Stained glass has been an amazing artform since ancient times. As early as the 7th century, craftsmen began including stained-glass windows in Catholic churches. Since the vast majority of the population was illiterate, the windows included details from stories in the Bible. Imagine the truth and beauty of hearing the Scripture readings at Mass and then looking up at a window depicting the story as the sunlight streams through as if to highlight the listener’s understanding. Perhaps while praying the rosary, one could gaze upward to a window featuring one of the mysteries. Stained-glass windows in churches serve many beautiful purposes!
Our parish is blessed with several wonderful stained-glass windows depicting many aspects of the Eucharist. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the dedication of our church – and the 37th anniversary of the founding of our parish –this two-part series will provide descriptions of the windows in our church. Some of these descriptions include information compiled by our former pastor, Fr. Albert F. Hoorman, more than twenty years ago.
West Side of the Church
Passover [the English noun is derived from the Hebrew, Pesach, (Exodus 12:13)] refers to the religious celebration that commemorates God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The feast was celebrated by the family in their home during the night (specifically, during the full moon of the vernal equinox) on the 14th day of the month of Nisan (typically in April). A young lamb, born that year with neither blemish, nor broken bones (Ex 12:46, Num 9:12) would be slain (Ex 12:13-6) and its blood placed on the door frame and overhead lintel of each household, thus preserving the firstborn son from the angel of death (Ex 12:7, 22). The lamb’s flesh and the unleavened bread were eaten in a manner reflecting a people rushed and about to leave on a journey.
The word catacomb is derived from an early descriptive name of the cemetery of St. Sebastian in Rome. The Latin expression, ad catacumbas, probably meant “near the hollows.” One of the most iconic features of a catacomb is the network of galleries in which the walls once offered ample room for creating niches to place the bodies of the dead. Indeed, judging from the catacombs that have been preserved, this type of burial area seemed to have been used principally by Christians. The presence of the bodies of martyrs in certain catacombs led to extensive renovations, which sometimes involved the creation of an underground sacred area for veneration around the martyrs’ tombs. It is believed that during the very early years of the Church, when Christians were not allowed to practice their faith publicly, they gathered to celebrate the Mass secretly in the catacombs, where their persecutors were less likely to look for them.
Tarsicius was a boy in 3rd century AD Rome. During the great reign of Emperor Valerian, many Christians were persecuted, thrown into prison, and often martyred. As an altar server, and hopefully not noticeable by those who hunted Christians, Tarsicius was tasked with taking the Eucharist to Christians in prison. On his journey, he held the small package in his tunic, next to his heart. A mob of pagans, curious about what he was hiding, beat him, stoned him, kicked him, and tried to pry his hands from his chest to obtain what he was holding. Determined to prevent them from discovering and desecrating the hosts, he protected the Blessed Sacrament with his life. Just before he died, a soldier (secretly a Christian) scattered the crowd and scooped up Tarsiciusinto his arms. With his last breath, Tarsicius asked the soldier to take Jesus to the Christians in prison. “The Boy Martyr of the Holy Eucharist” is the patron saint of altar servers and first communicants.
Latin has been the official language of the Catholic Church since around the 4th century. St. Jerome provided a translation of the Bible from Greek to Latin, the common language of Rome at the time. The Mass was celebrated in Latin around the world until the changes following the Second Vatican Council. Although use of the Latin language has decreased significantly over time, as Christianity spread, hearing Mass in Latin was a unifying aspect of Catholics everywhere. Additionally, a most notable difference at the Latin Mass is that the priest faces the same direction as the people, leading them in prayer “ad orientum,” Latin for “to the east,” which is the direction from which Jesus will return.
Another famous Eucharistic miracle is depicted in this window of St. Clare of Assisi. The History of Saint Clare, Virgin, written by Tommaso da Celano, describes how St. Clare of Assisi succeeded, with the Blessed Sacrament, in turning away Saracen troops employed by Emperor Frederick II of Sweden. The website, therealpresence.org, gives a brief description of the story:
Once, during an enemy attack against Assisi… while the army was approaching the gates, the fierce Saracens invaded San Damiano, entered the confines of the monastery and even the very cloister of the virgins. The women swooned in terror, their voices trembling with fear as they cried to their Mother, Saint Clare. With a fearless heart, [she] commanded them to lead her, sick as she was, to the enemy, preceded by a silver and ivory case in which the Body of the Saint of saints was kept with great devotion… [She beseeched the Lord in prayer and then announced to her sisters,] “…only have faith in Christ.” Upon seeing the courage of the sisters, the Saracens took flight and fled back over the walls they had scaled, unnerved by the strength of she who prayed.
As though it’s reflecting the celebration of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the window above the wall leading to the narthex depicts the Last Supper, when Jesus gave us His very Body and Blood as the Eucharist and His Real Presence for all eternity. There are so many beautiful details in this window, including the apostles with their heads bowed in prayer, the landscape, and the little white lamb.
Windows can be a glimpse to the inside or outside of a building, and with stained-glass, a window can be a glimpse into another time and place. Next time you are in our church, or any church, take several moments to look at a stained-glass window, remind yourself of the story it tells, notice the details within the window, and commit it to memory. The truth and beauty of the artistic craftsmanship of stained-glass windows in churches provide visual and mental reminders of important aspects of our Catholic faith.BACK TO LIST