What’s The Catholic Man’s Favourite Piece of Art?

Let’s go back to basics… I remember when I started writing on this blog, I never really spoke much about myself. My topics seemed to be too general so now, I want to speak bit about myself. 

Google Images search of “the mass of st gregory” as of February 19, 2020

When asked, “What is my favourite piece of art?” I find a hard time responding to that question because I love a whole lot of art, especially classical Christian art, many of which I came to admiration while in Europe nearly a year ago. However, recently, I have been captivated and fell in love with not one piece of art, but rather, a rendition of an event known as The Mass of St. Gregory. It is an interesting piece not only because of the meaning behind it, but Google Images search of it with the terms, “Mass of St Gregory” would give a you a handful of different renditions of one single event. 

The Mass of Gregory by Simon Marmion
on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario (Image: ago.ca)

I remember walking through the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and has always been attracted to the sections with Christian art. However, a specific that has drawn on me since is The Mass of St. Gregory by Simon Marmion. I took a picture of it on my iPad and for months, never really bothered to look back at it. However, just more than a month ago, I was scrolling through my Gallery and once again encountered the piece. That encounter with it prompted me to put in a little more research into what exactly is The Mass of St. Gregory and as mentioned, that Google search gave me many renditions of this particular theme. 

What is it about this art theme that has drawn me to various renditions of the painting? The celebration of Liturgy is ever so close to my Catholic life. When I was in Kindergarten, there was something about Catholic Liturgy and Liturgical Arts that I prompted me to ask questions and get answers. I was drawn to the little things, such as why we put this black stuff on our foreheads on a random Wednesday, or why statues were veiled as we neared Holy Week. The older I grew, the more I understood the what and whys of Liturgy. I still do not know everything and now as a University student and going through the Kelly and Regis Libraries on the campus of the University of Toronto, I found out that what I know is merely nothing compared to the knowledge that are on those shelves, waiting to be cracked open. However, the more I understand about the Liturgy, the more I read the rubrics, and strive to understand Liturgical texts, the more I come to love the Liturgy. One of the gifts as a student at the University of Toronto is the gift of Daily Mass. While I cannot attend daily due to overlap of lecture times and Mass, I find it encouraging the times I do get to attend Mass, especially at St. Thomas Aquinas Church on Newman Centre grounds because I see that young people like myself are there, and I have to say, there are some who very devout and pious just by the way they attentively attend Mass in full, active participation.   

It is a pity that a number of Catholics see Mass merely as a routine. I believe we really

File:Adriaen Ysenbrandt - The Mass of Saint Gregory the Great - 69.PB.11 - J. Paul Getty Museum.jpg
The Mass of St. Gregory by Adriaen Ysenbrandt

need to get rid of the mindset of Mass as a routine, but be present within the moment, attentively listening to the prayers and readings and be aware that at every Mass, something as beautiful and as great as the “Mass of St. Gregory” happens at every Mass. At the Mass, through the words of consecration that passes the mouth of the priestly ordained minister, the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ – NOT representations. Through transubstantiation, Jesus Christ truly becomes present among his people. 

I think some Catholics fail to understand or are not catechized on this mystery of our faith. I believe if Catholics were to be well catechized on the Eucharist and the Liturgy, the way we celebrate the Sacraments and Liturgy will be completely different and there would be fruitful participation, the fruitfulness that the liturgical reforms of post-Vatican II envisioned. There is so much fuss when someone from the Royal Family gets married, or BTS comes to your hometown, or even when the Pope comes to a country. Yet, while these events get so much attention from the secular world and certainly some Catholics pay much attention, why do we not exert the same excitement and concern every time we celebrate the Liturgy? We rejoice at the arrival of celebrities and world leaders, yet, we have really no excitement when we get to be in the presence of God every week through the celebration of the Eucharist. 

When I look to a rendition of the “Mass of St. Gregory”, I am reminded of the importance of good Liturgy. That means not only promoting good Catechesis on the Liturgy, but rather, a reverent, active Liturgical setting that will allow others to experience and know the importance of Christ coming to be among his people through Sacred Liturgy. 

The Mass of St. Gregory engraving by Israhel van Meckenem

Update March 10, 2020:

About Vincent Pham

Vincent is a humanities student of the University of Toronto’s Trinity College of the Faculty of Arts and Science. He hopes to pursue a double major in Ethics, Law and Society, and Philosophy.
This entry was posted in Catholic Reflection, Catholicism, Liturgy, Priesthood, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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