Tuesday, July 06, 2021

How the Core Imagery in Your Domestic Church Should Differ from a Parish Church

In the book The Little Oratory, my co-author Leila Lawler and I describe the traditional layout for images at the core of those in an icon corner or domestic church. The schema is as follows: Our Lady with Our Lord on the left, Christ on the Cross in the center, and the Risen Christ (a Mandylion, Christ in Majesty or Blessing Christ), on the right.

The one above uses traditional iconographical art. Although it is called an icon coner (or “image corner”), it doesn’t have to have icons. A standing crucifix and art in any of the Western traditional styles will work just as well. The logic is that we have a summary of salvation history symbolized here: the historical Christ on the left, with His Mother, from whom He took His humanity, then the passion and death of Our Lord, and then Christ in heaven. We live with him, die with him and are raised up with him by “putting on Christ” as St Paul refers to it in Galatians 3, 27, through baptism, confirmation, and communion.

I first found about this when I read a book called Earthen Vessels - The Practice of Personal Prayer According to Patristic Tradition written by Gabriel Bunge, who was a Swiss Benedictine monk. 
I had always assumed that this should be the basic layout in our parish churches too. To a certain extent, this is correct. However, I noticed that even in Eastern Rite/Byzantine Catholic churches, which are typically more concerned about following this tradition than Roman Catholic churches, the schema is not always followed precisely. 
Sometimes, in the icon screen, the central cross is absent, or if it is there at all it is tiny, barely noticeable, and sometimes even with Christ not present on the cross.
I had often wondered why ths might be, given the evident importance of the passion, which it seemed to be downplayed so much. 
Recently it was explained to me. When the Royal Doors are opened for Divine Liturgy, the altar will be visible and the liturgy will be taking place. The death and resurrection is being played out in front of us; in other words, the events that link the left image to the right are happening before our eyes. The altar represents not just the place of sacrifice, but also the body of Christ being sacrificed.
In the Roman Rite, we have more of a tradition of churches with images of the crucifixion, of course; if done well, this can be used to reinforce our understanding of what is happening in front of us. If the crucifixion is placed so to as to connect very obviously and visually with the celebration of Mass at the altar, the same message is communicated. 
What we are seeing here is that both Rites are concerned with the communication of the importance of the Passion visually, but choose to emphasize its importance in different ways.
In the domestic church, there is no celebration to observe; we are the ones praying the liturgy so there is great merit to having a crucifixion prominently placed.

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