In yet another installment in Catholic Education Daily's series of posts on how Catholic colleges and universities can live out authentic Catholic liturgical life on campus, David Clayton authored the following article about ways Catholic colleges can beautify their chapels. The Cardinal Newman Society is a co-sponsor of Sacra Liturgia 2013, currently taking place in Rome, and providing registration scholarships for Mr. Clayton and other Catholic scholars to attend the conference. Sacra Liturgia is studying, promoting, and renewing appreciation for the liturgy. The Newman Society aims to help spur on this liturgical renewal in Catholic higher education.
When I arrived at Thomas More College about 5 years ago the interior design of the chapel was minimalist and modernist with very little colour and it had been designed so that relative to the altar, it was wider than it was long. The atmosphere amongst the community was one of bleakness and warring cliques would develop amongst the students. There were a number of reasons for this, I think, but amongst the ways that the college chose to tackle this was at its heart, in prayer. Crucifixes went back into the classroom, daily Mass was instituted and we regularly sang Lauds, Vespers and Compline. This is the most important start.
When deciding what to do I tried to have in mind: first try to harmonise everything with the liturgy.
Second was practical, don't remove anything unless the space or its replacement is an improvement - you can't change everything at once, and if you did it would be too great a rupture in the prayer of the community. Third was wherever possible go with traditional images and ideas. It is always better to borrow ideas from elsewhere than come up with something new.
So for example, the college was dedicated to the Sacred Heart and we began the habit of saying the St Michael Prayer after Mass. As one would expect, St Thomas More was regularly invoked and so on. So I set about painting images that could be placed in the chapel so that people could turn and look at the images at the appropriate times.
We couldn't move the altar position so we had to deal with the unusual orientation in another way. We changed the pew positions so that they all faced the central aisle. This is the traditional collegiate chapel layout and it helped us in our antiphonal singing of the Divine Office. It also helped visually because now the lines of the benches introduced a visual longitudinal sweep accentuating a sense of an axis down the centre towards the altar and liturgical east. Then I painted a large cross which was hung high above the altar, so that it took the eye naturally down the axis to the front of the church and then upwards following the line of the painting. This increases the sense of space and enhances the vertical dimension in our worship (or that is the hope at any rate). As this cross is the dominant image, I always had in mind how other images would relate to this when thinking about what to paint, and where to put the painting.
I can't prove anything, but my belief has always been that whenever the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours are prayed in any community, then it benefits all present - even those who never attend. It really is a sacrifice of praise made by the fewer who are committed for everyone. In an educational institution this is particularly important because the grace of God is so necessary for the development of wisdom, which is education's goal. As a teacher I often feel that all I can do is give people the right information but so much of the way in which students absorbs that and uses it in the future is down to their cooperation with grace. The presence of the liturgy on campus contributes hugely to this I think.
[David Clayton is Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire. He has taught at the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England, where he helped design the Institute's art-theory course: Art, Beauty and Inspiration from a Catholic Perspective. Mr. Clayton's artistic training is in both the sacred art tradition of Byzantine iconography and as a portrait painter in the style of Western classical naturalism. Aside from work on the Thomas More College chapel, his major commissions include: St Luigi Scrosoppi, for the London Oratory; the 5ft crucifixion at Pluscarden Monastery in Elgin, Scotland; and the Sacred Heart at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham England. He has illustrated several children's books including collaborations with Scott Hahn and Cardinal Raymond Burke. Mr. Clayton writes for the New Liturgical Movement and Way of Beauty blogs.]
[The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts is recommended at TheNewmanGuide.com for its strong Catholic identity.]
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