Picture of Our Lady (2017)
Fr. Martin Fuchs´s sermon on the 8th October 2017, Prague, Czech republic
When the Americans occupied the Philippines, a jacket of a sailor fell from the ship. He asked for permission to get his jacket back. But he was not allowed. Nevertheless, he jumped into the sea. Everybody thought he was an undisciplined soldier. After a while he came back with his jacket. He was immediately imprisoned and later sentenced to several years of imprisonment.
General Dewey, the judge, asked him in the end why he jumped into the sea because of such a ragged jacket. The sailor took a picture out of his pocket and showed it to the judge saying: “This my mother.“
He had the picture of his beloved mother in the jacket. He wanted to have her picture back at any price. His mother should be with him in all situations of his life especially in the dangers of the sea. The judge shook hands with the soldier and remitted his punishment. He said: “Sailors who give their lives for the picture of their mother will also give their lives for their country.”
The veneration of this soldier for his mother is only a weak copy of the love we should have for our Heavenly Mother. All saints had the picture of Mary with them – the miraculous medal, the Scapular, the Rosary or any other picture. They defended it when it was in danger to be disfigured by heretics and they did so even by giving their lives.
Christian art protected the true picture of Mary so that the prediction of Mary in the Elisabeth’s house was fulfilled: “For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48)
Every period in Church history had its special fights. And every period would therefore emphasize its own typical attributes of Mary. It is worth to consider the different representations.
At the beginning of the 3rd century we probably have the oldest picture of Our Lady in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome. There is a painting showing a young woman with a little boy upon Her womb. In front of them there is a man pointing with his finger at a star.
It is exactly what we read in Isaias (7:14): “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel“ and what predicted Bileam (Numbers 24:17): “A star shall rise out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel.“
In the Council of Ephesus in 431, the Church pronounced that Mary is Theotokos. This is a dogma, a truth revealed by God. From now on we often see Mary painted with a little boy on Her womb.
Between the 5th and the 7th century, Mary is shown in different, but almost unvaried representations. She wears a blue or purple garment that covers Her hair, Her shoulders, and Her chest. Three stars – on very old icons three crosses – are on Her forehead and on each shoulder on the cloth. They are symbols of Her virginity and the Holy Trinity. On the back side of the pictures we see the Greek letters for “Meter Theou – Mother of God“. Mary is not a goddess but She gave birth to the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity. She prepared in Her body the human body of Our Lord.
On other icons Mary is shown as a “Hodegetria – She Who shows the Way“. She guides the people to Her divine Son. Mary points at Her son with Her right hand who is sitting on Her left arm. The right way is Jesus Christ. He told us in the Holy Gospel of st. John (14:6): “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.“
On these pictures we see on the left hand side the past, the conception, the birth, the childhood of Our Lord and on the right hand side the future, His suffering, our salvation. Jesus is our way to haven and there is no other way. All other ways are wrong ways and lead to hell. That is why Europe will perish. Europe asks not for the Ten Commandments. Europe is a house not built upon a rock but upon the sand. (Matthew 7:24) The European Union has welcomed the murderers and the burglars into her house. Can we be surprised by the attacks and the violence in Barcelona and other places? Who is guilty? Nearly every week the president of the European Union and the presidents of various countries express their condolences and their compassion. They keep a minute of silence. They say that they will fight against terrorism and will have no fear. Is this a real condolence for the attacked people and the nation? If they do not live according to the divine law, they will never have enough police officers. But the worst of all is that they destroy the Catholic faith and civilisation.
From the 11th century on, the Assumption is shown more and more on pictures and in the sanctuaries. We see this truth symbolized for example in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Mary is lying on Her deathbed and around Her there are the Apostles. Behind the bed we can see Jesus Christ who receives Her soul as a little girl.
The Cistercians always have the Assumption as an altarpiece. In a monastery in Rohr in Bavaria, we can see an empty tomb and eleven Apostles around having herbs in their hands. In front of the altar angels are carrying Mary towards Heaven and at the top we see the Holy Trinity. There are eleven Apostles because st. Matthias replaced Judas Iscariot and st. James had already been killed. He looks behind a curtain from the other world to the fellow Apostles.
Between the 10th and the 12th century, the life in the monasteries was reformed. People more often thought of the Judgment at these times and lived in a great fear. They looked for help of the Immaculate Heart. Mary was shown with a large mantle where many people were looking for refuge. In a vision of st. Brigitte, Mary said to her: “Come and have a refuge under my mantle.“
From the 13th century on, we see Mary with a gown covered with ears. Jesus Christ said in the Holy Gospel of st. John (6:41): “I am the living bread which came down from heaven.“ And a bit later (12:24): “Amen, amen I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die. Itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.“
If the faithful want to take part in Jesus Christ, they must receive Him in the Holy Communion and make their souls empty of the worldly things.
In the 14th century, Mary is painted as Pietà. Several places of pilgrimage were devoted to this mystery. Mary is shown sitting with Her dead Son upon Her womb. She carries the fruit of our redemption in Her arms. The name Pietà is an abbreviation of the Italian title “Maria Santissima della Pietà“. In Germany this picture is called “Maria Vesperbild“ because Mary got Her son in the evening – ad vesperam – after the Crucifixion.
Another kind of picture was paint when Mary gave the holy Rosary to st. Dominic. The Rosary communities wanted to paint Mary as the Queen of the Holy Rosary. They made Her a crown of roses. The white roses are symbols for the joyful mysteries, the red roses for the sorrowful mysteries, and the golden roses for the glorious mysteries.
In the 19th and 20th century Our Lady was shown as she Herself presented to people. For example in La Salette in 1846 Our Lady is weeping, in Lourdes in 1858 She was dressed with a white gown and a blue belt and in Fatima in 1917 She had the Holy Rosary in Her hands.
True Catholic art is always according to the divine Revelation, the written and the oral Revelation. Fatima has given the last means for our time since a lot of people are going to lose their faith. She recommended the Holy Rosary, the devotion to the Immaculate Heart and the consecration of Russia.
We should keep the picture of Our Lady with us and have a great devotion to Her. Amen.