Performing Beauty: Liturgy, Theology, and Aesthetics

Greg Miller
3 min readMar 22, 2021
The Eternal Beauty of the Mass — Catholic Stand

Unit 5: Medieval Christianity, Liturgy, and the Aesthetic

Blog 5: How is “eating beauty” beautiful for Sr. Ann Astell? What consequence is there for this beauty — do you imagine — for forming men and women in a Eucharistic beauty?

How is “eating beauty” beautiful for Sr. Ann Astell?

Before I tackle the first question I want to state that I found Astell’s writing to be absolutely exceptional. The imagery she calls into being is also absolutely beautiful and inspiring. More than typical, I will quote her in this assignment. Attempting to paraphrase Astell is almost impossible and perhaps even an insult to her brilliance.

Sr. Ann Astell’s book delights in exploring what she calls “the mysterious relationship between the physical and spiritual senses.” Astell writes that by participating in the ritual action of the Eucharist, a simple connection is made for us by taking of the bread and wine as a symbol of the body and blood of Christ during Communion and Mass. That connection is “intrinsically linked to the perception of the literal and spiritual meaning (‘senses’) of the sacred scriptures (page 4).” While the sacrament of Eucharistic is a beautiful event insomuch that it creates an event that fulfills the individual soul by connecting us with Christ, this remembrance of Christ’s torture, bloodshed and ultimate death also creates a contradiction. That is, the aesthetics of Christ’s death on the cross are certainly not ‘beautiful.’

Astell (page 19) addresses this contradiction by meditating on Christ’s humanity, born of the virgin mother, Mary, “morally just, cruelly crucified, and radiantly risen.” Christ’s beauty is in “His divinity as the Son of the Father,…through whom ‘all things were made’ (John 1:3).” Thus, she writes we should “regard the beauty of the sacrament itself as an artwork instituted by Christ and enacted by the church through consideration, adoration, Communion and charitable service.

Additionally, Astell believes the Eucharistic practice is beautiful because it connects us to the “Christological paradise that was lost through the first sin.” The major thesis Astell advances is that “every genuine spirituality,… is oriented toward restoration of the paradise originally created by God through the Word (page 257).” Astell writes that “Christ Himself, swallowed in the Host, the antidote for the Edenic apple (page 30).”

What consequence is there for this beauty — do you imagine — for forming men and women in a Eucharistic beauty?

The consequences for accepting this beauty are that we must consider fully Christ’s creation and recreation (page 79) as one nourishes their heart and soul with the Eucharistic Host. “Christ’s humility increases one’s own, a ‘humility’ that is, Bernard says, ‘a loveliness (page 66).’” This loveliness will require an awakening and a transformation. I believe Astell is moving us toward consideration of the beauty of the “…humble, transformative facing of oneself and God;…the examination of conscience, the practice of virtue, and the ardent, contemplative facing of God in prayer [which will] cause the soul more and more to resemble the God [in] whose image it was created (page 72).”

The result of truly accepting beauty of the Eucharistic is that you both know and realize that in participating in this sacrament you are accepting the “greatest divine gift,…God’s total gift of Himself in the person of Jesus and Him crucified (page 79),” which is embodied in the Host. Bernard insists (Page 79) that if people do not love God, it is because “they do not recognize that everything they are and have is His gift.”