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Art and Prayer

Catechesis by Pope Benedict XVI in his series on Prayer
Piazza della Liberta, Castel Gandolfo, General Audience, Wednesday 31 August 2011 - also in Croatian, German, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters,
I have recalled several times, in this period, the necessity for every Christian
to find time for God, for prayer, in the midst of the many occupations of our days. The Lord himself offers us many occasions for us to remember Him. Today I would like to reflect briefly on one of these channels that can lead us to God and also be of help in the encounter with Him: it is the way of artistic expressions, part of that “via pulchritudinis” — “way of beauty” - of which I have spoken many times and that man of today must recover its deepest meaning.

It may have happened on some occasion that you have paused before a sculpture, a picture, a few verses of a poem or a piece of music that you found deeply moving, that gave you a sense of joy, a clear perception, that is, that what you beheld was not only matter, a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, a collection of letters or an accumulation of sounds, but something greater, something that “speaks”, that can touch the heart, communicate a message, uplift the mind. A work of art is a product of the creative capacity of the human being who in questioning visible reality, seeks to discover its deep meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colour and sound. Art is able to manifest and make visible the human need to surpass the visible, it expresses the thirst and the quest for the infinite. Indeed it resembles a door open on to the infinite, on to a beauty and a truth that go beyond the daily routine. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and of the heart, impelling us upward.

However some artistic expressions are real highways to God, the supreme Beauty; indeed, they help us to grow in our relationship with him, in prayer. These are works that were born from faith and express faith. We can see an example of this when we visit a Gothic cathedral: we are enraptured by the vertical lines that soar skywards and uplift our gaze and our spirit, while at the same time we feel small yet long for fullness... Or when we enter a Romanesque church we are spontaneously prompted to meditate and to pray. We perceive that these splendid buildings contain, as it were, the faith of generations. Or when we listen to a piece of sacred music that plucks at our heartstrings, our mind, as it were, expands and turns naturally to God. I remember a concert of music by Johann Sebastian Bach in Munich, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. At the end of the last passage, one of the Cantatas, I felt, not by reasoning but in the depths of my heart, that what I had heard had communicated truth to me, the truth of the supreme composer, and impelled me to thank God. The Lutheran bishop of Munich was next to me and I said to him spontaneously: “in hearing this one understands: it is true; such strong faith is true, as well as the beauty that irresistibly expresses the presence of God’s truth”. Yet how many pictures or frescos, fruits of the artist’s faith, in their form, in their colour, in their light, urge us to think of God and foster within us the desire to draw from the source of all beauty. What Marc Chagall, a great artist, wrote, remains profoundly true: that for centuries painters have dipped their paintbrush in that coloured alphabet which is the Bible. Thus how often artistic expression can bring us to remember God, to help us to pray or even to convert our heart! Paul Claudel, a famous French poet, playwright and diplomat, precisely while he was listening in the Cathedral of Notre Dame to the singing of the Magnificat during Christmas Mass in 1886, had a tangible experience of God’s presence. He had not entered the church for reasons of faith but rather in order to seek arguments against Christians and instead God's grace worked actively in his heart.

Dear friends, I ask you to rediscover the importance of this path also for prayer, for our living relationship with God. Towns and villages throughout the world contain treasures of art that express faith and beckon to us to return to our relationship with God. May the visits to places filled with art, then, not only be opportunities for cultural enrichment — that too — but may they become above all moments of grace, incentives to strengthen our bond and our dialogue with the Lord so that — in switching from simple external reality to the more profound reality it expresses — we may pause to contemplate the ray of beauty that strikes us to the quick, that almost “wounds” us, and that invites us to rise toward God. I end with a prayer from a Psalm, Psalm 27[26]: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and contemplate his temple” (v 4). Let us hope that the Lord will help us to contemplate his beauty, both in nature and in works of art, so that we, moved by the light that shines from his face, may be a light for our neighbour. Many thanks."


"Je vous accueille avec joie, chers pèlerins de langue française ! Parmi les trésors artistiques que vous êtes amenés à contempler au cours de vos visites, nombreux sont ceux qui expriment la foi et appellent à la relation avec Dieu. Que ces visites ne soient pas seulement l’occasion d’un enrichissement culturel, mais qu’elles deviennent aussi moments de grâce! Qu’elles vous aident à renforcer votre relation et votre dialogue avec le Seigneur et vous conduisent à contempler un rayon de la beauté divine! Que Dieu vous bénisse!

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially those from Scotland and Malta. Today we reflect on the need to draw near to God through the experience and appreciation of artistic beauty. Art is capable of making visible our need to go beyond what we see and it reveals our thirst for infinite beauty, for God. Dear friends, I invite you to be open to beauty and to allow it to move you to prayer and praise of the Lord. May Almighty God bless all of you!

Von Herzen grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger hier in Castel Gandolfo, besonders natürlich die Teilnehmer der Familienwallfahrt aus dem Erzbistum München und Freising mit Kardinal Reinhard Marx. Zu den Wegen, die uns zu Gott führen können, zählen auch die verschiedenen Ausdrucksformen der Kunst. Werke der Architektur, der bildenden Kunst, der Musik oder der Literatur, die aus dem Glauben entstanden sind und ihn ausdrücken, laden uns ein, das unmittelbar Gegenwärtige zu überschreiten und auf Gott zuzugehen. Sie lassen in uns den Wunsch wachsen, die Quelle aller Schönheit zu suchen. Ich wünsche euch, daß der Herr euch allen in dieser Urlaubszeit Momente der Gnade schenkt, in denen ihr durch die Erfahrung künstlerischer Schönheit mehr als dies, mehr als bloße menschliche Kultur, die Gegenwart der Schönheit selbst spürt. Gottes Geist geleite euch auf allen euren Wegen!

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los universitarios de la Arquidiócesis de Rosario, a los grupos venidos de Santiago de Chile, así como a los demás fieles provenientes de España, Guatemala, Argentina y otros países latinoamericanos. Invito a todos a llegar a Dios, Belleza suma, a través de la contemplación de las obras de arte. Que éstas no sólo sirvan para incrementar la cultura, sino también para promover el diálogo con el Creador de todo bien. Que el Señor siempre os acompañe.

Amados peregrinos de língua portuguesa, uma cordial saudação de boas-vindas para todos, nomeadamente para os fiéis da diocese de Viseu. Procurai descobrir na arte religiosa um estímulo para reforçar a vossa união e o vosso diálogo com o Senhor, através da contemplação da beleza que nos convida a elevar o nosso íntimo para Deus. E que Ele vos abençoe. Obrigado!

Pozdrawiam polskich pielgrzymów. Wakacyjny czas sprzyja poznawaniu dzieł kultury i sztuki. Zachwyt nad pięknem ludzkiej twórczości może prowadzić do kontemplacji Boga, dawcy wszelkiego dobra i piękna, gdy wraz z podziwem dla geniuszu człowieka odkrywamy twórcze tchnienie Ducha Świętego. Obyśmy jak najczęściej doznawali takich uniesień! Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!

Сърдечно поздравявам младежите от Софийско-Пловдивския диоцез, като им пожелавам да бъдат смели свидетели на Христос в средата в която живеят. С радост благославям вас и вашите близки.

Srdačno pozdravljam hrvatske hodočasnike, a posebno učenike Nadbiskupijske klasične gimnazije iz Zagreba, želeći svakomu od vas da njeguje iskrenu ljubav prema Kristu i Njegovoj Crkvi. Hvaljen Isus i Marija!

Adresez un salut cordial pelerinilor din România. Vă asigur pe toţi de rugăciunea mea, ca să trăiţi în plinătate şi bucurie credinţa creştină. Lăudat să fie Isus Cristos!

Srdečne pozdravujem slovenských pútnikov: osobitne vojakov, policajtov, hasičov, väzenskú a justičnú stráž. Buďte pevní vo viere podľa príkladu svätého Šebastiána, vášho patróna a zodpovedne slúžte pokoju, spravodlivosti a spoločnému dobru. Pozdravujem aj veriacich z Brehov, Zlatých Klasov, Lučenca a okolia. Bratia a sestry, všetkých vás a vaše rodiny s láskou žehnám. Pochválený buď Ježiš Kristus!

Szeretettel köszöntöm a magyar zarándokokat, különösen azokat, akik Budapestről és Csíkszeredából érkeztek. Kívánom nektek, hogy a most kezdődő iskolaévben és a társadalom különböző pontjain tanúságot tudjatok tenni hitetekről. Szent István király közbenjárását kérve szívesen adom Rátok és minden családtagotokra Apostoli Áldásomat. Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus!

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Rivolgo infine una parola di cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, saluto i Vescovi amici della Comunità di Sant’Egidio, i fedeli delle varie Parrocchie, accompagnati dai propri parroci, e gli sposi novelli. Auguro che questo incontro rinsaldi ciascuno nella rinnovata adesione a Dio, sorgente di luce, di speranza e di pace.

(After the Our Father)

Grazie, buona giornata a voi tutti. Grazie!"