Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
Back in the summer of 2007 we decided to add a beautiful stained glass window to the gym / worship space at Holy Cross Academy. The architect who designed the space had incorporated a beautiful round window above the stage / sanctuary for Mass and we sought a design that would incorporate the Paschal Mystery—the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus—as well as the role of Mary the Mother of God in God’s plan. Since the Holy Cross has two elements, the vertical and horizontal, we decided to design a catechism in stained glass to tell the story.
From left to right we see the story of Jesus: his birth in Bethlehem, his crucifixion at Calvary, after rising from the dead, his sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and Mary. Notice, Mary is present for all of these events as the Church is born. From bottom to top is another catechesis about Mary herself, first at the Annunciation when Gabriel announces to her that she is to be the Mother of God, then, again at Calvary when that Incarnation of Jesus finds its greatest expression of love, emptying himself of life on the Cross, and at top, Mary being crowned Queen of heaven and earth after her Assumption into heaven. Her queenship echoes the account in revelation of her surrounded with a corona of stars and about to give birth now in eternity, as Jesus continues to become present to us through the Church’s sacraments. The shape that surrounds her is a Romanesque form called a mandorla: it is the shape made by the intersection of two circles which symbolizes Christ—one circle is his humanity, the other is his divinity. The mandorla was part of a visual catechism that was used in the church since the 11th century.
I was looking at this window again the other day realizing how often I walk in and out of the gym and never even give it an extra thought—how much more interesting it might be to remind people of it, especially those who might be new to the parish and have never actually studied it.
The four “corners” of the Cross, of course, are the symbols of the four Evangelists. The top left figure of the lion represents Saint Mark; the upper right ox represents Saint Luke, then on the bottom the human figure is the symbol of Saint Matthew, and the eagle, Saint John.
But the design element that unites all of these images is light. The Oblate Sisters of Saint Francis de Sales have a special devotion to Our Lady of Light, depicted in the Stations of the Cross in their motherhouse in Troyes, France, where Mary holds an oil lamp lighting the way for the funeral procession as they carry the Body of Jesus to the tomb after the Crucifixion. We chose to incorporate this use of light in all images: the star at Bethlehem, Mary’s oil lamp at the darkness of the Crucifixion, the rays of light and flames coming from the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, as well as the light of the Holy Spirit coming from outside the image at the Annunciation, and the rays of light revealing Mary in her glorified humanity in heaven, a glorified body which we will all be able to share one day in heaven because of her generosity in saying “yes” to God.
Don’t forget Mary’s feast day—and holy day of obligation, Mary, Mother of God—this Thursday and Friday, also New Year’s Eve and new year’s day. Let’s start the new year with a celebration.
God bless you, and Merry Christmas!