Posted tagged ‘Art’

Hear, O Israel!

February 14, 2018

Leading With Beauty: The Ten Commandments

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.  In fact, this French artist painted the text of the Commandments in French, so those who saw the painting could also understand the language. That sends the message that reading/knowing the Commandments is every bit as valuable as the beauty of the art itself.

Thanks, as always, to the amazing Web Gallery of Art!  It’s one of my favorite online resources.

Leading With Beauty: The Sacrament of the Sick

January 17, 2018

This month’s topic is the Sacrament of the Sick, and while we no longer associate the reception of this sacrament only with imminent death, these two pieces, both entitled The Death of Saint Joseph, teach some profound truths about the sacrament.

This first one, by Giuseppe Maria Crespi, shows the Holy Family in their final tender moments together on earth. St. Joseph’s tools are laid down signifying that his work is finished, and his ever-present staff is still blossoming with three white lilies as a symbol of his purity.  Notice the heavenly realities as well: the background filled with angels ready to lead him into paradise.  I’d like to think that’s his own guardian angel nearby, wiping his brow.

On this one, Joseph’s lack of color is a striking contrast to the rest of the window, but look at the peaceful expression on his face!  The Blessed Mother is by his side as we always pray she will be for us (“now and at the hour of our death”).

In both of these works, we see Christ at the bedside, holding Joseph’s hand and imparting a blessing.  That is exactly what happens to those who receive the Sacrament of the Sick – you see the priest there, blessing and anointing, but it is really Jesus right there by your side, blessing, and anointing.  That is the wondrous thing about the Sacraments – they promise the grace you need at the moment you ask.  In this case, the special graces include strength, peace, courage, forgiveness of sins, and uniting the person with the suffering of Christ.

Art for January Prayer Tables

December 12, 2017

I’m going to depart from my typical suggestion of some classic piece of art and ask you to consider using a photo of someone in a religious vocation instead.  It started when a friend sent me this photo of her daughter, Sister Maddie*,


but didn’t take long before I remembered a bunch of other former Family Formation kids who have also discerned a religious vocation.

Vocations snip

Photos have the ability to make a concept more relatable and one of the goals is to help kids think, “This could be me!” You’re welcome to print these joyful sisters or my Family Formation kids** for your prayer table, or you may like some of the pieces I suggested a few years ago for this lesson, found here.  Or better yet, if you have a priest or religious from your parish, perhaps photos of them would be best.  You may also have a local order or a diocesan vocations poster that would work.  No matter what you choose, the goal is to convey the joy of serving God and to make it relatable for your students.


*Isn’t this a wonderful picture! She’s with the Pro Ecclesia Sancta order.
**Email me for a bigger, printable file.


Art for December Prayer Tables

November 15, 2017

This month’s topic is on Baptism and Confirmation and the profound connections between the two, and for our piece of prayer table art, I recommend this work by Pietro Longhi entitled The Baptism.  Baptism is the foundation of the Christian life and is a sacrament that most 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 new 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 server in the front is looking out at all of us, make us feel like we’re part of the scene as well!

Thanks to the Web Gallery of Art!

Art for November Prayer Tables

October 11, 2017

This month’s topic is the Creed, and as you’ll learn both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creed are divided into three parts, corresponding to the three Persons of the Trinity.

Since Baptism is given “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, the truths of faith professed during Baptism are articulated in terms of their reference to the three persons of the Holy Trinity.

And so the Creed is divided into three parts: “the first part speaks of the first divine Person and the wonderful work of creation; the next speaks of the second divine Person and the mystery of his redemption of men; the final part speaks of the third divine Person, the origin and source of our sanctification.”

CCC 189-190

For that reason, the piece I’ve chosen for this month’s prayer tables picks up that theme.


This work by Albrecht Durer was completed in 1511 as an altarpiece for a church.  The Persons of the Trinity are the focus, framed by clouds and angels.  On the left are the heavenly martyrs led by the Queen of heaven, herself.  On the right are Old Testament Saints, led by John the Baptist.  Near the bottom of the painting, but still above the clouds, are all the others in heaven: priests, nuns, lay people, etc., and at the very bottom we see the artist who painted himself in the scene still on earth.

It’s very easy to look at this painting, with its clear vision of heavenly realities and recite, “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”  “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God …”  “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and giver of life …”

Image Credit: The Web Gallery of Art

Art for May Prayer Tables

April 20, 2017

Our topic this month is the Holy Spirit, and there are lots of artsy dove-like directions we could go with that, but since Pentecost is also on the horizon I’m going with this version of the event, painted by an Austrian artist, Joseph Mildorfer about 260 years ago.


When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.  And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.  Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which came to rest on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.  (Acts 2:1-4)

I think this is a gorgeous piece because unlike so many works that picture all those in the upper room neatly sitting in a row, this one depicts a level of drama that matches the event.  Look at these people – they are completely enraptured by what’s happening.  They’re not even looking at each other, but each seems to be totally consumed with their newfound relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Look at the tongues of fire – they are just now being sent down and have not yet come “to rest on each one of them.”  They seem to be alive and are being sent from the Dove at the center of the heaven’s section at the top.

Look at the other center of this work, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  See how she recognizes her beloved Friend and is welcoming His arrival?

This painting was originally at the altar of a church in Hungary dedicated to the Holy Spirit.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to look up each time you were at Mass to be reminded of this beautiful relationship the Spirit offers to each of us?

Image Credit: Web Gallery of Art



Art for April Prayer Tables

March 15, 2017


This piece is entitled God the Father and was painted by a French artist about 350 years ago.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Wait a minute! No one knows what God looks like.  How could He possibly be painted?”  And these Bible verses confirm that you’re right:

  • 1 John 4:12— “No one has ever seen God.
  • John 1:18— “No one has ever seen God.
  • 1 Timothy 6:15-16— “… the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see.”
  • Even Moses did not see God face-to-face. Exodus 33:18-20— “Then Moses said, ‘Please let me see your glory!’ The Lord answered: I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim my name, ‘Lord,’ before you; I who show favor to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will. But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.

So how do we have any ideas about what God looks like?  Mostly, by prayerful discernment of Scripture and Tradition, and by that wonderful way great artists have of making something intangible into something visible.  In religious art, an attribute (noun) is a big red-flag-clue to help us identify the subject of the work. It’s most commonly something that is held but can also be something worn, something in the background, a particular color used, or a number of other meaningful hints.

In the case of God the Father, what do we know about Him?  He’s all-powerful, all-knowing, and can do anything and be everywhere.  He’s creator, king, and judge.  Jesus reveals Him to be a loving father “who art in heaven.”

So what do artists do with that?  In this month’s piece, God is shown as an old man as a way to describe that He is ancient/timeless and wise, dressed in a regal color to show his sovereignty, and strong to show His unlimited power.  He’s holding the Earth in His hand to highlight His role as creator, and the angels are worshipping Him.  (Although I’m not sure what’s going on with those two who are sharing His cloud.J)  And an angel on the right has incense – an ancient way to honor sacred persons and things.

If that’s not obvious enough, the banner on the right reads Gloria in Excelsis Deo.  (Glory to God in the Highest!)

Pieces like this are a great example of why knowing how to “read” religious art can go a long way in teaching us the truths of the Faith and can lead us to a deeper personal faith.

Image link and credit: Web Gallery of Art

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