Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Feast of the Ascension

This Sunday's Gospel is the Ascension of the Lord. Mark does not describe the Ascension, but artists have painted symbolic depictions of the event for centuries. This is a 1497 painting of the Ascension by the Italian Renaissance artist Pietro Perugino. The painting is rich in symbolism.

Perugino divides the painting into two parts, upper and lower, depicting heaven and earth. In heaven, the figure of Jesus is the centerpiece. His left hand points upward toward heaven. His right hand is raised in a gesture of blessing. On both sides of him are angels and cherubim representing heaven. The angels play musical instruments, which is a way of rejoicing in this glorious event.

On earth, the apostles stand gazing upward in awe, which is a reference to Acts 1:10, "They were looking intently up into the sky." Mary is directly underneath Christ. She can be identified by her blue cloak, as blue is the color symbolic of heaven and it is a reminder of Mary's role as the Queen of Heaven. Mary also represents the mother figure of the Christian church, which Jesus is leaving behind on earth.

To the left of Mary is Peter who holds a key. This is a symbol in reference to Matthew 16:19, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven." To the right of Mary is Paul who holds a sword. This is a symbol of the manner in which he was executed by decapitation. Paul also holds a book which is a symbol of him as the author of the Epistles.

Paul was not actually present at the Ascension. Mattias is also seen in the painting, although he was not chosen Apostle at the time of the Ascension. The painting is not meant to be a historic portrayal of the event. Instead, it shows the Apostles witnessing this incredible act of faith.

Jennifer Wood
St. Monica Young Ministering Adults
Santa Monica

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