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Pope Benedict, Good Liturgy, Sacred Art and the Divine Mercy Image

Pope Benedict XVI, at the turn of the millennium, in one of his best known books, "The Spirit of the Liturgy" wrote extensively on the need for sacred art in every Catholic Church. He wrote of the misunderstanding of Vatican II and how the removal and destruction of images, in his own words, "left behind a void, the wretchedness of which we are now experiencing in a truly acute way". Not only is the Divine Mercy image most appropriate for Divine Mercy Sunday, as our Lord Jesus stated, but it is also most appropriate for everyday liturgy. 


PORT ST. LUCIE, FL (Catholic Online) - Not many of us are aware that our current Pope, Benedict XVI had recommended the re-introduction of icons and images into our Churches. To most Catholics this comes as a very welcomed surprise.

Pope Benedict XVI, at the turn of the millennium, in one of his best known books, "The Spirit of the Liturgy" wrote extensively on the need for sacred art in every Catholic Church. He wrote of the misunderstanding of Vatican II and how the removal and destruction of images, in his own words, "left behind a void, the wretchedness of which we are now experiencing in a truly acute way".

He spoke of the "crisis of art" today being "a symptom of the crisis of man´s very existence". We don´t have to go too far to see the "sense-less" art that is prevalent today. Modern sacred art with its unrealistic and odd-shaped corpuses and statues does nothing to bring to mind anything of the sacred at all if it is not truly life-like. Our churches need to be adorned with sacred art that lifts our souls to a view of our heavenly home, where the saints abide with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Pope Benedict states "lack of images is incompatible"

The Pope explains, "The complete absence of images is incompatible with faith in the Incarnation of God. God has acted in history and entered into our ´sensible´ world, so that it may become transparent to him. Images of beauty, in which the mystery of the invisible God becomes visible, are an ´essential´ part of Christian worship". Note here that the Pope said "images of beauty" and not modern art.

What is most remarkable in the twenty plus pages that the he dedicated to sacred art in this book is the prevalence of the description of an image that could only be the Divine Mercy image itself. He not only noted that it was wrong to remove the images and icons, but he went on to explain what the perfect image would have to embrace and only the Divine Mercy image could possibly meet all of his criteria.

I would challenge you to pick-up a copy of this book and fasten your seat belt. As you read Part Three, Art and Liturgy, The Question of Images, keep in mind all the details of the Divine Mercy image. His thorough explanation of the essentials of sacred art, that is ordered to divine worship, could only apply to an image that has all the aspects of the Divine Mercy image that Jesus requested to be painted.

His brilliant and methodical explanation of sacred art is truly a masterpiece that everyone should read. Re-reading only takes you deeper into the intellect, which this Pope has, probably second to none, concerning liturgical worship throughout the ages. The more you read, the more you come to understand the importance and significance of having the Divine Mercy image in every single Catholic parish.

Not only is the Divine Mercy image most appropriate for Divine Mercy Sunday, as our Lord Jesus stated, but it is also most appropriate for everyday liturgy. On Mercy Sunday, all of the readings, starting from the Opening Prayer, direct us to focus on the redeeming Blood, the washing away of sins in Water, a new birth in the Spirit, the institution of confession, and the importance of trusting in Jesus.

The Pope said "On liturgical feasts the deeds of God in the past are made present. The feasts are a participation in God´s action in time, and the images themselves, as remembrance in visible form, are involved in the liturgical re-presentation." He spoke of the images as being a "path of hope, into which the images draw us, giving us the assurance of the world to come, of the final coming of Christ".

The Divine Mercy image is truly a "path of hope" which will lead us safely to the "final coming of Christ". Jesus gave us this image specifically to give us hope and to give us a constant re-assurance that will lead us safely home to His coming. The words "Jesus, I trust in You" have been a great comfort to many people, especially in the parishes that have permanently installed images in their liturgical settings.

Benedict wrote "The icon is intended to draw us onto an inner path, the eastward path, toward the Christ who is to return. Its dynamism is identical with the dynamism of the liturgy as a whole… In the liturgy the curtain between heaven and earth is torn open, and we are taken up into a liturgy that spans the whole cosmos." The Divine Mercy image portrays Christ coming to us from heaven and opening up that curtain and bestowing upon us His inexhaustible grace and mercy.

It is interesting to note that Pope Benedict said the images "have a reference to the sacraments, and above all, to Baptism and the Eucharist, and, in pointing to the sacraments, they are contained within them… they are essentially connected with what happens in the liturgy. Jesus told us that the two rays in the Divine Mercy image denote the Blood (the Eucharist) which is the life of souls, and the Water (Baptism) that makes souls righteous. Jesus also indicated that we would receive graces from these images, and why not, if the sacraments are contained with them.

The Pope continued to explain "the center of the icon of Christ is the Paschal Mystery: Christ is presented as the Crucified, the risen Lord, the One who will come again and who here and now hiddenly reigns over all. Every image of Christ must contain these three essential aspects of the mystery of Christ and, in this sense, must be an image of Easter".

The Divine Mercy image is the image of the risen Christ on that first Easter on the evening of the Resurrection, miraculously appearing there in the Upper Room and bestowing on the Apostles the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins. His hand is

raised in blessing, he shows them His wounds, and Jesus is looking for their trust. Recall that St. Thomas, the doubter, was not there on that first Easter Sunday, but was actually there on the "Second Sunday of Easter", the very first Divine Mercy Sunday. Now we can see why Jesus insisted that the Divine Mercy image, with the words "Jesus, I trust in You" be in view and venerated in our churches on that day.

The Divine Mercy image portrays, not only the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, that Benedict XVI indicated as being essential, but as Pope John Paul II indicated in one of his Divine Mercy Sunday homilies, also portrays, in the clear light ray representing the water, the giving of the Holy Spirit which is present in all the other sacraments of the Church.

It is very clear that our Holy Father wrote this book with the intention of pouring out his heart to all of us, so that we might bring life and hope back into the liturgy. His many years as one of the Church´s foremost theologians and as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has earned him everyone´s respect. It would be of great benefit for everyone to read this book, including all the clergy.

His message of hope, which has become his hallmark, was very prevalent in this work, which was written just five years before his election to the Papal office. He often mentioned the word "hope" and associated it with the Second Coming of Christ. Indeed, this is our hope, and this image of the Divine Mercy was designed by our God, to bring us precisely this hope, and trust, as we grow ever closer to that long-awaited Second Coming of Christ.

The Divine Mercy image perfectly fits every single fundamental principal and indentifying element that our Pope has so painstakingly described. Only by reading this masterful work will we come to understand the depth of the Pope´s insight and into the urgent need to re-invigorate our churches with sacred art that is ordered to the liturgy, of which no other image could represent so precisely as the Divine Mercy image itself.

Is it any wonder, why his predecessor, Pope John Paul II worked so hard to make us all understand how important Divine Mercy is? There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit was working through our Church and the Vicar of Christ to bring about this path of hope. The World Congress on Mercy is yet another sign from heaven that now is the time for mercy. Let us take advantage now while there is time for hope.

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Robert R. Allard, Director of the Apostles of Divine Mercy, has been helping the Church to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday since 1996. He had been a Fallen-away Catholic for over 25 years and received a special grace on Mercy Sunday. He has written for national magazines, newspapers, and has organized conferences and seminars. He has recently appeared on EWTN TV and Radio. His website provides information and resources, such as bulletin inserts, homilies, documents, and images.

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Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


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Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for November 2014
Lonely people:
That all who suffer loneliness may experience the closeness of God and the support of others.
Mentors of seminarians and religious: That young seminarians and religious may have wise and well-formed mentors.

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1 - 10 of 14 Comments

  1. Joseph Saviour Natoli S F O
    3 years ago

    IT IS VERY IMPORTANT IN A TRUE,SINCERE,CONSTANT CHRISTIAN WAY OF
    LIFE TO PLEDGE OBBEDIENCE TO THE HOLY FATHER............IT IS IMPORT
    ANT TO PRAY DAILY FOR HOLY RELIGIOUS & SECULAR PRIESTS.......WE NE
    ED MANY PADRE PIOS........TO LEAD BACK MANY TO GOD.........

    JOSEPH S NATOLI SFO..............

  2. Elizabeth Zubres
    4 years ago

    If I was just spirit, my faith would be easy because I could discern it in the spirit realm. But as a human being, I sometimes need pictures, statues, music, text to help me visualize and grasp the enormity of our Faith. The heart responds and opens to beauty and nothing is more beautiful than our God.

    When I'm in a stark, barren place (church or any building or place), I respond differently. I feel art is a wondrous gift to enhance our "love affair" with the Lord.

    On a romantic occasion, we offer each other music, nice scents, beautiful environments all to "set the mood." Why shouldn't we do this in our worship?

  3. Steve Jussaume
    4 years ago

    Call me a silly-heart, then for not agreeing with you. I actually think a more toned-down church gives us believers more incentive to use absolute faith from the heart. Without the use of any of these depictions we are able to internalize the Holy Spirit, methinks.

    The art is nice, but tell me how many of you have been focused on the decor during Mass when the priest is giving the homily? It's perfect if you have ADD, but to truly focus on the faith and the message being conveyed is absolute faith, to me. Key words : "to me"...subjective.

    Art, sculptures, icons are made by faulty human hands, no matter how nice, it represents imperfection (and, I believe an erroneous view of the Divinity). But,the way God speaks to my heart is perfect. That's the feeling that is literally above and out of this world.

  4. DEACON RON MICHIELI,SFO
    4 years ago

    SACRED ART DRAWS US INTO THE HEART OF CHRIST--WE DID A PUBLIC WITNESS ON DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY AS WE PROCESSED TO DOWNTOWN STERLING, COLORADO. WE GATHERED IN THE GAZEBO NEXT TO THE COURT HOUSE. WE HAD EACH OF OUR MINISTRY GROUPS PRESENT, WITH BANNERS. FOLLOWING FR. ROBERT WEDOW WHO WAS CARRING THE MOST PRECISOUS BODY AND BLOOD OF OUR SAVIOUR WE HAD A LARGE DIVINE MERCY BANNER. WE PRAYED FOR THE WORLD , BLESSED THE NATIONS, CITIES AND TOWNS. THEN WE BLESSED LETTERS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA, NANCY PELOSI, HARRY REID, OUR GOVERNORS AND KEY STATE AND NATIONAL LEGISLATION. THE LETTER WAS THE LETTER OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI "TO THE RULERS OF THE WORLD". WE PROCESSED BACK TO THE CHURCH. IN FRONT OF THE LORD WE PRAYED THE DIVINE MERCY CHAPLET(WE HAVE A LARGE PICTURE OF THE DIVINE MERCY TO THE RIGHT OF OUR ALTER. FOLLOWING THIS FR. ROBERT CELEBRATED MASS! WHAT JOY. JOIN WITH US ALSO IN PRAYER THE THE LETTERS WILL STRIKE THE HEART OF OUR LEADERS WHO GOVERN ABSENT THE WORD OF GOD AND DENY THE HOLY SPIRITS PRESENCE--FOR THEY HAVE EARS BUT DO NOT HEAR, EYES AND THEY DO NOT SEE. PRAISE GOD FOR ALL YOU ARE DOING. WE ARE NOW DOING THE NOVENA FOR OUR HOLY FATHER WHO SUFFERS AS CHRIST DID ON CALVARY--YOURS IN CHRIST, DEACON RON MICHIELI, SFO.

  5. George
    4 years ago

    Certainly God is everywhere. In order to save us God the Son, became incarnate and took flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The very same Savior who walked the earth remains out of love for us in all the tabernacles of the earth so that everyone might come to HIM. We believe this with Divine and Catholic faith. Under the outward of appearance bread, JESUS, PRINCE OF PEACE AND MIGHTY GOD, is really, truly and substantially present with His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. There is no comparison between private prayers said at home and those offered in His REAL PRESENCE. From the tabernacle stream ACTUAL Graces and Mercies. Blessed be God forever.

  6. Marion
    4 years ago

    The old churches were decorated to the Glory of God, but they were also adorned to give focus and visual interpretation of our faith and for those who were illiterate, a narrative to the understanding of our faith. I believe artworks are not a distraction, but enhance the celebration of Mass. I love to see beautiful 'literal' art in Church. Artworks are an important first step of contact for children to visualise Jesus, Mary and the saints who were real human beings, who we can pray to. We all have our own image of Jesus and Mary, these have been handed down to us in history through artworks of the old masters. The Cistine Chapel gives an incredible account of creation. Who would not marvel at the amazing paintings, which leave us in awe. You only have to enter a church adorned with beauty to feel the presence and majesty of God who after all created the creatives. This feeling compels quiet contemplation and therefore leads us to a stillness to reflect upon the Holiness of the place we are in, and furthermore a focus on the Holy Mass and what we are about to participate in. I would welcome the return of traditional artworks. The Divine Mercy image should be displayed in all churches throughout the world. I honestly believe the image has great power and graces which have been promised to us all if we all if we reflect upon this wonderful portrait and trust in its message, which Jesus himself gave to us through Saint Faustina - through ART.

  7. Chiquina Evertsz
    4 years ago

    A really short message: I agree that the lack of sacred images let a void in our lives. Don't we need and enjoy having pictures of our beloved? I definitely do, even -and more so- if they are not among us anymore. With much more importance, we need sacred images to feel close to them. And I'm not refering to the material value -which is great, just the emotional value for each and everyone -which may be greater.

  8. Alex
    4 years ago

    Steve - Colleen and Mary are right. No one is denying the fact that our attention should be focused on the Eucharist - NO ONE! Any Catholic in their right mind knows this. The problem here is that worship is supposed to incorporate ALL the senses - sight, sound, taste, vision, touch. Unfortunately, post-conciliar churches have forgotten this most valuable prerequisite. Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament has been moved out of our sanctuaries to be hidden/tucked away into so-called 'eucharistic chapels' all under the guise of 'reverence'..what complete hooey! Instead we want "gathering spaces" where we can visit with our neighbors, chit-chat and experience "fellowship" - just like the Protestants. We used to be able to walk into quiet, beautifully-adorned churches knowing we were on holy ground. Now we walk into spaces that look like hotel lobbies and gymnasiums where everyone is milling about wondering how their rendition of a Christian pop favorite will bode well at communion-time or how their liturgical dance number will look set to some new-age selection picked by an over-zealous liturgist. It's way too out-of-control nowadays! Worship is vertical - It should lift our hearts and minds to the Lord through the actions of the priest. Instead we get a circular/horizontal motion where everything is focused on the people and away from God. I guess that would explain why most traditionally-appointed churches have the highest number in attendance? One must remember that the design, art and structure of our churches derived from catechesis. Stained glass taught the illiterate important biblical lessons, the rood screen symbolized the veil between the heavenly and temporal, gothic arches drew our eyes upward to the heavens where there were usually frescoes or other images. The high altar was our focal point - beautifully carved marble or wooden reredos housed statues once again drawing our attention upward. Incense symbolized our prayers rising up to God while chant, sacred polyphony or organ accompanied all these sacred actions. Many young people (myself included) feel robbed of our traditional Catholic heritage when it comes to tasteful liturgy. Everything wreaks of trends/fads from the 60s and 70s where all things were considered relative - including Faith. Sadly it seems, Catholic churches are going in the direction of mega-church like auditoriums with cafes and regularly scheduled Christian rock concerts. The great thing is that most people are waking up to this nonsense and are discovering the jewels discarded by Vatican II liturgists/enthusiasts and reviving the sacred once again.

    Pax Christi

  9. Mary Warren
    4 years ago

    Steve you are quite harsh in your comments to Colleen. We are His Church and yes he is everywhere, but the Eucharist IS a very special presence of Jesus. To have the tabernacle behind glass doors is a misreading of Vatican II. The starkness of many of the churches is perhaps why you think 'the building is nothing but a building'. Because we have the True Presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle the building should not be an ordinary building. The reason for beautiful churches was and is to give glory to God! The artwork should help us raise our hearts to the Lord. We should surround our Lord with beauty because He deserves nothing less from us. The statues are not worshiped, but they give our hearts and eyes an image to meditate on. If the statues are stark, minimalistic, no color, it is a let down to our hearts whether we realize it or not. Contrary to helping us focus only on the Lord, the starkness makes it 'nothing but a building.'

  10. Steve Jussaume
    4 years ago

    Colleen, are you serious?!!? Seriously, though...really?!? You believe that Jesus "feels" locked up? Get real. You think Jesus really gives a hoot about what the church edifice looks like? The church is his people and those that follow his teachings and apply it to their lives.

    The building is nothing but a building. It's nice to have the nice things, but if you're there for how "nice" it looks ,then you're better off going to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to find your "nice". Unbelievable. If your pastor is not cutting it, or you dont feel that he conveys the message , thats one thing; but to leave for something so shallow is just that.

    Furthermore, if you feel that Jesus is ONLY behind that little door, then you need to take a better look around, because the last time every other Christian checked, God is everywhere.

    The art is nice and it's cool-looking, but none of it will get you to where we all need to be....in the loving arms of the Father. I hope your faith is strengthened, because in our darkest hour that's all we're going to have.


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