The Importance of Art in Catechesis

Posted by Claire Anderson on Jan 11, 2021 7:04:00 AM
Claire Anderson

Anderson Art in Catechesis title

Communication is essential to human life. Throughout our lives, we have come up with many ways to get our ideas across. One particularly powerful way human beings communicate is through art. Beauty speaks to all people, across all times and places. This makes it rich source material for catechesis. Thanks to the Church’s rich artistic history, ministers in faith formation can present teachings people often overlook in powerful ways. Here are some principles to help you consider how to incorporate art into your ministry.

Art Tells Stories

One way to use art in catechesis in particular is to tell a story in pictures. I teach first grade CCD at my parish and I’ve found that the children respond well when I use art in this way. In teaching about salvation history and telling the pivotal stories of the Old Testament, I assembled a series of images that presented the lives of Abraham and Moses, telling the story like one would see in a comic book or story board.

Another way to do this is to dive deep into a single image. When I taught my first graders about the visit of the magi, I brought in an image depicting the event, showed it to the children, and asked them questions after I had read the story from Scripture. I asked, “Which of the people in the painting are the three wise men?” “Where is baby Jesus?” “Where is St. Joseph? Where is Mary?” “Are there any animals in this painting? Why are they there?” These questions allowed the children to engage with the story visually.

Art Aids Contemplation

Using art works for adults as well as children. Beauty draws us in. We ask ourselves, “What is going on in this painting?” “Why would the artist choose to depict this particular scene?” These questions draw us toward fruitful contemplation of the image and the story it tells.

Adults can also learn to pray with art through a process called visio divina. Visio divina is much like lectio divina, except instead of a passage of Scripture, you pray with religious art in conversation with Scripture, using the following steps:

    1. Listen to the Word of God.
    2. Meditate on the Word of God.
    3. See how the Word is depicted in the image or artwork. Pay attention to any thoughts, impressions, or emotions the images raises.
    4. Respond to what has arisen within you, offering it to God in prayer.
    5. Rest in a spirit of contemplation.
    6. Consider what God might be asking of you in light of your encounter with him in Scripture and art.

Art Includes More Than Just Paintings

Paintings are often a common choice for catechesis; however, art has many forms, including sculpture, architecture, music, literature, and poetry. Each medium speaks of God differently, but no less eloquently. For example, architecture can be a powerful way to surround people in the truths of the faith. The architecture of Catholic churches points powerfully to what we believe, especially about the Eucharist. Symbolism built right into the church includes angels that guard tabernacles, decorated walls or stained glass windows that draw the eye toward the altar, and starry ceilings that remind us of heaven.

Music is also a powerful tool for catechesis. How often have you walked out of Mass still humming the closing hymn? The music stays with us and so do the words, which can catechize people without their realizing it. If your students are up for a challenge, you even could have them find beautiful secular songs whose lyrics point to the truths of the faith.

Art is a powerful way to catechize people because of beauty’s power to captivate. People are drawn to it and desire to learn from it. These are just a few ideas for how to use beauty in catechesis, but there are so many more creative ways to use art. Consider the media listed above and imagine how you might incorporate something from each form into your ministry. The possibilities are endless!

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Featured image: St. Luke Painting the Madonna by Jan Gossaert; PD-OLD.

Topics: catechesis, visual arts, visio divina, Christian art

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The McGrath Institute Blog helps Catholics live and hand on their faith in Jesus Christ, especially in the family, home and parish, and cultivates and inspires everyday leaders to live out the fullness and richness of their faith in the simple, little ways that make up Church life.

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