Archive for the ‘Catechist's Corner’ category

Leading with Beauty: Mary – God’s Masterpiece

April 17, 2015

May is the traditional month to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary and it happens to be the topic for classroom lessons this month so including your favorite statue or other image of her is an obvious focus for your classroom prayer table.  Mary is one of the most popular subjects in all of art history so you’ll have no trouble finding something you like.

I chose this one simply because it’s a favorite of mine.  I love the work of Fra Angelico and the Annunciation is my favorite Mystery of the Rosary and all the gold tones in this piece remind me of the glory of Easter, so out of thousands of choices this is the one I pick for this month.

I love her humility and youth, but I especially love the fact that her finger is holding her place in the book.  I know, I know – that’s probably not the most compelling thing about this image but it’s such a great human touch and reminds me of a few things.

Traditional images of the Annunciation show that Mary was studying and praying when Gabriel suddenly showed up for his visit.  She didn’t have an appointment for an angel to drop in an ask her to be the Mother of God, so seeing her pictured this way just implies that study and prayer were a typical, routine part of her life.  (Lovely Example #1)  It also seems to me that she is expecting God to work in her life and is waiting and to see what today brings. (That expectation is Lovely Example #2 to me.)  This expectation means she’s ready to respond (“Be it done unto me according to Your word!”).  She doesn’t have to clear her schedule or finish up something before responding.  Anyway, those are a few of my rambling thoughts about the Annunciation.  (I have lots more, but it’s time to hit the Publish button and get on to some other work.)

One more thing – the other part of this work can be found here.  It’s not known if they were originally part of an altarpiece or if these two faces were cut from a larger work, but they clearly belong together.

If you want a reminder of what this Leading with Beauty thing is all about, click over here for an explanation.

Leading with Beauty: Kneeling Before the Majesty of God

March 10, 2015

This month’s topic is Kneeling Before the Majesty of God and while I could recommend any number of paintings which feature God in all His heavenly glory, I think I’ll go with this one featuring his hidden earthly glory instead.

This is Saint Norbert worshiping Our Lord, truly present in this ornate monstrance.  Norbert was a worldly man who had a very dramatic conversion story and went on to found a religious order that continues to this day.  One of the other things Saint Norbert is known for is defending the Eucharist against heresy and disbelief, and one of his attributes* is to be pictured with a monstrance.

I think the value this piece would hold on a classroom prayer table is this:

  • Norbert’s obvious devotion.  His posture, focus, position of his hands – all are expressions of love for He who is before him.
  • The beauty of this particular monstrance.  We offer our best to God, and some craftsman (and this artist, Marten Pepijn), certainly did that, also as a sign of their devotion to God.
  • And finally, there are details you can cover such as:
    • What is a monstrance? (A sacred vessel with a glass opening through which the Sacred Host can be seen.  From a Latin word meaning to show.)
    • Why is that lamp burning just to the right of the monstrance?  (That is a sanctuary lamp, required by canon law to be lit wherever the Blessed Sacrament – consecrated hosts – are reserved, to remind believers of their sacred presence.)
    • Where can we find the Eucharist in our church?  (Answers vary slightly with each church, but it would be most typical to find the Blessed Sacrament reserved in your church’s tabernacle and in an Adoration Chapel.)  Make sure your students know where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in your church and remind them of the proper signs of devotion and respect.  (genuflecting, sign of the cross, reverent behavior, etc.)
    • How can we find where the Eucharist is another Catholic church? (Look for the sanctuary lamp to point the way.)

*In art, an attribute is an object that identifies someone, most commonly referring to objects held by saints.  (e.g. Saint Peter is often identified as holding keys, Saint Joseph by carpenter tools and a staff with lilies, etc.)

If you want a reminder of what this Leading with Beauty thing is all about, click over here for an explanation.

Thanks to the Web Gallery of Art for their truly remarkable collection of sacred art!

Leading with Beauty: The Ten Commandments

February 12, 2015

The classroom topic for March is the Ten Commandments and this work by Philippe de Champaigne (1648 AD) would be a perfect piece for classroom prayer tables.

The interesting thing about this piece is that everything is so clear; almost photograph-like!  Moses looks like someone you’d meet in real life and the tablet is clear enough to easily read.  That sends the message that reading/knowing the Commandments is every bit as valuable as the beauty of the art itself.

If you want a reminder of what this Leading with Beauty thing is all about, click over here for an explanation.

Leading with Beauty: Vocations

December 10, 2014

So many beautiful pictures of those in a religious vocation!

If you’re interested in classic pieces of art, try one of these for your prayer table this month.

This is such a gentle, trusting scene.

She looks like the very picture of serenity to me!

It might be nicer in this case, though, to use some photos.  I’m not sure you could find a better “advertisement” for the joy of a religious vocation than photos like these:

There are many photos online of men and women living in community, dedicating their lives to serving God with joy!  (And isn’t that the most beautiful “art” of all?)

Church of Saint Paul catechists, if you want to use my prayer table art suggestions as a teaching piece during your classroom prayer time, I’ll be glad to print a copy for you IF you email me ahead of time with the request.

If you want a reminder of what this Leading with Beauty thing is all about, click over here for an explanation.

Leading with Beauty

November 12, 2014

Art for December Prayer Tables

This month’s topic is another new Classroom Lesson, this time on Baptism and Confirmation and the profound connections between the two.  For this month’s piece of recommended prayer table art, I’m going with this work by Pietro Longhi entitled The Baptism.  Baptism is the foundation of the Christian life and is a sacrament that all of your students will have experienced.

It’s very easy to be drawn into this happy scene!  Almost all eyes are focused on the beautiful drama being enacted near the center as the infant is beginning her life in Christ.  The woman on the right, behind the pillar, doesn’t seem to be part of the family, but she can’t resist witnessing this wonderful event and the acolyte in the front is looking out at all of us, inviting us to join in as well!

Church of Saint Paul catechists, if you want to use my prayer table art suggestions as a teaching piece during your classroom prayer time, I’ll be glad to print a copy for you IF you email me ahead of time with the request.

If you want a reminder of what this Leading with Beauty thing is all about, click over here for an explanation.

Thank you, catechists!

September 21, 2014

Today is Catechetical Sunday, a day designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to honor and commission those who serve the Church in a teaching role.  We’d like to thank all the catechists who teach Family Formation’s monthly classroom lessons and all the parents who are a day-to-day witness of the Faith!

What Does the Word “Catechetical” Mean?
The word might be more familiar than you think. Many Catholics have used the word “catechism” for years, and they know it has something to do with the compendium of the Church’s teachings. The root word, “catechesis,” is from a Greek word meaning “to echo, or resound.” Catechesis is the act of resounding or bringing the Church’s teachings to the world. A catechist is one who teaches in the name of the Church.

Catechesis is a distinct and special ministry in the Church. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear, “Catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church’s life . . . her inner growth and correspondence with God’s plan depend essentially on catechesis” (no. 7). […] It is only fitting that we set aside a day to highlight this ministry and invite the entire church community to think about our responsibility to share our faith with others.

How are parents, the primary catechists of their children, recognized on Catechetical Sunday?

Parents are truly the primary catechists of their children. They prepare the soil and plant the first seeds of faith. On Catechetical Sunday, we not only highlight the work of catechists in parishes and schools, but we also commend parents and guardians and encourage them to take seriously their role of making their Catholic households a place where faith is passed on to the next generation.

Leading with beauty

September 13, 2014

Art for October Prayer Centers

Postmodern man might scoff at truth and goodness, but he’s still enthralled by beauty, says prominent theologian and evangelist Father Robert Barron.  Beauty, then, is the arrowhead of evangelization, the point with which the evangelist pierces the minds and hearts of those he evangelizes.  “Lead with beauty,” Barron said to an audience of Catholic journalists and communications professionals gathered in Denver for the 2013 Catholic Media Conference.

The post title comes from a talk given by Fr. Robert Barron.  You can read a summary of the concept of leading by beauty in this article (also quoted above).  I use it here because in many cases the prayer table in your classroom is the point with the greatest potential for beauty.  In the midst of classrooms built for function, whose use for Family Formation is temporary, your prayer table is a creative expression of beauty that can begin as a point of interest and introduction for each month’s topic, and lead to deeper prayer and understanding.

My goal in this series is to make that job a little easier for you by sifting through dozens of pieces of beautiful art to find one or two that fit well with the monthly classroom theme.  (Hey, it’s a tough job but I’m willing to take one for the team here. J)

CARREÑO DE MIRANDA, Juan, Mass of St John of Matha, 1666

This month’s topic is An Overview of the Mass, and the September Home Lesson your students will be doing soon is all about Angels.  I think these two topics converge very nicely in this work by Juan Carreño de Miranda.  There are so many beautiful realities portrayed here that it’s hard to know where to begin!

  • On an earthly level, Mass is being celebrated and the consecrated Host has just been elevated.  All eyes are on Jesus! Look at the devotion and love on every single face – no one is even a tiny bit distracted or bored.  They all recognize the Real Presence of their Savior in the Eucharist!
  • On the heavenly level, we see the same devotion as all are worshiping the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, clearly visible before them.  Can your students identify the Father, Son and Holy Spirit up there? (There’s a little side story going on in the upper left side; more on that below.)
  • Now look at the space between heaven and earth; there is no clear line dividing the two.  At least in my mind, this is showing the overlap that truly exists between the two realities.  We won’t typically see all the angels who are in our parish nave as Mass is being celebrated, but they are there worshiping God right along with us!  Regular Mass-goers may recognize these words: “And so, with all the choirs of angels in heaven we proclaim your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise: ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.'”  This is your connection between the September and October lessons, and the jumping-off point for imaginative students to pay better attention every time they are at Mass.  Amazing things are happening!
  • The side story is interesting, but not all that relevant to our lessons.  Nonetheless, I know some of you will be curious so here it is from the Web Gallery of Art (also the source for the image):   “In 1664 the Trinitarian order in Pamplona completed a new monastic complex and turned Carreño and Francisco Rizi to paint the altarpiece for the church. The Trinitarian order had been founded in the late twelfth century by the Frenchman John of Matha, and the altarpiece illustrates a key moment in his career. As St John of Matha raised the host during his first mass, he saw a vision of a young boy dressed in white (here converted into an angel), with arms crossed and hands resting on the heads of two prisoners, one a Christian, one a Moor. From this vision the saint divined his earthly mission, to establish a religious order devoted to the redemption of Christian prisoners.”


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