A View from the Sacristy: St. Luke the Evangelist Through the Symbol of the Ox

March 8, 2017 § 1 Comment

This week I want to explore Luke the evangelist through the symbol of the ox.

In the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of Paul it seems that an “evangelist” was, in the early days of the Church, a traveling missionary who went about preaching the Gospel, the account describing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  They often had a certain talent in preaching, and so would bring people to the faith and, once in the Christian community, the teachers and pastors would take on the work of explaining the mysteries of the faith. By the 2nd century, an “evangelist” came to mean what it means today – one of the writers of the four canonical Gospels.

In the first chapter of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, and the fourth chapter of the Revelation to John, we can find the description of a vision of the Holy One. In the vision from Ezekiel, there are four living creatures who draw the chariot of God and have fantastic form: human, but with four wings and four faces: a human face, a lion’s face, the face of an ox, and the face of an eagle. In the vision from Revelation, the four living creatures have one face, and six wings with eyes all around, even under the wings. The Christian community took these four living creatures as symbols of the four evangelists and their associated Gospels. In the Christian West, these symbols for the Evangelists were well established by the 4th century since St Jerome speaks of them in his Commentary on Matthew; although not everyone agrees with Jerome’s symbols, they are the most accepted interpretation.

 The four living creatures are also symbolic of the message of the specific Gospels for which they have become the symbol: The human as a symbol for the Gospel of Matthew suggests that this Gospel stresses Christ’s humanity with its genealogy and its Jesus who reacts in very human ways. The lion associated with the Gospel of Mark is appropriate since this Gospel begins with a “voice crying in the wilderness,” just a a lion would roar, and it also speaks to resurrection. There was an ancient belief that lions were born dead and brought to life by the growling and caresses of their mothers, and the Gospel of Mark concludes with the resurrection of Jesus. The ox associated with the Gospel of Luke fits well since it speaks to the great sacrifice of Jesus, and the ox was an important animal for sacrifice as required in the Torah. The eagle associated with the Gospel of John speaks to the heavenly Jesus that has come from the Father to dwell on earth and who will one day return to the Father

There is another traditional way to look at the four symbols of the evangelists, where the symbols are the height of creation in their different species: human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and so are the height of creation; the lion is the best of the wild animals and often called the King of Beasts; the ox is the beast of sacrifice and the most revered of the domestic animals; and the eagle is the best of the bird kingdom.

At St Luke’s we have St Luke’s ox on many of our sacred objects. Many of the oxen are very small and might never be noticed with a casual glance. Some are big and bold – the St Luke’s banner is the image of a gold-winged ox and is very large; we use this banner on St Luke’s Day.

The processional cross used during Lent has the symbols of the evangelists on the ends of the bars of the cross. We never really see these, as it is always covered by the Lenten Array when used at services. The large silver salver that we use to bring the offerings to the altar during the 11:15 Rite II Choral Eucharist on Sundays and on major feast days has the evangelists symbols on the rim (ask one of the ushers, but you’ll have to wait until Eastertide as we do not use this plate during Lent).

The festive Gospel Book cover (it shines like gold!) also has the four evangelists’ symbols on it, and we use this on feast days and the Great 50 Days of Easter (something else to look forward to seeing!).

The symbols of the evangelists also appear on the John Walsted icon processional cross we use during most of the year, Luke’s ox is right below Christ’s left hand (and again, you will have to wait until the Sunday after Ascension Day to see this ox).

Stay tuned and WATCH THIS SPACE for more tales of our patron Saint! We’re going to have a walk around the chapel next time! For Luke, actually, is all around.

– Sean Scheller

A View from the Sacristy: Lent Comes to St. Luke’s!

February 10, 2016 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Lent Comes to St. Luke’s!

veilsLent comes to St Luke’s! In my mind, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday are one continuous day, even though each has its own rhythm and focus.  On Shrove Tuesday, it’s pancakes and King Cake’s (this year I even stood in line at Randazzo’s in New Orleans and got my own!). Ash Wednesday is all Psalm 51, kneeling and simplicity.

For the altar guild, the liturgical seasons arrive well before the actual day: Christmas arrives on the weekend before December 25th, Easter arrives on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, and Lent begins on the last weekend of the Epiphany season.  In those times before for each season, many things happen: at Christmas the Crèche is set up; at Easter the New Fire grill is put back together and the cross used on Good Friday is taken down from the wall; for Lent, pieces of linen are ironed, frontals are put on altars, and cast iron replaces silver and brass.

One of my favorite Lenten traditions at St Luke’s is the covering of the sacred images. Many churches only cover their images during Holy Week, but our tradition is to cover the images for the whole Lenten season. Our sacrisity has a drawer called “Lenten Coverings” and this is where we store all the linen we use to cover all the images.  We use coverings in the church that match the color of the walls so that the covering blends into the background. The first image that is covered always seems to be the icon of Our Lady of the Sign. Every Shrove Tuesday I climb up a ladder to place the carefully ironed linen cloth and come face to face with the Virgin Mary. What do you say when you meet the Virgin? I usually say first “Ave Maria!” and then as the cloth covers her face, “See you at Easter!”

The next image is the icon of Christ above the door where our processions begin. This is a difficult icon to see since it is so high but it is very beautiful. We have to use the tall ladder to reach the icon. I am usually trying not to look down or fall off the ladder so I do not have as much of a conversation with Christ but I do say, “See you at Easter!”

The next sacred image that is covered is the Lenten processional cross. We have three processional crosses at St Luke’s: our Icon Cross that we use most of the year, the silver Easter Cross (which seems to weigh a ton), and the brass Lenten Cross. The Easter cross has the Lamb of God at the crossing with the symbols of the Evangelist on the ends of the beams. It’s a very simple design. The Lenten Cross has been with us for over 100 years. It is is need of some TLC but it seems a shame not to use it and so why not use it when it can be covered?

The chapel images are always covered after the burning of the palm and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist before the parish pancake supper. Lent comes to the chapel later than the rest of the church. In the chapel, we have the icon panels of scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, an icon of our patron St Luke, as well as the Rood Cross saved from the fire. We have beautifully crafted coverings that have a purple and ox blood panels down the center. I love how it gives the chapel a quiet dignity during this solemn season.

In Lent I miss seeing these sacred images. They are so much a part of my attending church. They are much like the person who always sits in the second pew on the right but one Sunday morning is not there and you wonder why. Did they go away for the weekend? Are they on the intercession list? I really should ask after them but who would know? Not seeing the images causes me to meditate and ponder them in almost the same way. If they were visible I would most likely give them a second thought but now that they are gone they make their presence know almost in a troubling way. Isn’t that one of the challenges of Lent?  To examine ourselves and take notice of those things that we take for granted and to be thankful for them before they go away?

– Sean Scheller

The View from the Sacristy: Symbols

March 25, 2015 § 1 Comment

screw top

[Editor’s note: This was so good last year, that we are bringing it back this year.]

It’s good to sit and think about altar guild work when I am, every other time, on the move and offering it.  The first real thought I have is it’s an opportunity to handle symbols.  I interact with them.  Some are exalted-looking vestments and frontals, some are prosaic-looking, a large jug of tokay with a screw-cap.  But all are more significant than they appear, and that is the magic.  They as a whole are as whole as the cross itself, the chrism and candle for baptism, the ashes for imposition, the funeral pall. The joy of the sanctus bells.  I don’t know if symbols can symbolize minor things, but these symbols don’t.

There’s a participation with them in altar guild work, of which my part is a caring for them.  Caring for the symbols of our faith!  They are mute reminders of the truth of our faith.  The symbols can be upsetting or beautiful, but this only reminds me of the wonderful thought from Martin Buber’s I and Thou, “ Jesus’s feeling for the possessed man is different from his feeling for the beloved disciple, but the love is one.”

Reminders of mortality or bells pealing a call to receive, the ciborium holding the Blessed Sacrament, the plastic tubs for the foot washing on Maundy Thursday, all these symbols, and caring for them, form an engaged Lenten meditation.

– Robert McVey

The View from the Sacristy: The Weekday Chalice

April 16, 2014 Comments Off on The View from the Sacristy: The Weekday Chalice

imageOn this “Spy Wednesday” of Holy Week I would like to introduce you to one of the treasures of Saint Luke’s that many have never seen unless they have attended a weekday Holy Eucharist or the 8am on Sundays. There is a chalice which is used at these services that is known as the “weekday chalice.” It has a small bowl on top that holds, maybe, 6 ounces of wine; so that’s the main reason we never us this chalice at the 9:15 or 11:15 or even holidays. Yet, it is perhaps one of our most beautiful chalices.

imageThe stem of the chalice is decorated with many symbols. At the mid-point of the stem, there is a Greek cross which comes out from the stem toward you and the beams of the cross wrap around the bowl in an unbroken circle. Placed on top of the beams, written in silver, is the text of John 1:14 in Latin: verbum caro factum est (and the word became flesh). These words are not only from the Gospel lesson appointed for Christmas day and the first Sunday after Christmas, but they are also found inscribed across the star in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem which marks the spot on which Mary gave birth to Jesus.

Above this inscription on the chalice, and filling in the triangle of space formed by the beams of the cross, are bunches of grapes. Below the grapes on the chalice stem are four fleur-de-lis and above are four Easter lilies. At the end of each beam of the Greek cross are enameled octagons with symbols of the Passion of Christ (the symbols are gold with a deep purple background):

1. the crown of thorns
(John 19:2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head);
2. a ladder with the spear of Longinus
(John 19:34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out)
and the reed toped with a sponge;
(Matthew 27:48 at once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink);
3. the whip of the scourging
(Matthew 27:28 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified); and
4. three nails with a hammer and pinchers
(John 19:17b-18 he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him).

Our chalice is covered with symbols of Christ’s birth, His Passion, His Resurrection and The Holy Eucharist so that each time this chalice is used we can be reminded of the life of Christ and the grace he offered to us all .

– Sean Scheller

The View from the Sacristy: Making a Joyful Noise – Sanctus Bells at St. Luke in the Fields

April 2, 2014 Comments Off on The View from the Sacristy: Making a Joyful Noise – Sanctus Bells at St. Luke in the Fields

sanctus bellsEven if you’ve never seen them, you certainly have heard them if you attend services at St. Luke in the Fields.  They are the Sanctus Bells. Although Sanctus Bells were traditionally rung during the Sanctus, “Holy, holy, holy Lord…”, they are rung at St. Luke’s at the invitation to communion.

Sanctus bells have been used as part of the celebration of the Eucharist for over 800 years.  The practice of ringing bells during the Mass is based to some degree on the use of tintinnabula (or tiny bells) or crotal bells that were a part of ancient Judaic worship. Historians have proffered two reasons for the historical use of the Sanctus Bells.  First, ringing the bells created “a joyful noise unto the Lord.”  Second, it historically indicated, in times when many did not understand the Latin used by priests and thus could not be counted upon to be paying close attention to the progress of the Mass, that something gloriously supernatural was taking place. Medieval churchgoers rather thought that they could say private prayers, like the rosary, at their own pace and time during Mass or otherwise chat with their neighbors, so bells were rung to alert them to the upcoming consecration of the bread and wine.

The Sanctus Bells at St. Luke’s are 4 small, handheld bells that sit behind the deacon at the 9:15am service and next to the credence table during the 11:15am service.  At both services, the bells are rung in three short bursts as the celebrant raises the host and wine.  These days, we do not contend with the medieval problem of not being able to follow the service, but the “joyful noise” of the Sanctus Bells continues to remind us of our standing invitation to deeper corporate worship as we gather around the Lord’s table each Sunday.

– Michael Horvath

The View from the Sacristy: Veils

March 26, 2014 Comments Off on The View from the Sacristy: Veils

veilsIf you have ever been in our sacristy, you know that we store our vestments in large drawers that allow the vestment to lay completely flat. In this way our vestments can be stored and not suffer from the stress of gravity from hanging on a hanger. We also use these drawers to store some non-vestment items: the altar linens (corporals, purificators and lavabo towels), the banners (St Luke’s Ox, the Agnus Dei, and the Virgin and Child), a Pall (the shroud used to cover a coffin), and of course the Lenten veils.  Every Shrove Tuesday evening the altar guild gathers to “Lenten” the church.  We cover every image in the church and the chapel with veils.

In researching the history of Lenten veils, I did discover that covering sacred images, icons and crosses, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday is part of the Sarum tradition.  In the Roman tradition, sacred images are only covered from Passion Sunday until Holy Saturday. So it’s a six-week covering versus a one-week covering.

In the church-proper, the veils are the same color as the walls so that if you glace at the place where the icon of Our Lady of the Sign usually hangs you might just notice that the icon seems to be gone and not that a veil is hanging in front of it.

In the chapel the veils do not match the color of the walls but are made up of the unbleached linen with squares of purple and ox blood (a very dark red). I always think of these veils as being made up of all the colors of Lent: the Lenten array of Sarum, the Roman purple  and the ox blood of Holy Week.

I have always asked myself why we do this. Now, as an Episcopalian I know that if you do something more than once it makes it a tradition, and so no real explanation is necessary or really wanted, but since Lent is a serious, somber time of self-reflection the veils do give the church and chapel an appropriate look for the season. It is also a fast from the beauty of the icons and other covered images which helps us long for them after not seeing them and enjoying them for the whole of Lent, when they will look even brighter and more beautiful in Easter’s Light.

– Sean Scheller

The View from the Sacristy: Symbols

March 19, 2014 § 1 Comment

screw topIt’s good to sit and think about altar guild work when I am, every other time, on the move and offering it.  The first real thought I have is it’s an opportunity to handle symbols.  I interact with them.  Some are exalted-looking vestments and frontals, some are prosaic-looking, a large jug of tokay with a screw-cap.  But all are more significant than they appear, and that is the magic.  They as a whole are as whole as the cross itself, the chrism and candle for baptism, the ashes for imposition, the funeral pall. The joy of the sanctus bells.  I don’t know if symbols can symbolize minor things, but these symbols don’t.

There’s a participation with them in altar guild work, of which my part is a caring for them.  Caring for the symbols of our faith!  They are mute reminders of the truth of our faith.  The symbols can be upsetting or beautiful, but this only reminds me of the wonderful thought from Martin Buber’s I and Thou, “ Jesus’s feeling for the possessed man is different from his feeling for the beloved disciple, but the love is one.”

Reminders of mortality or bells pealing a call to receive, the ciborium holding the Blessed Sacrament, the plastic tubs for the foot washing on Maundy Thursday, all these symbols, and caring for them, form an engaged Lenten meditation.

– Robert McVey

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