Jesus’ Passion in Sacred Art: Meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary
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To mark the start of Holy Week, we resume our series on sacred art as an aid to praying the Holy Rosary.
Have you noticed the proliferation of zombie apocalypse imagery and themes everywhere in popular entertainment? The phenomenon is ironic to me, because just now as zombies preoccupy campy media, real life has become increasingly anesthetized. Death and sin are swept out of sight.
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Authentic wounds and sensitivities aside, one antidote to this insanity is Jesus Christ’s Passion, which the Church recapitulates next week in the Triduum (Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday). We meditate on this in the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary throughout the year. And we should dwell even more deeply in it in these final days of Lent.
If you have ever seen Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, you know how visceral it is to see and meditate on Christ’s suffering. When it comes to praying the Rosary, which so many of the saints called their weapon, it can be helpful to have an image to focus on as we pray. Striving to focus is part of nurturing the habit. And you’ll be surprised how the combination of repetition, and returning to familiar images and thoughts, can actually pave the way to new, fresh insights, deeper understandings, and greater love for Our Lady and Our Lord.
Today we present just 5 (+1 bonus) to get you started on the Sorrowful Mysteries.
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The Agony in the Garden
This stunning painting by Russian artist, Nikolai Ge, immediately pulls me into the spiritual agony – and that word, agony, itself sounds like a gong in my heart – of that solitude our Lord suffered at the beginning of his Passion. Ge uses no color – as the sin of the whole world and all of history weigh upon the heart of Jesus, the animating goodness of color has been drained from the world on that night of the world’s worst betrayal.
While praying the Rosary, it’s Jesus’ solitary, anticipatory suffering in the garden that I typically imagine. But this scene – so brilliantly, electrically depicted by Caravaggio – is impossible to leave out. Caravaggio’s characteristic use of light and shadow, chiaroscuro, makes for a scene of such high drama. The chaos, the mob-driven evil of Our Lord’s execution has been set irretrievably in motion. Judas kisses Christ. The Roman soldiers clamor and grab at Him. Another disciple wails in the background. And Jesus, gentle in submission, meek and humble of heart, accepts what He knows is now underway.
The Scourging at the Pillar
Often I will reflect here on the Shroud of Turin, scenes from The Passion of the Christ (again), and the terrible price Jesus paid for a world’s worth of sins of the flesh. This painting captures the frenzied, insane mob-energy, contrasted with Our Lord’s purity and innocence. He who GAVE us flesh and all its beauty, its perfection… and then He bore in His perfect body the violent blows of blood-lust.
The Crowning with Thorns
I imagine this Mystery as the ultimate insult to, and inversion of, authority. The mocking of the King of Kings, and thereby the mockery of fatherhood and of all goodly hierarchical order. They jammed what was – for all intents and purposes – a bush of thorns upon his head. Relics of Our Lord’s Passion indicate that the crown was no mere delicate ring poised on top of his ears. No, it COVERED His head. And was jammed into Him. His precious head – the MIND OF GOD – the source of reality and goodness and every truth. He bore this bush of thorns also for the sake of the mental illness of the world and for sins against truth, in other words heresy, lies, misuse of the human intellect. Anyone who’s paying attention to the wounds of our contemporary world can see those wounds wherever our gaze pauses – sins of untruth and rejection of truth. This crown was his response.
The Carrying of the Cross
Jesus’ direct gaze in this painting convicts me. As recent scientific evidence suggests, the man who was wrapped in the Shroud of Turin carried, on one side of his shoulders, a horribly heavy object. My sin did that to Him – a weight He carried for me, and an object on which He was put to death.
What more could be said? Consummatum est. It is completed.
As we meditate on these Sorrowful Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary, especially this week, may we allow our hearts and our imaginations to suffer with Jesus, and to ask Him to help us join our sufferings to His.
May we also contemplate the suffering His mother endured, accompanying His every step towards Calvary, knowing His innocence and infinite Love so intimately herself as to have endured, in a sense, her own passion. Just as we turn to Our Lady for consolation and comfort, let us remember to console her, in return.
Sacred Heart of Jesus – Miserere nobis – Have mercy on us.
Sorrowful Heart of Mary – Ora pro nobis – Pray for us.