By Kareem O’Brian Nelson
Photos By: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., The Society of St. Hugh of Cluny & Diane Yaun
Since the early foundation of the Dominican Order in 1216, the friars have affirmed the beauty of God’s creation.
We recently sat down with Fr. Innocent Smith, O.P., Parochial Vicar of the famously beautiful NYC churches of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena Church to talk about the “Way of Beauty” in the Church’s Sacred Liturgy.
REGINA: How would you define liturgy?
FATHER SMITH: Liturgy is the place where we meet God.
He comes to us and we come to Him, and through the unity that comes through the Incarnation of Christ, God and man, we are able to meet God and He meet us in a place of mutual interchange.
REGINA: Why is it important for the liturgy to be beautiful?
FATHER SMITH: One way of understanding God is to think of Him as being true, good, and beautiful.
So when we come to encounter God in the liturgy, the more it reflects His character of being beautiful, the more it’s an authentic reflection of who He is.
Sometimes the Church speaks of the “Way of Beauty,” as a way of coming to know God.
REGINA: Is this new?
FATHER SMITH: Throughout the history of the Church, the Church has always been a patron of the Arts, or a patroness you might say.
I think that’s a quality that has been diminished in the last hundred years or so, which is a great tragedy because at times it cuts the Church off from playing a role in sweetening the culture.
REGINA: Is it common to hear Dominican chant during the Sacred Liturgy?
FATHER SMITH: If you visit Dominican priories throughout the world, it would be common to hear certain chants sung, for instance, the “Salve Regina” or the “O Lumen” the great canticles to Mary and to Saint Dominic; those would be widely used.
In a number of Dominican priories the Office of Compline is celebrated with special solemnity, so the chants for that office are more commonly heard.
REGINA: How has the Order shaped or influenced the liturgy of the Church?
FATHER SMITH: Saint Thomas Aquinas would have been very influential on the understanding of what the liturgy is for many people throughout the history of the Church.
When Thomas talks about how the Sacraments work, he’s drawing together previous tradition, but he’s giving it his own spin.
His conception of the outward signs of the Sacraments being made so that they can engage our senses and be the point of contact between God and man; this has influenced the way many people think about what the liturgy is.