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Our European culture, imbued with the spirit of Christianity, has produced throughout the centuries exquisite works of art, be it in architecture, in literature, in sculpture and in painting as well as in music and in singing.
All these forms of artistic expression have been encouraged by the Church, since faith in the Incarnation of the Son of God gives value and respect to the human person and points to the ennoblement of his nature.
Indeed, God did not disdain human nature, but He assumed it in order to sanctify it. Not only that, but He gave it immortal status through Christ’s resurrection and Ascension into Heaven.
When we affirm in the Creed: “…He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right-hand of the Father….” we mean exactly that: that Jesus is in Heaven with his human nature too; He is not there just with His divine nature, but also with the nature he got from us (through the Immaculate Virgin Mary).
Our very own human nature has been now saved and is forever part of the eternity with God.
This truth of faith is at the same time a promise and a challenge: a promise of salvation for those who follow Christ, and a challenge for each one of us to really live our faith in order to have part in the promises of God.
Christian art is an affirmation of this faith and, at the same time, an inspiration for the whole of humankind to strive forever forward towards its fulfillment in the Love of God.
The Third Apostle of Rome
A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one
This is what he used to say the “Third apostle of Rome” after Saints Peter and Paul, namely Saint Philip Neri (1515-1595).
A Florentine by birth, he decided to live in Rome and to work as an apostle of Christ among the sick and the poor. He worked like this for seventeen years, before he felt the call to the priesthood in 1551.
His joyful heart, combined with healthy commonsense, and his ability to be always approachable gained him great popularity among the Romans, and many conversions took place through his work and mission.
In 1575 he founded the Oratory, a congregation of secular priests (i.e. priests not belonging to a specific religious order) with emphasis on prayer, Bible study and regular discussions on spiritual matters, often including beautiful hymns and music; the musical selections (settings of scenes from sacred history) were called oratorios, hence the name of the congregation.
The prominent Italian composer G. P. da Palestrina (1525-1594), as well as the Spanish T. L. de Victoria (1548-1611), were ardent followers of Saint Philip Neri and composed numerous exquisite works for the services at the Oratory.
The Oratory was a novel congregation of priests, seminarians and lay men founded by Philip Neri with permission from the Pope in 1575.
The members live in community, and each pays his own expenses, of his private means—a startling innovation on the monastic vow of poverty. Nothing is provided by the society except the bare lodging, and the fees of a visiting physician. Everything else—clothing, books, furniture, medicines—must be paid by each member. There are no vows, and every member of the society is at liberty to withdraw when he pleases, and to take his property with him.
This freedom and lack of strict rules it was a welcome adaptation to the rapidly changing world of the 16th century and a proof that the Church is always the same and always new in her solicitude and care for the People of God at all times and in all places under the sun.
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