During the season of Lent it is most appropriate that Catholics through prayer and meditation reinvigorate themselves to the quiet mystery God’s Word. There is perhaps no greater manner in which to contemplate the mysteries of the life of God than through the ancient art of icons. For most of us in the Western or Roman Church, icons are unfortunately not familiar examples of saintly and theological representation in our Churches. However, I am thankful to say, our cultural and western attitude towards these long revered and ancient Eastern Church depictions of the most sacred is coming to an end. Icons are part of the heritage of the entire Church and should be rightly considered as part of our liturgical sacred spaces in every rite of the Church.

Pope John Paul II had an iconic portrait of The Blessed Mother installed in the papal chapel. It occupies a place of honor and prominence in the sanctuary of the private chapel. Rightly, so, Mary as Theotokos (Mother of God) is one of the most ancient titles attributed to Mary (at the Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431). Veneration of icons in her image offer modern faithful Catholic’s an opportunity to not only personify our image of the Blessed Mother, but also permits us to transcend to a deeper contemplation of Mary’s sanctity through the iconic image. Through the introduction of an icon of the Blessed Virgin in the papal chapel, John Paul II was providing a living testimony to his belief that both Eastern and Western traditions are indeed the “lungs” of the Body of Christ.

The Church, locally and universally needs to foster the development of artistic appreciation in our local parish communities. Often the case, when our sacred spaces are designed, redesigned, altered or modified the true integrity of inclusion of qualitative sacred art is neglected. There is an unfortunate trend towards mass production of our sacred furnishings and accessories. This needs to be changed. Local parish communities need to be aware of the talented men and women that offer their gift from God of artistic inspiration to our Church communities. Those entrusted with the proper design and execution of Catholic architectural design need to include our local artists and artisans in their sacred projects. Quite often, the artist proficient in sacred art is in our own back yard.

Iconography, as an artistic discipline involves many stages and nuances. Strictly speaking, all of the details that are included in an icon are regulated by theological revelations or ecclesiastical traditions. Colors for example, dictate the correct portrayal of Jesus’ humanity, another that portrays his divinity and so on. These details of artistic appreciation help us in our spiritual development and serve as very strong signs and symbols of our Sacred Mysteries. In the local Philadelphia area, Susan Kelly VonMedicus, is an iconographer that provides all denominations of faith inspiration through her writing of sacred icons. Her hagiography of Jesus, the Apostles and Martyrs and the Blessed Mother all provide us with a portal that leads us to a deeper appreciation and understanding of Mysterium Fidei. Icons as executed by Susan Kelly VonMedicus are exactly the qualitative artistic expressions that we need to include in all of our Sacred Spaces. As faithful and concerned Catholics, our goal should direct of attentions to providing the best possible resources for our liturgical prayer and worship. Perhaps, a greater appreciation of iconography can be achieved by appreciating the works of such a gifted artist as Susan Kelly VonMedicus. Art and the qualitative expression of artisans is as much part of our Catholic history as evangelization and catechesis. Honestly, the visual arts represent well-honed tools that permit us to effectively spread the Good News and teach the Gospel mystery. In the planning and development of our local Catholic communities, we need more than ever to incorporate the works of our very talented and gifted artistic brothers and sisters, as we design our Churches, our Holy of Holies.

In our Lenten journey of prayer and sanctification, icons present an integral part of our spiritual journey and transformation of faith. Perhaps, we can develop the tradition in the Roman Church of placing an icon in our homes to remind us of God’s presence among us. In her writings the 20th century author, Catherine deHueck Doherty recalls the great gift of icons in “Poustina“. Poustina correctly is translated as a desert place. In her writings, Catherine deHueck Doherty illustrates the great role icons hold in the Eastern Church and in her continued conversion towards Christ. As we celebrate Lent, let us incorporate an appreciation and affection for the use of icons as we journey for our 40 days of spiritual poustina.

 

Hugh McNichol is a freelance Catholic author. He writes on topics that deal with the Catholic faith and its heritage. His daily blog http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com muses on Catholic topics. He may be contacted at hugh.mcnichol@trinettc.com

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