This is the second essay of two from Writing in the Humanities, a college-one course taught by Sister Hilda Kleiman, O.S.B., that are published on the MAS Journalism Blog this semester. Both essays are on the mosaic of the Annunciation; the first essay was written by Huong Dinh.
Angelus Domini Nuntiavit Mariae:
An Essay in Response to the Mosaic of the Annunciation
by Luis Trujillo
The story of the Annunciation of Christ’s incarnation is the turn of the tide for humankind; it is the beginning of the story of salvation. The desire to make iconography a part of my future ministry is planted in my heart, and I will bring it with me into my future parish, so that the effect of the icon may also speak to others as it does for me. It causes great joy in my heart to set eyes on art that honors the great mercy of God, in this case the specific event of the Annunciation portrayed in the mosaic which rests on the walls of the building with the same name at Mount Angel Seminary.
Religious art has been my favorite; it is amazing that people share that talent with others. Sister Hilda told us once that “iconography [making it] is a form of prayer itself.” Thoughts that run through my mind when looking at the icon of the Annunciation include a desire to know more about the spirituality of Mary. How is it that God chose her out of all the women in the world of all ages? This may be a question Catholics and non-believers might ponder if an icon were to hang in the walls of my parish one day. It could spark that curiosity, without a doubt the work of the Holy Spirit.
The factor that surprised me the most is the attractive composition, which is leading me to the meditation of Holy Scripture. In the mosaic the Archangel Gabriel and the Mother of God are in conversing postures, and the Gospel of Luke (Lk 1:29) tells us of his salute to her and honors her with the prayer of the Hail Mary; this gives us an opportunity to reflect on the beautiful salutation and even recite it. The genius in the composition is that the Archangel Gabriel (starting from the left) is pointing upwards to the heavens while looking at Mary as he is delivering his message which comes from above. Mary then is open armed, looking up to the heavens, reminding us of her full and confident fiat to God in heaven.
Heaven is portrayed as an opening with parting clouds and the Holy Spirit descending in dove form holding the book of Gospels. This image is also described in the Gospel according to Matthew where Jesus is baptized by St. John (Matt 3:16). If we follow the pattern from the Archangel on the left to Mary on the right and up to the center where the Holy Spirit is portrayed we see that it forms an invisible triangle among the three major figures; this is amazing because triangles are often signs of the Holy Trinity. The Trinity could be interpreted in this icon as God the Father in the word (the book of Gospels) God the Holy Spirit (in the Dove) and God the Son (incarnate in Mary’s womb).
One other surprise I found was that Mary has her vision towards the heavens. This leads me to meditate in my own personal life on where I have my eyes set. Do I like Mary have my trust set in God like she did before and after the Annunciation? Her posture directs the attention from her back to God in the heavens, which is what we should do if God favors us with any gifts, whether it’s having a wonderful piece of art like the Annunciation or creating one. I would encourage my parishioners to explore iconography because of its catechetical and meditative elements.
Explaining the colors worn by Mary could be a homily on its own. An example is she wears purple only worn by royalty and highly favored priests. This information is treasure for a believer because why would you not want to have Mary represented in the colors that do her venerability justice? Is an icon in a parish not the perfect way to represent that? I cannot help but to wonder what magnificent effect it would have on people having the knowledge that there is a reason behind the colors portrayed in the garments of Our Lady. That awe helps drive my desire to bring iconography into my priesthood. The richness of the colors worn by Mary are full of meaningful doctrine. One of my favorite colors is red. Mary in the mosaic wears a red garment which signifies earthliness and life. The colors give an evangelizing testimony; in a church the effect would be that of bringing people to communion with Him.
Thoughts that ran through my mind were of God giving the author and the many artists great talent, making their work serve the purpose previously explained to each individual who rests eyes on the masterpiece. I attribute this thought in great part to the devotion I have to Angels, in this case the Archangel Gabriel. The importance of the colors on his garment and of course his important role in the plan God has for humankind are interrelated. Gabriel is wearing a green garment that symbolizes the Holy Spirit. How appropriate that he would wear the color of the one who sent him. Also very appealing of Gabriel is that God chose him to send the plan of salvation to Mary. I feel reverence towards his obedience and willingness to be the messenger of God.
The study of this mosaic has awakened the thought of wanting to explore more with iconography; it is wonderful to think that such a creation might inspire others as the icon of the Annunciation has inspired me. This is surely a hope and a prayer that I want to take with me and make it a part of my future ministry. If a picture can say a million words I would want an icon that speaks a million words of God.