As you have doubtlessly noticed, our new stained glass “light-boxes” are now in place!! Many have remarked how well they fit the colors of our sanctuary. Blues, dark reds, and browns abound in the glass just as on the walls, ceiling, and sanctuary steps. Blue is an especially suitable color for our parish, as it is traditionally a Marian color, and we are “Our Lady of Refuge” parish!
Some parishioners have asked for more information about the placement and meaning of specific windows. The rest of this column will oblige!
In the inner part of the sanctuary are the St. Gabriel and the Nativity Windows. St. Gabriel is the patron saint of the clergy (priests and deacons) and is near where they perform their liturgical actions. Our Gabriel is suitably enough wearing a deacon’s dalmatic (vestment)! He is also the patron saint of communication, and so he is right above the ambo (pulpit), from which the Word is proclaimed to us. This depiction of Gabriel shows him during the Annunciation. The artist has given us Mary’s view of him, so we can imagine that she is right next to us, giving her “yes” to God, as we celebrate Mass. In fact, we believe that all saints are with us in a special way in the Eucharist, but especially her, since she is, after all, Jesus’ mother! May we add our own “yes” to God to hers every time we worship. Our Gabriel is carrying a messenger’s staff (in early times, before text messaging, phones, or even telegrams, most messages were sent by word of mouth by professionals who marked themselves out this way.) On the top of it is a cross, a reminder that Jesus comes into the world to suffer and redeem us. He is wearing a purple cloak as a reference to the purple military cloak with which Christ was mocked in his passion. Underneath the cloak, the green of his dalmatic is the color of hope in liturgical symbolism, and is associated with ordinary time. So it is in Christian life, sorrow should always be born for God with an underlying spirit of hope!
Opposite Gabriel, we see the fruit of the Annunciation—Jesus is born for us! This beautiful nativity window speaks so well by itself there is no need to say so much about it. The worship commission looked through the glass available to us (from old St. Rita’s in Detroit) for a window that gave Mary great prominence. Many of the best Marian windows had already been claimed by other parishes, but fortunately, this window remained, and it was love at first sight for many of us! This window is well suited to the inner sanctuary, since at every Mass, the unique miracle of God-made-flesh is renewed on the altar, when Jesus becomes present to us in body, soul, and divinity at the consecration of the bread and wine. Every Mass is Christmas! The window is compositionally centered on Mary holding the Christ child. According to current practice in our parish, Eucharistic ministers line up here below this window, to receive the body of Christ from the altar. When they do so, they are literally holding Jesus, just as Mary did in the stable of Bethlehem. What a wonderful reminder of the fact!
Going from the heart of the sanctuary out to its edges we find glass depicting St. Thomas with the risen Lord, and St. Michael the Archangel, possibly the most moving and most dramatic of our new windows, respectively! Our St. Thomas, referring to resurrection account in the Gospel of John, reminds us the Lord Jesus really is God. We placed him above the tabernacle to remind us also he is really present in the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle, just as he was before St. Thomas on that first “Divine Mercy” Sunday! And doubters though we might sometime be, we are beautifully reminded how Jesus reaches out to us to give us faith in his real presence.
Our second Archangel (after Gabriel) is St. Michael, here depicted in the usual way. This window is rich in scriptural allusions: Michael and his angels battle against the leader of the bad angels (devils) who chose the path of selfishness, and drive him out of heaven, where he is no longer suited to be (Rev. 12: 7-9). One of the good angels (at Michael’s side) holds a flaming sword in a reference to the angel of Genesis who guards the tree of life (Gen. 3: 24) and keeps the unworthy away. This window is placed above the baptismal font in reference to the baptismal exorcisms, which we hear during the “scrutinies” of Lent, as well as when we attended private baptisms of infants. This link with baptism exists because baptism is all about giving us the power from God to overcome the evil in us that comes from original sin, and which is manifested concretely in our own worst natures. We are also reminded that our life of faith is not always easy, and sometimes requires a certain “battle” to do the right thing. This window also reassures us, though, that however difficult this may be on occasion, God’s love never leaves us, and He has given us St. Michael and the good angels to help us (see, for instance, Ps. 91: 9-12 and Daniel 12: 1-3).
Our last new window is St. Raphael, who appears in the Old Testament book of Tobit. He is the third of the Archangels (with Gabriel and Michael) whose name God has given us to know through the Scriptures. He guides the young man Tobiah (Tobias), son of Tobit, on a long journey during which Tobiah will find his future wife, a girl named Sarah, rescuing her—with the archangel’s help—from the influence of the devil. The fish held by Tobiah in the window is a reference to another episode in the book of Tobit. Tobiah is instructed by St. Raphael to make an ointment from the innards of a fish he catches, with which he will cure his longsuffering father, Tobit, from blindness. In fact, Raphael in Hebrew means “God heals!” Since we believe that much in the Old Testament foreshadows the New, this window can remind us of the importance of the Sacrament of the anointing of the sick, and of the sacrament of Christian marriage. Because of his help for Tobiah on his journey, he is the patron saint of travelers, and is suitable to put in the narthex, from which we come from the world to go to the Eucharist and other prayers, and depart back into it from the house of God.
Lastly, it is worth drawing new attention to an old (but underappreciated) piece of stained glass in our Church. In the “cathedral ceiling” part of the narthex is also found a window of Our Lady Refuge, commissioned a number of years ago by ladies of the parish. This window is found on the masthead of our parish bulletin, and depicts Mary sheltering the small child Jesus in the folds of her cloak. This way of portraying Mary and Jesus is traditional in depictions of “Our Lady of Refuge,” a title of the Blessed Virgin that is most commonly revered amongst Latin American and Spanish people. Usually Our Lady of Refuge is depicted in a “heavenly” environment, as she is our intercessor in heaven, and this is true of our window, in the form of glorious streamers of various colors, and a star, like the star of Bethlehem. Occasionally in depictions of Our Lady of Refuge, other people present themselves to her and the Christ child, as is true in our window. In this we are reminded that Mary is mother to Jesus, not just in his physical body, but also his mystical body (which includes us all)! She also holds the lily flower, which is a symbol of chastity, and refers to her perpetual virginity.
Our Lady of Refuge, pray for us!