Most of the illustrations in the preceding pages were originally taken from Manuscript 9222 of the Bibliothèque Royale (Belgium), an early 13th century book from the Benedictine Abbey of Saints Martin and Eliphus in Cologne, France. They were reprinted in the Saint Andrew Bible Missal (Biblica: Bruges, Belgium, 1965). The following commentaries also appeared in the St. Andrewís Missal.
The Annunciation: Gospel of Ember Wednesday in Advent
The Virgin, who was seated, stands now to listen to the message of the angel Gabriel. The latter speaks in the name of God. His gesture, his step, his wand, his extended wings, all show the extreme importance of the message which he is charged to give. The attitude of Mary expresses the meaing of her: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to thy word." (Lk. 1.38). The seat her back may be considered as a throne, a sign of the imperial dignity which is given to her by the divine motherhood.
Tree of Jesse: Lesson of Ember Friday in Advent
The Messia is the descendent of Jesse and of his son David. But he is also born of the fulness of the Spirit. As the picture shows, the blessed Virgin Mary presents a text of the Canticle of Canticles. The Spouse -- who is Christ-- tells about his Incarnation: "Ego sum flos campi-- I am the flower of the field, and the lily of the valley" (2.1). Above our Lady two holy women (perhaps St. Anne and St. Elizabeth, perhaps also -- according to St. Augustine, the Church, Virgin and Mother) show the Messianic text of the prophet Baruch: "Hic est Deus noster et non aestimabitur alius absque illo... -- This is our God, and there shall no other be accounted in comparison to him... He was seen upon earth and conversed with men" (3.36.38).
Finally Christ himself displays a text concerning his conception from the Holy Spirit: "Apprehenderunt septem mulieres virum unum-- Seven women shall take hold of one man" (Isaia 4.1). Those seven women are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, explains St. Jerome; it is in them that Christ has been generated.
The Nativity: Gospel of the Christmas Midnight Mass
The picture is of semi-abstract composition with two simultaneous panels. To the left the Virgin lies in the Byzantine fashion. She feeds her Child-God. St. Joseph has his hand resting on his stick. The ass and the ox are standing near the manger. Even the star has not been forgotten. The right side of the picture shows the annunciation to the shepherds, which is the subject of the Gospel of the Mass at midnight.
The Adoration of the Magi: Gospel of Epiphany
This picture exemplifies the pure medieval tradition of iconography. The first King kneels while he offers his gift. The second one points to the star. The Virgin Mary is seated upon a throne, for her Child is the Savior and the Master of the world. In his hand he holds the globe, upon which the cross symbolizes his dominion.
Presentation in the Temple: Gospel of Candlemas
Old Simeon has his hands veiled (as a sign of adoration). He holds the Child-God "the Light of the nations and the glory of Israel." At this moment he is handing the Child back to his mother, the Blessed Virgin. Behind her stands the prophetess Anna (who carries a candle, a symbol of the Light of the world).
The Three Temptations of Jesus in the Wilderness of Judah: Gospel of the First Sunday in Lent
The miniature shows the the threefold dialogue between Jesus and his tempter. In particular we see the threefold refusal of the Lord, which contains a threefold teaching for us. Christ replies to the devil" "Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that goes out from the mouth of God." He says also: "You shall not tempt the Lord your God." And he says: "Be off, Satan. For it is written: You shall adore the Lord your God and give worship to him alone" (Matthew 4.1-11).
Lazarus and the Rich Man: Gospel of Thursday of the Second Week in Lent
This picture is a direct illustration of the first part of the parable: "There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feasted magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay, covered with sores, a poor man called Lazarus." (The artist puts him partly in and partly out of the composition.) "He longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich manís table and on one did give him." (This is shown by the begging hand of the poor man and by the gesture of refusal of the rich man." "The dogs, moreover, came and licked his sores..." (Luke 16.19-21).
The Multiplication of Bread and Fishes: Gospel of the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare Sunday)
At the top we see the crowds: men, women and children, eating to their full satisfaction. Below Christ amid his Apostles performs the Miracle. This wondrous meal is a figure of the banquet of the Holy Eucharist, and also of the heavenly Eucharist to come. St. Andrew holds the five loaves, St. Peter has the fishes, and a boy takes the baskets.
Christís Messianic Entrance in Jerusalem: Gospel of Palm Sunday
The miniature shows Jesus mounted on an ass, followed by the Apostles. In his hand he holds the Book, for he is the Master of the New Law. Above all, it is the children who receive him and acclaim him. The artist doubtless means to suggest the "Pueri Hebraeorum... -- the Hebrew Children..." -- antiphon of the Procession of Psalms. Also suggested is the event which follows later in the Gospel (Matthew 21.16) where the Lord quotes Psalm 8.3 as an answer to the objections of the chief priests and scribes concerning the acclamation of the children in the temple: "Out of the mouth of infants and sucklings you have perfected praise."
The Last Supper: Liturgy of Maundy Thursday
The picture shows the exact instant in which Jesus reveals the treachery of Judas. St. John, at the bosom of the Lord, has asked secretly (for he hides his mouth) who will be the traitor. Jesus has replied: "He it is whom I shall reach bread dipped." He dips the bread in the cup (which is to be seen very clearly at the front of the table) and gives it to Judas. Judas has no halo. He is alone, before the table. His pose suggests that he is receiving Communion (John 13.25-26).
The Washing of Feet: Liturgy of Maundy Thursday
We see the dialogue between Jesus and St. Peter. Jesus has just said: "If I do not wash you, you have no part of me." Joining his action to his words, St. Peter replies: "Then, Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head" (John 13.8-9).
Jesus Before the High Priest: Gospel of Good Friday
In the midst of armed guards Jesus is questioned about his teaching and his disciples. His hands are bound together. To the High Priest the Lord replies: "Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me when I taught them; they know what I have said." At these words, one of the guards standing by gives Jesus a slap in the face saying: "Is that how you answer the High Priest?" (The gesture is sketched) (John 18.20-21).
Jesus Taken From the Cross: Gospel of Good Friday
Joseph of Arimathea and the Apostle St. John are supporting the Body of Christ. Their hands are reverently covered with a veil, which is traditional in Byzantine iconography. The tongs of Nicodemus are also a Byzantine detail. The Virgin Mary takes the right hand of her Son, which has already been loosed and kisses it, another typically Byzantine representation (John 19.38-39).
Sepulture: End of the Gospel of Good Friday
Present are: the Blessed Virgin, Joseph of Arimathea, St. John and two holy women. Behind them we note the garden where Jesus will appear to St. Mary Magdalene on the morning of Resurrection day.
The Resurrection: Gospel of Easter Vigil & Easter Sunday
This miniature dates from the beginning of the 13th century. It is one of the first direct representations of the miracle of the Resurrection. Jesus is shown leaving his tomb. In his hand he hold the now triumphal symbol of the cross. Up to the 12th century the tradition in iconography for Resurrection was to show the empty grave, the angel, and the holy women; or the triumphal cross and the sleeping guards (of which some details are left in our picture).
The Doubt of St. Thomas: Gospel of Low Sunday
The risen Lord shows the wound in his side to St. Thomas, who puts his hand there. Jesus also shows the wounds in his hands and his feet: "Put your finger here; see, here are my hands; put out your hand here and place it in my sideí and be no longer an unbeliever but a believer" (John 20.27). The other Apostles are standing behind Jesus; St. Thomas is alone. They have already seen, and they believe. In his turn St. Thomas shout: "My Lord and my God." Jesus says to him: "You believe, Thomas, because you see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (John 20.28.29).
The Ascension: Epistle and Gospel of the Feast
The Lord is entering into his glory. Only both his feet and the lower part of his vestment are visible. This refers to the story of the Gospel. In the midst of the Apostles is the Virgin Mary, who represents the Church. In going up Christ has left his Chruch upon the earth and the world itself, so that she can guide us henceforth until the time of his second coming: "This Jesus, who is taken up from among you into heaven, he will come back, just as you saw him going into heaven" (Acts 1.11).
Pentecost: Lesson of the Feast of Whitsunday
The Apostles are gathered around St. Peter. Above their heads appears the dove. From it twelve rays go out: one to each of them. Thus the presence of the Holy Spirit is clearly symbolized. But the actual manner of apparition is not shown. The actual event is written in the text in which St. Peter, St. James and St. John have on their knees: "Spiritus Sanctus in igneis linguis apparuit -- The Holy Spirit appeared in tongues of fire."
Birthday of St. John the Baptist: Gospel of the Feast
Elizabeth is shown lying down in the stylized Byzantine way. She shows her son to the Virgin Mary, who has been visiting her now for three months. Elizabeth knows that Mary will be the Mother of the Messia. Therefore, the gesture is an allusion to the future role of St. John the Baptist, the Precursor. In the miniature below, Zacharia shows the tablet upon which he has written: "His name is John" (Luke 1.63).
The Primacy of St. Peter: Gospel of the Feast of Saints Peter & Paul
This picture is a semi-abstract composition. It expresses both the dialogue between Jesus and St. Peter and the realities of which the dialogue speaks. The divinity of Christ is symbolized by his obviously celestial appearance. The primacy of St. Peter is shown in the reception of the keys. The dialogue itself is resumed in two texts: Jesusí question: "Quem dicunt homines esse Filium hominis? -- Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" and the exclamation of the Lord after St. Peterís profession of faith: "Beatus es Simon Bar Jona, quia caro et sanguis non revelabit tibi... -- You are blessed, Simon son of Jonas, for this revelation has come to you not from flesh and blood but from my Father who is in heaven..." (Matthew 16.13 and 17).
The Transfiguration: Gospel of the Feast, and of the Second Sunday in Lent
The transformed Christ rises up above the mountain. Moses and Elias are at his right and left side. The rays of his glory touch them as well as the three Apostles present [Peter, James, and John]. The latter bow down, while St. Peter cried: "Lord, it is a good thing that we are here. If you wish I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elia" (Matthew 17.4).
Martha and Mary: Gospel of the Feast of St. Martha
In the upper half of the miniature, Mary and Martha receive Jesus into their home. The lower half represents the Gospel event which has been interpreted by the Fathers as a parable concerning the active and the contemplative life. Martha is taken up with the many cares of the household. She asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her: "Dic illi ut me adjuvet." But the Lord is in agreement with Mary: "Maria optimum partem elegit -- Mary it is who has chosen the better part" (Luke 10.40-42).
In the picture, Mary alone wears a halo (although Martha also is a saint). This must mean that Mary here represents the Blessed Virgin. What we have here is an illustration of the former Mass of the Assumption. Since 1950 this Mass has been replaced by the present one. But the teaching of the former Mass did not lose anything of its value. It is in the Gospel of the Vigil of the Assumption, which is the Gospel A of Schema 1 for all the Feasts of the Blessed Virgin: "Blessed rather those who hear the word of God and keep it" (Luke 11.28).
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