall.

Despite all these disappointments and compromises, St. Mary’s made its mark.

“It’s captured in any historical anthology or survey of Canadian architecture. It would likely be in any major anthology of Church architecture because it’s so unique in its form,” said Chiotti. “Cardinal came along just at that moment when we were trying to articulate Vatican II and what does it mean. It’s a major transformation. He was a leader in trying to give tangible, meaningful expression to the documents as they would manifest themselves in Church architecture. It was very courageous and bold.”