Sunday, 3 April 2016

Fr. Longenecker Defending Catholic Kitsch

Kitsch and Catholicism

Of course, art and architecture which is well done and beautiful is to be preferred. Michaelangelo instead of Thomas Kincade, and there are real criteria for good art and architecture, but that is not today’s topic. Instead I am defending Catholic kitsch.

Finally, what is the role of kitsch? It’s pretty low down on the priorities, but there is also a role for the tacky, plastic devotional items one sees in souvenir stands. They are imitative. The plastic holy water bottle of the Virgin Mary reminds the viewer of more worthy images, and ultimately of the Blessed Virgin. The kitsch also has the advantage of being affordable for people who are often very poor, and if their devotion to God is improved and they love their plastic St Therese and pray more, isn’t that better than snobbishly sniffing and sneering at their ‘bad taste’? Furthermore, kitsch makes Catholicism a bit more fun. There’s a child like fun in having a post card of Jesus which changes into Mary when you move it. There’s a sense of not being quite so serious when you have a glow in the dark rosary and actually use it at night when you can’t sleep.

Here is my recommendation to all converts to Catholicism. Get a statue that you think is ‘absolutely awful’ and live with it. It will help you get Catholicism into your bones a bit more.

When my brother converted I bought him a little plug in Virgin Mary night light and said, “Now you’re really a Catholic.”

A perfect response to Sr Mary Charles-Murray, who attacked 'Catholic kitsch' in Art and Prayer.

Last year, I bought my sponsor a 'Miraculous Mug.' When you put hot water in it, a picture of the Blessed Virgin appears.


  1. Interesting post, Matthew.

    I tend to feel the same way about Petrine style icons, funnily enough, even though I know a lot of Orthodox who think that they're 'kitschy', in bad taste or even theologically suspect (in part because they don't like Tsar Peter). The first icon of Christ Pantokrator I ever got is actually in the Petrine style; I still use it.

    1. Thanks for commenting. I'm not sure what Petrine icons look like. I'll make sure to find out.