September 16, 2011

Saint Meinrad monk creates images for new missal

This image of the Transfiguration of the Lord is found in a new edition of the Roman Missal that is being published by Liturgical Press. The image was created by Benedictine Brother Martin Erspamer, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad. (Art by Brother Martin Erspamer, O.S.B., a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey)

This image of the Transfiguration of the Lord is found in a new edition of the Roman Missal that is being published by Liturgical Press. The image was created by Benedictine Brother Martin Erspamer, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad. (Art by Brother Martin Erspamer, O.S.B., a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey)

By Sean Gallagher

For more than 1,000 years, the Church has encouraged the production of beautiful books to be used in its liturgy and especially the Mass, the “source and summit of the Christian life,” as the bishops at the Second Vatican Council described it.

Today is no different as book publishers across the English-speaking world will soon release new missals to be used for the first time on the weekend of Nov. 26-27 when the new translation of the Mass will be implemented at churches.

Benedictine Brother Martin Erspamer, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, followed in the footsteps of monks going back to the early Middle Ages by creating a series of 18 new images for an edition of the Roman Missal to be published by Liturgical Press.

Brother Martin knows that his works will have a limited audience. But he hopes that they will, in some way, help all people at Mass to pray better.

“Most people won’t be looking at the missal. It will be the priest,” he said. “But the idea is similar to that of ancient books where you’re trying to embellish the word, and make the book more of a beautiful object so that it has a certain presence in the liturgical context.

“It’s so much more substantial than a loose leaf binder. Like all the objects that are used in worship, you try to have them designed in such a way that they bear the weight of the mystery.”

The mysteries he portrayed are wide and varied. Brother Martin has created for this missal images of Christ’s Nativity, his Transfiguration, the Annunciation of Mary, and images for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul and All Saints.

In all, he created 19 images for the missal that originally were a combination of paintings and pencil drawings.

The style in which Brother Martin created these images is based on medieval artistic methods often employed by Benedictine monks in monastic scriptoriums.

“The focus in the earlier art was always on the spiritual truth,” Brother Martin said. “After the Renaissance, I think the focus was perhaps more on just the artistic quality and composition.

“I tend to look at earlier work because I think there’s something really wonderful to try and understand about it. And I try to incorporate that into my own work, not in the sense of a copy, but as taking those ways of rendering these theological mysteries and portraying them in sort of an ancient yet a contemporary way at the same time.”

The contemporary nature of his work is also seen in the production of the books. In the Middle Ages, Brother Martin said, books were handmade, and liturgical books received great attention because of the importance of their use.

Today, publishers have to mass produce missals so they are not as precious as those made in centuries past.

Nevertheless, Liturgical Press is one of only two publishers to commission new art for the new missal.

“It’s hard to create a book that’s really extraordinary today in a way that you can create it for mass production, and still have it sell for a price that the average parish is willing to pay,” Brother Martin said. “Most parishes will have to buy not just one of these books but probably several of them—and they’re not cheap books.”

Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis has ordered copies of the missal published by Liturgical Press. The two priests that minister there—Msgr. Paul Koetter and Father Christopher Waddelton—received their priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

Msgr. Koetter, Holy Spirit’s pastor, is happy to know that there is a connection between the missal that he will use at Mass and his seminary.

“In my lifetime, Saint Meinrad has always had some significant artists in the monastery,” he said. “[Benedictine] Father Donald Walpole has done some amazing things.

“And to know that there’s another monk now continuing that tradition, and that that tradition is going to influence people from all over the English-speaking world is very impressive.”

Brother Martin isn’t concerned, however, if those who use the missal that includes his images find them impressive or not.

“My attitude about the work is, ‘If people like it, fine. And if they don’t, that’s just fine with me, also,’ ” he said. “Work that gets done through my hands has a life of its own, and either lives or dies on its own. Once I’m finished doing it, it’s sort of out there and I’m moving on to the next thing.”

(For more information about the new Mass translation and what parishes can do to prepare for it, log on to www.archindy.org/worship or www.usccb.org/romanmissal.)

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