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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….”

Catechism of the Catholic Church (2513)

the anointing at bethany

The Anointing at Bethany, Painted by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), Painted in 1618, Oil on canvas © The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg


A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 12:1-11

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came,
not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.

The Gospel of the Lord

Reflection on the Painting

by Patrick van der Vorst

In today’s gospel reading, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, lovingly anoints the feet of Jesus. In a few days’ time, Jesus will wash the feet of his disciples. Mary at the service of Jesus, foretells the way that Jesus will serve his disciples at the Last Supper.

Mary received something hugely precious from Jesus: the gift of life for her beloved brother Lazarus whom Jesus brought back from the dead. She now wanted to give something hugely precious back to the Lord. Her gift was precious also in financial terms. Judas declares that it was worth three hundred denarii, which was a vast sum of money at that time. No expense was spared. Jesus appreciated Mary’s gift not so much for its financial value, but because of its timely quality. Jesus was just about to enter into his passion and death, and Mary anointed Jesus to strengthen him for this ordeal that lay ahead.

Looking forward to my own ordination to the priesthood in June, I read today’s gospel in that deeper context. The oils the Bishop uses for the ordination are also there to strengthen the newly ordained priest for the journey ahead.

Following on from yesterday’s painting by Van Dyck, today we see a collaboration between master (Rubens) and pupil (Van Dyck). Rubens conceives the painting as a dramatic conflict between the Pharisees and Christ. The Pharisees’ world of material values and uncompassionate religious views is opposed to the Christian world of virtue, noble acts, a world of sympathy, charity and goodness. The disciples, taking in the words of their teacher, are portrayed with completely contrasting expressions to those of the Pharisees, on whose faces we can read a lack of comprehension, annoyance and even anger. But it is Mary, who takes center stage in our painting. Our eyes are drawn towards her. Mary is at Jesus’ feet with the jar of ointment. On the right side of Christ, we see her brother, Lazarus. Judas (with some Pharisees behind him) is sitting to the left of our composition. He is already painted with a traitor-like expression, questioning Jesus about the cost of the ointment…

Credit: Patrick van der Vorst, Gospel Reading for Today, Christian Art, Monday of Holy Week - Mary anoints the feet of Jesus; John 12:1-11; https://www.christian.art/todays-reading.php

Information herein posted under the "rules of fair use" to foster education and discussion in accordance with Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976.

For the Mass readings of this Friday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, visit https://bible.usccb.org/daily-bible-reading.

gospel reflection

Friends, in today’s Gospel, Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus’ feet with perfumed oil, preparing him for burial.

This gesture—wasting something as expensive as an entire jar of perfume—is sniffed at by Judas, who complains that, at the very least, the nard could have been sold and the money given to the poor.

Why does John use this tale to preface his telling of the Passion? Why does he allow the odor of this woman’s perfume to waft, as it were, over the whole of the story? It is because, I believe, this extravagant gesture shows forth the meaning of what Jesus is about to do: the absolutely radical giving away of self.

There is nothing calculating, careful, or conservative about the woman’s action. Flowing from the deepest place in the heart, religion resists the strictures set for it by a fussily moralizing reason (on full display in those who complain about the woman’s extravagance). At the climax of his life, Jesus will give himself away totally, lavishly, unreasonably—and this is why Mary’s beautiful gesture is a sort of overture to the opera that will follow.

Credit: Daily Gospel Reflections from Bishop Barron, Word on Fire Ministries, Monday of Holy Week, April 3, 2023. 

Information herein posted under the "rules of fair use" to foster education and discussion in accordance with Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976.

Truth, Beauty, and Sacred Art

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church

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.”

Saint Paul, Letter to the Philippians 4:8
St. Paul by Guercino

St. Paul, Apostle, Martyr, pray for us.

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.

The Holy Family, Murillo
The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities (c. 1675-82) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617 – 1682)

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