IKE MANY OTHER visual artists I know, I both despise and fear writing. That is why I am ecstatic when I find a writer who articulates what I cannot. Last week I read Martin Mosebach’s book The Heresy of Formlessness (Ignatius 2006). It is a stunning portrayal of the beauty, poetry, and mystery of the Extraordinary Form of the mass. He not only delves into the roots of the Roman liturgy, but also into its fruits in Western civilization. I was won over irrevocably when I read an entire page and a half devoted to my favorite artist, Enguerrand Quarton. It was intriguing to read about the mass from the perspective of an artist rather than from the perspective of a theologian. At one point, Mr. Mosebach examines Oscar Wilde’s notion of Christ being the greatest artist of all – a tantalizing subject on which much could be written.
Why isn’t the beauty of the Extraordinary Form obvious? How is it that there exist so many holy people, educated individuals, and aesthetically sensitive men and women who do not find the traditional mass appealing? After decades of grappling with this question, I am convinced that there is no simple answer.
Anyone who has ever chosen to attend a beautiful liturgy in an ugly church over a meager liturgy in a beautiful church should read this book.