Leading with beauty

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.

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, a prayer table can be a creative expression of beauty that begins as a point of interest and introduction for each month’s topic, and leads 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.  (Have I mentioned that I have a great job? 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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