When we went to the movies at the Loews Alpine, or Fortway, movies often began with a large lion roaring within a circle. It was the trademark of the MGM movie productions. Above the circle were the Latin Words, Ars Gratia Artis. (Translation Art for Arts sake).
Once I was taking care service to JFK airport. I was going to Spain, for the beatification of Spanish Redemptorist martyrs, killed during the Spanish Civil War. I was looking forward to seeing this magnificent and interesting country. The driver asked me, “Where are you going.” I told him “Spain!” He told me that I really should go to Greece. I asked if he was from Greece, and he began to speak so lovingly about his homeland. He reminded me of Cosmo, the father of Tula in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. He asked me, “Who do you think is the smartest man that ever lived?” I was just about to answer, “Leonardo DaVinci,” but he interrupted me, answering his own question. “I will tell you who the smartest man who ever lived was, it was Socrates!” He gave me a lecture on Socrates, all the way to the airport.
I am reading now a biography of Leonardo DaVinci, by Walter Issacson. DaVinci was wonderfully gifted and talented in so many fields: art, architecture, in engineering and
inventions. His note books captured some of the ideas that poured out of the fertile mind of this amazing man.
He was born near Florence, the home of so many artists. He moved later to Milan. His famous paintings of the Last Supper and Mona Lisa were done there. Of the gifts that God has given us human
beings is the ability to imagine, to draw, paint, sculpt, compose, write, play instruments, write poetry, to dream and build, to garden, all reflect the human longing for beauty. All good art lifts us up to contemplate beauty. Artists help us to see much more than the surface of things, revealing their essence. Goodness, Truth and Beauty are the doors to the Transcendent, the doors that help us experience that there is something more, something beyond. It is a short step from there to appreciate the Goodness, Truth and Beauty of God.
The people who dreamed, who sacrificed, who planned and built our beautiful parish church gave us a precious gift, the gift of beauty expressed in art. Our church, standing on a hill is breathtakingly beautiful. It soars upward. The symmetry, the small details, carved into stone many so high that we have not seen them. Why even bother? Answer: “Ars gratia Artis”,(Art for Arts sake). Our church in its splendor points the way to God.
“How awesome is this place! This is the house of God; this is the gateway to heaven.”(Genesis 28:10-)
If the outside of our Basilica is breathtaking, the inside is stunning. Prayer, we learned in the Baltimore Catechism is, “lifting up the mind and the heart to God.” The art in our church lifts mind, heart, and senses up to God. Walk around the upper church slowly some day. Let yourself be caught up in the Beauty that surrounds us there, that we often don’t see, or take for granted.
Look at our stained glass windows. On the sides of the church they show scenes from the New Testament, the life of Christ. See on the walls, the 14 Stations of the Cross, carved in bas relief that follow the journey of Jesus to Calvary. Look above the confessionals. There is another golden bas relief carving of the Good Shepherd, with the lost sheep on his shoulders and the 99 other sheep. This is very similar to the pectoral cross that Pope Francis uses.
Look up at the altar. Jesus is crucified, surrounded by his Mother, Mary Magdalene and the Beloved Disciple. See mosaics. See paintings of two great figures of the Old Testament on the 59th Street side of the church, Moses and David. See two great preachers who pointed the way to Jesus, Saints John the Baptist and Paul. See Christ the king in the center. Look further up, a ring of angels hover over the altar painted on the wall high above the altar. Think of the words of the preface of the Mass, “With angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions and with all the hosts of heaven, we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Above the altar on the dome of the church is a mural of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, the feast we celebrate on August 15th. Mary, who was preserved from sin (Immaculate Conception) did not suffer the consequences of sin, (death) but was brought body and soul into heaven. See the angels singing to welcome her, the apostles looking up.
The 59th Street side has a beautiful altar dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The 60th Street side has the tabernacle, treasuring the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. There are newer artworks too. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe tells our Hispanic, and especially our Mexican parishioners, that they are welcome, that the image of Mary that they honor is honored here. There is an image of Christ crucified called Christ of the Miracles. (Cristo de los Milagros) on the 59th Street Side.
Around the altar are four statues of saints: Saint Patrick the saint that brought the Catholic faith to Ireland. Three Redemptorist saints are there too: Saint Alphonsus, the founder of the Redemptorists, Saint Gerard Majella, the patron of expectant mothers and those who are experiencing fertility issues, and Saint Clement Hofbauer, the first non-Italian to join the Redemptorist who helped spread the Redemptorist congregation beyond Italy.
There are two rose windows, stained glass windows that are on the transepts of the church. They are round, like a rose petal. The choir loft has a large stained glass window that bathes much of our church in a cooling blue light.
The beauty of art. We are trying to continue to inspire art, religious art. We are encouraging our young people to enter an art contest, focusing their talent on Jesus, Mary, the Church, Sacraments, and Family. On Sunday June 10th the 12:15 Sunday Mass will be a Jubilee Mass for the young people and children of our parish. We will display all the art that our young people submit. Please young artists, let your imagination and talent run wild. Sign your art, put your age and address on them. We will have a party in Notre Dame Hall, and see all your talent.