Saturday and Sunday, October 11 and 12, 2008
At first glance the painting is deceptively simple, even modern in its stylization. Yet centuries of Christian iconographical tradition tether this Madonna and Child to the symbolism of the past, to the unconscious recognition of sacred form and function.
The Blessed Mother is clothed in white. A filmy veil through which light can pass frames her head. This recalls the metaphor used by poets and theologians in pondering the mystery of the Virgin Birth. She holds her Holy Child aloft and forward. She is presenting him to the viewer not unlike a priest lifting up the Eucharist encased in a vessel of gold. Light emanates from her offspring and illuminates her face in the same way that the moon reflects the radiance of the sun. But from where does this light originate? It emanates from the Infant’s breast in a heart-shaped brilliance. Her hand does not so much shield that light as grasp it and embrace it. And she holds it over her own. For as her heart beats so does his. The Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart pulsate together in the harmony of Divine Love. That love, Scripture reveals, was ordained to be pierced through suffering. When in the Temple, old Simeon held Mary’s Holy Child in his own arms, he predicted that her boy would be the light of salvation for the Gentiles and the glory of Israel. But he also told the Mother that a sword would pierce her. The piercing of the heart would be the Child’s destiny as well. A soldier lanced Christ’s side on the cross, causing water and blood to pour forth. This salvific fountain would forever symbolize the water of Baptism and the Blood of the Eucharist. Not by chance has the artist splayed the Child’s arms outward and his legs downward with one foot placed over the other in a cruciform position.
The Madonna and Child provide us with a beacon of hope in a world of strife. Treading upon life’s stormy sea they stand tall, with a beckoning gesture of love toward all. It is this loving welcome that Pilgrimage of Hope extends to those who take part in it. Our Blessed Lady carrying her Child joins the pilgrimage treading the waters of Boston Harbor. She comes from the East. It was across these same waters that eighteenth-century French missionary priests arrived in Boston. The first Bishop of Boston, the exiled French nobleman, Jean Lefebvre de Cheverus (1768-1836) sailed in and out of Boston Harbor during the course of his priestly ministry. His legacy continues to enrich the Church in the United States. For ten years, magnificat has helped Catholics in New England and throughout the country to enter deeply into the religious mysteries symbolized by “Mother and Child.”
Fr. Michael Morris, O.P.