Praise with Majesty and Reverence

Ecclesiastic Art and Feast Days

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Architecture of the Maronite Church

The holy building is a sign that leads us to the Master of the creation, the Holy One, who came and dwelt among us to lead us to the Kingdom, the true promised land in heaven. The church of stone was considered the sign of the heavenly altar and the true temple in the presence of God. This holy building reflects the relationship that exists between the two worlds: the earthly and the heavenly. One reason being that the Church thinks it is necessary to give a margin of liberty for creativity and innovation in the architecture and building of the church, while preserving the essential elements of the Church tradition and heritage.

When the space became holy through the Lord’s incarnation, death, and resurrection1 the whole world became “a Holy House of God” where we worship Him in “truth and spirit” (John 4:23). In addition, the Church, mystical Body of Christ, will choose a place where she gathers her members to worship and praise God. Where the community of believers meets, there the Church will be. This place will take its name after the community that meets in it. Therefore, the church ought to be the new temple built with stones in the image of the community of believers that built it: a house of God expressing the faith of the people, with a sacred architecture and a special building art that has been inspired by the spirituality of the Maronite Church and her ancient tradition and her Syro-Antiochene liturgy.2

The altar is the explicit expression of the worship bound to the new sacrifice on Golgotha. Through it we thank God for the gifts we have received. The Last Supper of the Lord is renewed in implementation of his command: “Do this in memory of me, until I come again.” The altar is a perfect representation of the tomb of the Lord and of the glory of his resurrection; it is the source of each sacramental grace and the icon of the heavenly altar where the angels celebrate the eternal liturgy of the “Sanctus,” and where the Church on earth offers the sacrifice with the Son to the Father. On the altar, the Church gives the truest expression of the apparition of God and of His presence in her midst; for this reason, the altar must be oriented toward the east in the internal architecture of the church,3 to be in accordance with the theological meaning and with the common Eastern tradition.

Saint John Church in Beirut, one of the oldest Catholic churches in Lebanon. Photo: Flickr, “jonnn9999”

The Liturgical Vestments

The liturgical vestment is an important element of the liturgical celebration. For this reason, the holy Patriarchal Synod recommends that the vestments to be used should be neat, beautiful, and of a noble simplicity without any excess, inspired by the authentic liturgical vestment of the Syro-Antiochene rite, and compatible with the ritual function of the liturgical celebration.

Moreover, the Synod orders that the liturgical vestment be unified in such a way that it will be the same used in all rituals and liturgical celebrations. The bishop has his proper vestment, the priest celebrant has his, the assistant priest has his own liturgical vestment, the deacon, subdeacon, the reader, and cantor should each wear the liturgical vestment proper to him. Consequently, the synod enjoins everyone to observe the directives issued by the patriarchal commission for liturgical matters approved by the Synod of Bishops headed by the Patriarch.4
 
Icons

The holy icon has a great value because it reminds the believers of the marvels of God and of what he has accomplished through his saints, and because it “actualizes” the different moments of the economy of redemption. The icon makes present and represents at the same time the absolute newness of “what no eye has seen and ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man” (1 Cor 2:9). It does this through special ways and forms inspired by the special cultural heritage and through methods compatible with the holy images, reflecting the faith of the faithful in the heavenly truths.5

The Holy Synod therefore recommends that this ancient heritage be brought back to our Church, eliminating from our Maronite tradition all the influences that are foreign to it. It also orders that action must be taken to make the faithful aware of the importance of the veneration of the holy icons, exhibiting them, in an orderly fashion that accords with Maronite Church spirituality, in a special place in the church, and in a manner that befits the liturgical celebrations in which they should appear.6

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The chapel interior at Dimane, Lebanon. Photo: Flickr, “Lightreaver”

Sacred Vessels and Furnishings

From the beginnings our mother Church showed concern for and watched over sacred vessels and the holy furnishings. She asked always that all of them contribute through their dignity, beauty, and art to the success of the liturgical celebration for the Glory of God.7

Therefore, the Holy Synod recommends to keep vigilance over the church furnishings, the sacred vessels, the liturgical vestments, and all that relates to old, precious, and beautiful objects, so that they may be preserved carefully from deterioration and from being sold, because they are the ornament of God’s holy house.8 The Holy Synod enjoins that these may be blessed according to the Maronite liturgical tradition before they are used.

Church Music

The music in the church is an ancient heritage and a most precious treasure. Its first source is the Holy Bible and the ecclesiastic and popular traditions. The singing of hymns is in fact the blessed prayer of the church that cannot be separated from liturgical celebration. For this reason the Church recommends that the holy singing be executed to perfection, expressing through the meaning and the music the steadfast faith of the Church in a prayer sung with a beautiful tune that raises in harmony of heart and voice the praises to the Father with majesty and reverence.

The summer residence of the Maronite Patriarch in Dimane, Lebanon. Photo: Flickr, Carl Halal

Sacred Art

Sacred art is considered the most sublime endeavor of the human mind. It aims at expressing the infinite divine beauty, at praising God, and directing the faithful to praise and thank Him. Holy art occupied an important place in the Maronite Church, particularly in past centuries. From the beginning the Maronite Church was familiar with religious art. The miniature designs on the Maronite Gospels and frescoes on the walls of the churches and in the caves of the Maronite hermits are clear proof of the concern of the Maronite Church with artistic matters and with its theological and anthropological dimensions.

Therefore, the holy Patriarchal Synod recommends that the Commission of the Sacred Art, which is subcommittee of the Patriarchal Commission for Liturgical Affairs, be rendered more effective on the eparchial level, along with other subcommissions of the liturgical commission. The commission of sacred art is in charge of insuring that the projects of building new churches, cathedrals, or basilicas, decorating their interiors and restoring old ones are compatible with the criteria of the ancient Maronite liturgical tradition and its meaning. This commission will endeavor to preserve the heritage of Maronite sacred art and develop it through painting icons and creating workshops for this purpose that are tied to the eparchies and monasteries.9

The above selection is an excerpt from one of seven articles on the Maronite liturgy available on the website of the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East: www.bkerkelb.org.  Based in Bkerke, Lebanon, the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East is the head of the Maronite Catholic Church.

1 Directive for the Implementation of Liturgical Principles of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Publications of the Episcopal Commission for the Media, Jal ed-Deeb, Lebanon, 1996, no. 100.
2 Op. cit. 102.
3 Lebanese Synod “1736”, 1986, 1-8; Directive for the Implementation of Liturgical Principles of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Publications of the Episcopal Commission for the Media, Jal ed-Deeb, Lebanon, 1996, No. 102-107; Douaihy: Manarat al-Aqdaas (Lighthouse of the Sacraments), Vol. 1, Beirut, 1895, pp. 93-175.
4 Op. cit. 285-325.
5 Examples of iconographic workshops are the workshop of the Eparchy of Cyprus, the workshop of the College of Ecclesiastical Art in Kaslik and the workshop of the Antonine Sisters; Directive for the Implementation of Liturgical Principles of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Publications of the Episcopal Commission for the Media, Jal ed-Deeb, Lebanon, 1996, no. 108.
6 Directive for the Implementation of Liturgical Principles of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Publications of the Episcopal Commission for the Media, Jal ed-Deeb, Lebanon, 1996, no. 109.
7 Sacrosanctum Concilium no. 122.
8 Op. cit. 126.
9 Sacrosanctum Concilium no. 122-130