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On Being and Beauty: “The Is-ness of What-ness”

While all of us can readily point to something and recognize its beauty, it's more difficult for us to explain why we think that thing beautiful, to determine what it is about a thing that strikes us as pleasing.  Dr. McNamara -- a professor of sacred art and architecture, who teaches within a lived Catholic understanding of beauty -- notes that we call a thing beautiful when we experience the way in which that thing reveals its ontological reality.  That is, a thing is beautiful when it expresses both what it is and what it is for.  This working definition served as the foundation upon which Dr. McNamara built an argument for what makes churches beautiful, why they should be beautiful, and how they can be made so.

A church ought to be an image of the divine reality, a reality in which we all hope one day to participate.  Using the stuff of creation, a church building -- both in terms of its architectural design and its ornamentation -- should reveal God's plan of salvation, should firmly establish the real presence of Christ who tabernacles with us, and should point beyond itself, raising our hearts and minds to that which eternally endures, even as it gives us a foretaste here and now of what is to come.  Living as we do in an increasingly utilitarian world, these qualities and characteristics are precisely those which allow a church to reveal its "church-ness"...to be what it is.


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