Built of Living Stones 135: Sacred Images

Statues and colored windows seemed to be everywhere in the Catholic West. Iconography in the East. Roman Catholicism has been open to more possibilities in the past two generations, and this has enriched the life of the Church.

§ 135 § Reflecting the awareness of the Communion of Saints, the practice of incorporating symbols of the Trinity, images of Christ, the Blessed Mother, the angels, and the saints into the design of a church creates a source of devotion and prayer for a parish community and should be part of the design of the church.(Book of Blessings 1258) Images can be found in stained glass windows, on wall frescos and murals, and as statues and icons. Often these images depict scenes from the bible or from the lives of the saints and can be a source of instruction and catechesis as well as devotion. Since the Eucharist unites the Body of Christ, including those who are not physically present, the use of images in the church reminds us that we are joined to all who have gone before us, as well as to those who now surround us.

An Orthodox priest once gave a moving presentation on the view of images in churches. He spoke of the iconostasis as well as the windows in his cathedral, and explained the sense his parishioners received of being surrounded by the saints in their worship. And that “enclosure” had many meanings: protection, formation in the faith, and most of all a reminder of the timelessness of liturgy and that Christians join across the ages in praise of the eternal God. I remember few details, but for me it was a change in my own perspective about the images of saints.

My own boyhood parish church had windows that were impressive, statues less so. (Though the Infant of Prague informed me of the liturgical season before each Mass–it was carefully vested in colors that matched the clergy vestments.) The Lourdes grotto was reproduced in a fifteen-foot wide tableau. Aside from flowers to Mary, I never had a sense the artwork was much more than a comforting decoration, a badge of Catholicism, and not-Protestantism. It seems that sacred images should be “engaged” spiritually. What do you think?

All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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