Reflecting Heaven Part 23: More Stained Glass

09-29-2021Reflecting HeavenFr. Don Kline, V.F.

“Art is meant to bring the divine to the human world, to the level of the senses, then, from the spiritual insight gained through the senses and the stirring of the emotions, to raise the human world to God, to his inexpressible kingdom of mystery, beauty, and life.’”
– Built of Living Stones §142

This week we look at six more stained glass windows that will fill the clear glass now flanking the doors on the north side of our church as well as the windows located in our confessionals.

These windows depict images of the Blessed Virgin, with the aim of drawing us to a closer relationship with her merciful Son, Jesus. These six windows depict the Blessed Virgin Mary under the titles: Refuge of Sinners, Comforter of the Afflicted, Help of Christians, Health of the Sick, Virgin Most Merciful, and Mirror of Justice.

I found these reflections from the University of Dayton to be helpful.

Refugium Peccatorum - Refuge of Sinners

This illustration of Our Lady’s role as advocate for spiritual and corporal works of mercy is filled with rich symbolism. Mother Mary is holding the Child Jesus. That are surrounded by three biblical scenes. Each one of them depicts in miniature size a situation of danger, temptation or fault with subsequent conversion and/or mercy:

  1. In the lower half center, we see the rendering of Saint Peter’s vision of the large sheet filled with all animals of earth and sky (Acts 10:11-12). Peter had to change his opinion about what is clean and unclean in order to comply with God’s will.
  2. The miniature to the left of Peter portrays a safe harbor (Psalm 10 8:30). Those who went off to sea experienced distress, but God brought them to the harbor they longed for.
  3. To the right of Peter’s vision is a town-like grouping of houses, churches and castles. They are a symbol of refuge for the needy, possibly reflecting 1 Maccabees 10:13,14 and the stronghold of Beth-zur.

This beautiful window reminds us that God loves His people (Psalm 87:4f). It is Mary’s role to bring God’s love into the world, to be the intercessor for all, and to give hope and help to sinners.

Consolatrix Afflictorum - Comforter of the Afflicted

Mary is the solace, consolation and comforter of our life. This is the meaning of the caption borrowed from the book of Tobit (chapter 10). Her portrait is enclosed in the disk of the moon. The contrast between Mary’s constancy, fidelity and unwavering faith and the changing status of the waxing and waning moon heightens Mary’s reliability as consoler and comforter. In antiquity, the moon was guide and protector of charioteers. Similarly, Mary’s comfort forbids mere indulgence; she gives direction and points the way. She is leading the erring pilgrim (lower right) who sees in her the comforter of affliction (Psalm 119). In the storms of life (see ship lower left) Mary dispenses solace to those who remain faithful to the Holy One (Job 6:10). Thus, Mary is comforter of the afflicted because she is both mother of and intercessor with Christ.

Auxilium Christianorum - Help of Christians

The meek and mild mannered representation of Mother and Child contrasts sharply with the amassed military paraphernalia surrounding them. Coat of arms (cross and half-moon) and armament are reminiscent of the opposition between Christians and Turks, and the naval battle featured evokes the October 7, 1571 victory of the Holy League under Don Juan of Austria against the Turks. The victory of Lepanto was given a special Marian meaning because of its connection with the month of October and the rosary. Commemorative coins bear the inscription: “The Lord’s right hand is raised, the Lord’s right hand strikes with power” (Psalm 118:16), and the date of the victory on October 7 was chosen by Gregory XIII as the annual feast of the rosary.

This window hails God’s support and warns the enemies of the faith: “Woe to the nations that rise against my people! The Lord Almighty will requite them” (Judith 16:17). Pope Pius V officially added this invocation to the Litany of Loreto in 1571.

Salus Infirmorum - Health of the Sick

The representation of Our Lady is that of the Orante with hands folded in prayer of intercession. But the image also expresses Mary’s “compassion,” her suffering with those who suffer: “Quis infirmatur et ego non infirmor” (attributed to Saint Paul). Mary is not the ultimate source of health and redemption (salus). It is God himself who heals all our infirmities, as indicated in Psalm 103:3.

The image of Mary is surrounded by the symbols of the apothecary and medical professions. The lower half of the illustration contrasts sickness (a sick person on her sick bed) and healing (possibly an allusion to the pool of Bethesda). “Health of the Sick,” Mary is a true physician. But her medical equipment is not the stethoscope. She acts as a healer by radiating holiness (virtue).

Virgo Clemens - Virgin Most Merciful

Her hands folded and head inclined, Mary suggests meekness and compassion. The various inscriptions highlight this advocation, The image of the heart at the bottom of the medallion, recalls Sacred Scripture, “My heart is like melting wax” (Psalm 21). The bottom half of the illustration pictures the wedding feast of Cana, a further reference to Mary’s attentiveness to human needs and her merciful intercession. “I will be merciful to you for you have found favor with me” (Exodus 33).

Speculum Justitiae - Mirror of Justice

The various symbolic meanings of the mirror highlight: (1) purity of the soul, (2) self-knowledge and moral integrity, as well as (3) the mirror’s ability to reflect reality. Mary’s soul is holy and pure. She reflects the Sun of Justice, meaning God’s perfection and holiness. She is the mirror without blemish of God’s majesty (Wisdom 7:6). The Sun of Justice is reflected in the image of Mother and Child. The angel with balance and sword, usually a symbol of justice, signifies God’s perfection. There is a second and oval mirror whose surface is tainted and marred. In it, three shadowy silhouettes can be barely perceived, featuring Adam or sinful humanity between Good and Evil which is Satan, beckoning and tempting, and the Guardian Angel watching over his protégé. This mirror does not reflect light and perfection but darkness and sin, or at least the blurred human vision of God and eternity. Thus Paul reminds us that “at present we see indistinctly as in a mirror, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The ultimate aim of every stained glass project in every Catholic church is to help draw us to a closer relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. That, of course, is the aim of our Blessed Mother, as well.

As we contemplate these windows and what they portray, may our prayer be that these windows, the story of Mary and Jesus in glass, light, and color, may become also our own story. May we remain open to God’s healing mercy and love, and may we be strengthened by Our Lady’s faithfulness to God that we too may share in the Love of Christ! Amen.

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