IFE IN THE MIDDLE AGES must have been unthinkably brutal. They had no running water. They had no electricity. They lacked air conditioners and heaters. Think of it: they lacked all the techniques of modern medicine. They had no plumbing. Life expectancy was frightfully short, and childbirth nightmarish. The utter filth — the total lack of sanitation — must have been unimaginable. Worst of all, imagine watching your poor little child suffer, without any way to ease the suffering.
And yet, think of the liturgical art that comes to us from the Middle Ages. Think of the beautiful Gregorian chant, and (later) polyphony. Think of the frescoes by Angelico, Botticelli, and Ghirlandaio. Why on earth would people living in such barbaric, brutal times be concerned with liturgical beauty?
A few days ago, I read a book review on NLM and, thanks to Google, was able to read excerpts from the actual book (until I’d had enough). The book was by Andrea Grillo, who repeated the same old tired ideas of the past 40 years. Without rehashing all that, his school of thought claims that “modern man” is too stupid to appreciate a Lingua Sacra, the liturgy needs to be continuously dumbed down, Church music should be whatever entertains certain people, following a Missal at Mass is unthinkable and impossible, eloquent and hieratic language must never return, and so on ad infinitum.
And yet … consider that every day for medieval Catholics must have been pure misery compared to what we have, but they valued highly liturgical beauty and excellence. I can’t help thinking that Pope Benedict XVI was right: the liturgy must be beautiful. If we’re too lazy to put forth minimal effort, then something is wrong with us!
The 2005 “Stations of the Cross” by Pope Benedict XVI are quite moving. When he spoke of the “filth” of the Church, he was referencing spiritual filth — specifically, Catholic priests who disobeyed God’s holy law. How strange that the medieval Catholics, who lived in (quite frankly) a filthy physical world, in many ways took the liturgy more seriously than we do today, in spite of all the blessings and advantages we’ve been given.