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Through history, the church has shared its truth through its art

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

One of my favorite events in the archdiocese is Benedictine College’s annual Symposium on Transforming Culture. This year’s theme was: The Power of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist as a Source of Cultural Transformation. The theme was chosen in part to support the National Pastoral Initiative for Eucharistic Revival sponsored by the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops.

I was privileged to celebrate Mass for the symposium participants and to attend the closing keynote address by Elizabeth Lev, who is a member of both Duquesne University’s Italian Campus and the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome faculties. I highly recommend Professor Lev’s book: “How Catholic Art Saved the Faith: The Triumph of Beauty and Truth in Counter-Reformation Art.”

We are fortunate to live at a time when the Bible is very accessible to us. We should all read and pray over the Bible, especially the Gospels. The Bible is not meant to be speed read. We should pray over it slowly, meditating on the word of God and reflecting upon its meaning for our life.

However, for most of the history of Christianity, most people could not read or pray over the Bible. The vast majority of Christians were not able to read the Bible because it was not translated into their native language and, besides, they were illiterate. We are very blessed to live at a moment in Christian history when the Bible is very available to us.

Throughout its history, the church has used art to communicate the truths of our faith. Beauty remains an important way that not only instructs us in the truths of our faith but also inspires us to embrace God’s incredible love revealed through Jesus.

One of the most striking features of our cathedral — the Cathedral of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles — is its beautiful windows. I encourage you to make a pilgrimage to the cathedral during daylight hours, especially on a bright sunny day, to enjoy the splendor of the windows. If you are unable to come to the cathedral, please visit the cathedral website where you can gaze upon photos of the windows.

I encourage you to meditate especially on the windows that adorn the sanctuary of the cathedral. There are seven windows. As you view the windows from the pews, the three on the right depict three events from the Book of Genesis. The windows portray the three figures of the Old Testament that are remembered in the first eucharistic prayer for Mass.

The first window on the far right portrays Abel offering a sacrifice to God. Abel was a rancher — a keeper of the flocks. Genesis describes Abel’s offering as “one of the best firstlings of his flock.” The Bible also states that “the Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering” (Gn 4:4).

The next window on the right renders God’s angel preventing Abraham from sacrificing his beloved son Isaac (Gn 22: 1-18). Isaac was more precious to Abraham than his own life. This entire episode seems incredible to us today. However, in the pagan culture of Abraham’s era, human sacrifice, particularly the sacrifice of children, was common.

The next window on the right, closest to the center, portrays Melchizedek, a mysterious priest and king of Salem, who blesses Abraham and offers him bread and wine (Gn 14: 18-20).

The three windows on the left feature the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple; the multiplication of the loaves of bread and fish with which Jesus fed the crowd of 5,000; and the Last Supper. The center window is the crucifixion of Jesus on Calvary that is made present to us at each celebration of the Eucharist. If you understand what is portrayed and symbolized in all of the cathedral sanctuary windows, you will have an excellent grasp of what transpires on every Catholic altar during the celebration of Mass.

I am very hopeful about the impact of the National Eucharistic Revival initiative upon the people of our archdiocese. Our evangelization office has a beautiful website with both formation and prayer resources to foster growth in love for the gift of the Eucharist. Lee McMahon, a member of our evangelization team, has also produced a podcast entitled “New Manna,” featuring interviews with priests, deacons and laity reflecting on the beauty and the power of the Eucharist.

The National Eucharistic Revival website also offers a wealth of resources. It provides a weekly meditation guide that could be used for prayer anywhere, but especially as a help for time spent in eucharistic adoration. The website describes the reason and purpose for the Eucharistic Revival initiative with these words:

“Our world is hurting. We all need healing, yet many of us are separated from the very source of our strength. Jesus Christ invites us to return to the source and summit of our faith in the celebration of the Eucharist. The National Eucharistic Revival is a movement to restore understanding and devotion to this great mystery here in the United States by helping us renew our worship of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.”

If we understand what Our Lord offers to us at each and every Eucharist, how can our hearts not be filled with gratitude? The Creator of the Cosmos, the Second Person of the Triune God, the Lord of lords and King of kings makes himself present to us. Jesus, the Bread of Life, desires to feed us with his essence — his flesh and blood. What else could be more important to us than receiving Our Lord in holy Communion? What could prevent us from spending time in adoration and prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament?

I encourage you during Holy Week to participate in your parish Triduum liturgies — the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday; the celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday; and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night. Of course, you are most welcome to participate in any of the Triduum liturgies at the Cathedral of St. Peter.

I am praying that this time of National Eucharistic Revival will be the catalyst to deepen our wonder and awe at the great gift of the Eucharist. May we open our hearts to the miracle of grace that transpires at every celebration of the Mass! May we take advantage of the opportunity to adore and pray before our eucharistic Lord in our churches and adoration chapels! May we experience what St. John Paul described as “eucharistic amazement,” allowing our hearts to be transformed by the real presence of Jesus so that we can be instruments of transforming the world with his love alive within us!

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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