From November 2013 until May 2014, I had the unique privilege of painting the sanctuary wall behind the altar in Sacred Heart Church in the NSW city of Griffith.
The inspiration for this mural was a vision of St Lucia, one of the three children to whom Our Blessed Lady appeared at Fatima in 1917.
St Lucia later joined the St Dorothy Sisters in Pontevedra, Portugal. In 1929, while praying in the convent chapel, she saw a vision of the Holy Trinity which she described in these words:
"Being alone one night, I knelt near the rails in the middle of the chapel and, prostrate, I prayed the prayers of the Angel. Feeling tired, I then stood up and continued to say the prayers with my arms in the form of a cross. The only light was that of the sanctuary lamp.
"Suddenly the whole chapel was illumined by supernatural light, and above the altar appeared a cross of light, reaching to the ceiling.
"In a brighter light at the upper part of the cross, could be seen the face of a man and his body as far as the waist upon his breast was a dove of light nailed to the cross was the body of another man.
"A little below the waist, I could see a chalice and a large host suspended in the air, on to which drops of blood were falling from the face of Jesus Crucified and from the wound in His side.
"These drops ran down on to the host and fell into the chalice. Beneath the right arm of the cross was Our Lady and in her hand was her Immaculate Heart.
"Under the left arm of the cross, large letters, as if of crystal clear water which ran down upon the altar, formed these words: 'Grace and Mercy'. I understood that it was the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity which was shown to me, and I perceived inner lights about this mystery which I am not permitted to reveal."
Our Lady spoke to Sr Lucia, asking her "to request the Holy Father, in union with all the bishops of the world, to make the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, promising to save it by this means ... I gave an account of this to the confessor, who ordered me to write down what Our Lady wanted done."
In these troubled times we ask Our Lady of Fatima to intercede for our World, our beloved Holy Father and our Church.
In the earthly liturgy, by way of foretaste, we share in that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, and in which Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. In the Mass, we sing the Gloria, the hymn to the Lord's glory, with all the angels in Heaven.
As this hymn prepared the shepherds to adore the newborn Son of God, so it is a song of adoration of God made present on our altars. Our Guardian Angels can also help us to receive the Good News of the Liturgy of the Word just as the Archangel Gabriel prepared Mary to receive the Word of God.
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as the priest represents the Passion of Calvary, the angels adore the Precious Blood, poured out in the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass, as the Letter to the Hebrews says:
"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering and to the assembly of the first born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel (Heb 12:22-24)."
Holy of Holies
Within the Canon of the Mass (the Eucharistic Prayer) we enter into the true Holy of Holies, chanting the " Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus" with the cherubim and seraphim who eternally ponder the God/Man's death on Calvary
"Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest."
At first glance, this representation of the Sacrifice of Calvary would seem to be a long way from a heavenly liturgy.
Yet it is precisely through the Cross and the Sacrifice of the Mass that we have already entered by faith into the "City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb 12), so that after death, we will be brought body and soul into the New Jerusalem where "the Lamb" will be the lamp of the temple, and where we shall worship Him and see His Face: "for the Lord God shall be their light and He shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev 22).
Meanwhile here in the celebration of the earthly liturgy, the angels help us to present our offerings before the altar in heaven.
In the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) the priest prays with the people, "Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in Heaven."
Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa explained how the angel assists the Church to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice in heaven.
"The priest does not pray that the sacramental species may be borne up to heaven nor that Christ's true body may be borne there, for it does not cease to be there; but he offers this prayer for Christ's mystical body, which is signified in this sacrament, that the angel standing by at the Divine mysteries may present to God the prayers of both priest and people, according to Apocalypse 8:4: 'And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel'.
"But God's 'altar on high' means either the Church triumphant, unto which we pray to be translated, or else God Himself, in Whom we ask to share because it is said of this altar (Exodus 20:26): 'Thou shalt not go up by steps unto My altar, i.e., thou shalt make no steps towards the Trinity'" ( Summa, III, Q. 83, art. 4, Reply to Obj. 9).
Bread of Angels
In this way, the angels help those worshipping at Mass to fulfil their own baptismal priesthood: by assisting them in offering their own prayers, works, joys, and sufferings in union with the one sacrifice of Jesus as represented by the ordained priest.
Holy Communion is often called the "Bread of Angels". But why refer to Holy Communion as the bread of angels since angels cannot eat?
Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that the angels do feed spiritually on Christ, adoring Him in Heaven.
In the Summa, he asks, "Whether it belongs to man alone to eat this sacrament spiritually?"
St Thomas answers as follows: "Christ Himself is contained in this sacrament, not under His proper species, but under the sacramental species. Consequently there are two ways of eating spiritually. First, as Christ Himself exists under His proper species, and in this way the angels eat Christ spiritually inasmuch as they are united with Him in the enjoyment of perfect charity, and in clear vision (and this is the bread we hope for in heaven), and not by faith, as we are united with Him here.
"In another way one may eat Christ spiritually, as He is under the sacramental species, inasmuch as a man believes in Christ, while desiring to receive this sacrament and this is not merely to eat Christ spiritually, but likewise to eat this sacrament which does not fall to the lot of the angels.
"And therefore although the angels feed on Christ spiritually, yet it does not belong to them to eat this sacrament spiritually ...
"Consequently, man is said to eat the 'bread of angels', because it belongs to the angels to do so firstly and principally, since they enjoy Him in His proper species and secondly it belongs to men, who receive Christ under this sacrament" ( Summa III, Q 80, art 2).
The Angels of God are perpetually descending and ascending on the Son of Man in His great prayer offered at every Mass, and they are constantly keeping vigil before His substantial presence in every tabernacle and in every monstrance.
Jesus is the Bread of angels, and His angels teach us how to receive Holy Communion worthily so that we poor sinners may forever feed mystically on the Lamb once slain in the light of glory.
Tommy Canning is a contemporary classical artist who has visited Australia in 2013 and 2014. An interview with him was published in AD2000, February 2014). To see examples of Tommy Canning's work, go to his web site: http://art-of-divinemercy.co.uk/. If you would like to commission a painting for your church, retreat house or home, he can be contacted through his web site.