The fine arts, but above all sacred art, “of their nature are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands…” (CCC 2513).
The Ascension of the Lord
After Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, He continued to appear to His disciples for a period of 40 days. After this time, with His Apostles gathered around Him on the Mount of Olives, Jesus was taken up bodily into heaven, as recorded in the Gospels. To comfort them in His physical absence, He promised to send them a Consoler and Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be with them and to guide them into all truth until the end of the world. The Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord is celebrated on the 40th day after Easter Sunday, also called Ascension Thursday. It is a Holy Day of Obligation, and among the oldest and most solemn feasts on the liturgical calendar. In many dioceses the celebration of the feast is transferred to the following Sunday.
Reflection on the Painting by Nigel Halliday
Rembrandt’s Ascension is sometimes dismissed as one of his less successful works. It is one of a group of paintings – the Entombment, the Resurrection and the Ascension – commissioned by the Dutch head of state, Stadtholder Frederik Hendrik, to hang in his private art gallery in The Hague. It was a huge and important commission that could further establish Rembrandt’s rising reputation and yet it seems to have caused him considerable difficulty…
This is not one of those Rembrandts that seem to peer deeply into a man’s soul. We see a group of disciples simply staring in awe as Jesus is taken up to heaven. The scene is lit from above and the heavenly light filters down to the faces of the disciples, symbolizing their genuine but partial understanding. At the left-hand side a giant palm tree – a symbol of God’s people – holds the two realms of heaven and earth together.
And yet, perhaps its simplicity is a strength. What else is there to show? Isn’t staring in awe exactly the right response? Jesus has been raised from the dead and has been with the disciples for 40 days. That was amazing enough. But now he has been taken bodily into heaven. What does that tell us?
An excerpt from Perfect God and Perfect Man, by Nigel Halliday, Artway Visual Meditation, May 28, 2017. For more reflection see https://www.artway.eu/content.php?id=2354&lang=en&action=show
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Truth Beauty, and Sacred Art (2501)
Created “in the image of God,” man also expresses the truth of his relationship with God the Creator by the beauty of his artistic works. Indeed, art is a distinctively human form of expression; beyond the search for the necessities of life which is common to all living creatures, art is a freely given superabundance of the human being’s inner riches. Arising from talent given by the Creator and from man’s own effort, art is a form of practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill, to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight or hearing. To the extent that it is inspired by truth and love of beings, art bears a certain likeness to God’s activity in what he has created. Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by the ultimate end of man (CCC 2501).
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
– St. Paul, Letter to the Philippians (4:8)
Be not afraid! And may the peace of Christ be with you and your loved ones today and always. Holy Family pray for us. Amen.