A feast for the eyes: a visual presentation of the priesthood
THE CATHOLIC PRIEST IMAGE OF CHRIST:
Through Fifteen Centuries of Art
by Steen Heidemann
(Gracewing, 2009, hardback, 320pp, $120.00, ISBN 978-0- 85244-178-7.
Available from Freedom Publishing)
The boy's cheeky face smiles back at you over his shoulder, inviting you into the canvas even while in his left hand the bell is upraised calling to attention. The eye is then drawn to the right where the slightly older boy, perhaps his brother, calls him to attention by the look he is giving him and the whispered words that you can almost see leaving his slightly parted lips.
It makes you turn back to the little imp and then you become aware that the rich, red brocade backdrop to his head is actually the chasuble on the back of a priest who is the centrepiece of the picture. The older boy holds back the red curtain that would otherwise block the scene from our eyes, and so frames the action at the centre of the painting.
At first glance the priest appeared to me to be looking into a mirror and I saw with a start that the face reflected back at him was that of a woman with a white veil. Then I realised it was not a mirror framed with silver and inlaid with precious stones but an opening in the wall through which the priest was giving the woman, identifiable now as a nun, holy communion.
The painting (on page 19) is a dynamic depiction of the life of the church - from the young boys serving at the altar, the younger appropriately for his age unable to curb his exuberance, to the man completely focused on his role, to the enclosed nun completely engrossed in receiving holy communion, part of her prayer for the day for the whole Church.
This is but one of the marvellous paintings contained in this beautiful coffee table book, The Catholic Priest Image of Christ: Through fifteen Centuries of Art. Published at the end of the Year of the Priest it is a fitting tribute being informative and educative with numerous beautiful paintings interspersed with explanations of the various aspects of the priesthood depicted.
Most of all it is a joy to look at these magnificent depictions by master painters of priests in their prayer, song, pastoral ministry and adoration. It would be a wonderful gift for a relative or friend who is a priest (or the mother or father of a priest) or for a parish to give to a parish priest, especially if he is celebrating an important milestone.
Among my many favourites in this collection is one of a young priest on the day of his ordination which is full of emotion (pages 64-65). Here he embraces his mother while his father weeps, standing alone some distance from the group of priests and altar boys clustered in the sanctuary while the congregation looks on.
Another depicts Christian martyrs in the Colosseum (page 220) and is titled "Christian Martyrs, the last prayer". The group (including a child) huddles together while a large lion, newly emerged from under the arena, fills the foreground. The light is fading and their coming martyrdom is lit by the bodies of their fellow Christians who are serving as fiery torches around the edges of the arena.
This book provides an art gallery of world class paintings that enrich appreciation of the Catholic priesthood and provide endless sources of spiritual inspiration.