Browse by Topic: Lent

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Theology, Art and Judgment

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Typically one thinks of Advent as a time to prepare for Christ's Second Coming, since the readings of that season focus our attention, not only on the coming of Christ incarnate at Christmas, but also on the return of Christ at the end of time. Considering the fact that Lent is a season to reflect on the role of sin in our lives, and its effect on our relationships with God and one another, I believe this, too, is a good time to ponder the mystery of Christ's parousia. In order to do so, I offer part of a paper I wrote on Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" for our Christian Iconography class at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology. The following excerpt deals with some of the artistic and Scriptural sources that influenced Michelangelo as he painted the altarpiece that now inspires so many visitors to the Sistine Chapel in Rome:

Anyone who has seen Luca Signorelli’s fresco of The Resurrection at the cathedral in Orvieto will notice a resemblance to Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. In both works, the dead emerge from the earth with great difficulty, some still buried to the waist, others as skeletal figures half-clothed in flesh. This is no coincidence. In his book on Michelangelo, Howard Hibbard writes that “in the scenes of punishment and damnation, no less than in the scenes of resurrection, Michelangelo was notably influenced by Luca Signorelli’s famous series of frescoes in Orvieto depicting the end of the world” and that “the images of skeletons clothing themselves with flesh and of the torments of the damned are surely indebted to Signorelli.”1 Art historian Antonio Forcellino agrees, noting that Signorelli’s work had a profound impact on Michelangelo, particularly in regards to the demons at the bottom right of the painting. He states that, “while Giotto in Padua and Buffalmacco in Pisa depicted devils as creatures alien to the human world, Michelangelo followed the example of Signorelli in the San Brizio Chapel in Orvieto and the sculptures on the façade of that cathedral, where the devils are depicted as a slight degeneration of men and the angels.”2 In addition to Signorelli’s influence, Forcellino asserts that, “Michelangelo was undoubtedly very impressed by the depictions [of the Last Judgment] in the Florentine Baptistery and the Cemetery in Pisa, both of which were distinctive for their aggressive and monumental emotive force,”3 while Hibbard points out that Michelangelo’s portrayal of Christ, “is like an antique hero-god…developed from the figure of Jupiter in one of the Cavalieri drawings.”4

Although it’s clear that Michelangelo owes a great deal to Signorelli and Cavalieri, one cannot assume that Michelangelo’s imagination was stirred by the work of these artists alone. Literary sources, such as Sacred Scripture, also played a role. For example, the seven angels blowing trumpets beneath Christ’s feet are a reference to the Book of Revelation, according to Ascanio Condivi, one of Michelangelo’s biographers.5 In chapters 8, 9, and 11 of the Book of Revelation, the author – who tradition holds to be John the Beloved Disciple – has a vision of seven angels with seven trumpets. As each angel blows its trumpet, a different disaster strikes the earth. Despite the fact that Michelangelo doesn’t show each of these disasters, he alludes to them by depicting the angels as heralds of the apocalypse, and not just ministers of God. Naturally this is not the only Scriptural allusion in Michelangelo’s work. Throughout the fresco one notices that, “the angels fight to release the souls that have been saved from the grip of the devils. And, to their great satisfaction, the devils fight to push the ‘iniquitous souls’ down to their eternal damnation.”6 While many scholars typically associate this illustration as being reminiscent of “The Judgment of the Nations” found in Matthew 25:31-46, in which the Son of Man separates the people like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, Forcellino is describing a scene which could very easily be associated with Matthew 13:24-27, as well. In “The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat” we find a landowner who lets the weeds and wheat grow up together until the time of the harvest, at which point the reapers gather up the wheat for storage in the landowner’s barn, while the weeds are separated out to be burned in the fire. In addition to these illustrations from the Gospel of Matthew, Hibbard points out that Michelangelo’s representation of the bodily resurrection, i.e., his “skeletons clothing themselves with flesh,” is an artistic citation of Ezekiel.7 He is, of course, referring to chapter 37, when Ezekiel is told to prophesy to a valley of dry bones. After Ezekiel speaks to the bones, they rise from their graves, come together, and are covered in sinew and muscle, flesh and skin. Finally, Hibbard suggests that Michelangelo’s depiction of Christ, whose appearance is more like that of Apollo the sun god,8 is probably based on a particular description found in the Book of Malachi. Hibbard believes that “the equation of Christ with the sun of Justice (cf. Malachi 4:2) may have influenced Michelangelo’s conception.”9

1 Howard Hibbard, Michelangelo (New York, NY: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1974), 252.

2 Antonio Forcellino, Michelangelo: A Tormented Life (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2009), 193.

3 Ibid., 192.

4 Hibbard, Michelangelo, 246.

5 Ibid., 242.

6 Forcellino, Michelangelo: A Tormented Life, 194.

7 Hibbard, Michelangelo, 250.

8 Andrew Graham-Dixon, Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008), 165.

9 Hibbard, Michelangelo, 246.

Br. Emmanuel Taylor, O.P.'s picture

To Dust You Shall Return

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"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

These are, of course, the words proclaimed during the reception of ashes at the beginning of Lent. To remind myself of this fact I am going to visit the cemetery of the deceased Dominicans. 

The Western Dominican Province has a common place of burial at St. Dominic's Cemetery in Benicia, California. Not only do we have a holy resting ground, but we have a Dominican Friar who keeps it well maintained and is very interested in necrology. Through this effort we have a record of the deceased friars. This necrology allows young Friars to stay in contact with the history of our Western Province in the Order of Preachers. 

This Satuday I served as deacon for a monthly Liturgy of the Eucharist praying for all our deceased Friars. After the Mass we visited the grave a particular Dominican, Fr. Lawrence Jagoe. I picked this Friar because my grandfather remembered him from the days of the "Wild West" in California. From the stories, it seems like Fr. Jagoe was a great Friar Preacher, an entertaining man, and was a hero (see his necrology). Despite that he flourished in this life, the humbing fact remains: he too died and returned to dust. In the end, since everything else return to dust, the only thing that matters is that we repent and draw close to the Lord; Jesus is the one who will make us everlasting. 

Br. Chris Brannan, O.P.'s picture

The Labor Pains of our New Birth

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Br. Chris' preaching on 1 Peter 1:3-5, for Vespers on Sunday, February 19, 2012.

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Christ is risen!

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The feast of Easter has begun, and what a glorious feast it is! Although secular society may choose to mark the occasion for one day, with chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks, we Christians know that the reason for our celebration is something much more than that.


It began 40 days ago, when we were marked with the sign of the cross in ashes. Lent, that solemn season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving followed. We gave up our favorite foods. We did works of charity. We turned back to the Lord in prayer and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our sins confessed and our consciences clean, we came to church on Palm Sunday and sang “Hosanna” to our king. Sadly, the allure of sin was to still too great, for after Jesus washed our feet on Holy Thursday, we betrayed him, deserted him, and denied knowing him.


Perhaps it was this thought in my mind that made Good Friday so especially moving for me this year. Although I sang the part of Jesus in the Passion according to John-- composed by one of our former Nemwan Center interns, Tyler Ross Boegler--I actually identified with all the other characters. I could picture myself as Judas, betraying Christ with a kiss; for this is what happens every time words of gossip or insult leave my lips, those same lips which receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion. I could see myself in Peter’s shoes, saying, “I do not know him.” Every time I turn away from a brother or sister in need, and ignore my Christian duty, I echo these words. Every time fear and shame impede my ability to profess our faith, it is as if I am saying, “I do not know Christ.”


All the experiences of Good Friday: the pain, sorrow, anguish and confusion; they leave us in a place of desolation. After walking the Via Crucis, praying through the Passion, and venerating the wood of the cross, we are left wondering if anything good can come out of this suffering. We find ourselves in darkness and misery.


After many hours, suddenly, a light shines in the gloom. It is the light of Christ, risen from the grave, that dispels the darkness and casts out all shadows of fear and doubt. Bells ring, people sing with joy, “Alleluia” and “Resurrexit” are the words upon our lips. This is the reason for our celebration. Christ’s death has conquered sin, and his resurrection has conquered death. The gates of the netherworld are smashed to pieces, and the gates of heaven are open wide to those who believe.


Now is the time to rejoice with the holy women who came to pay their last respects, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Now is the time to sing God’s praises with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints. And not just for one day, but for 50 days. The season of Easter has begun, and what a glorious season it is!

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Holy Week 2010 - Part 1

Why are the statues covered?
Beginning on the fifth Sunday of Lent (formerly known as Judica Sunday after the first words of the introit “Judge me, O Lord”) and throughout passiontide, a number of churches veil all statues and crosses in purple cloth.

Many theories exist as to the historical origins of this practice. During the ninth century in Germany, a cloth known as the Hungertuch hid the altar during Lent and was not removed until the reading of the Passion at the words “the veil of the temple was rent in two.” Some people believe the tradition arose from the reading of the Gospel which speaks of Jesus hiding himself from the crowd that was about to stone him (John 8:59). Still others speculate that the custom developed in a period in which crosses were more ornate and covered in precious jewels. Covering these resplendent crosses helped the faithful meditate on the sufferings of Christ.

As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops noted in 2006, “The veiling of crosses and images is a sort of ‘fasting’ from sacred depictions which represent the paschal glory of our salvation. Just as the Lenten fast concludes with the Paschal feast, so too, our fasting from the cross culminates in a veneration of the holy wood on which the sacrifice of Calvary was offered for our sins. Likewise, a fasting from the glorious images of the mysteries of faith and the saints in glory, culminates on the Easter night with a renewed appreciation of the glorious victory won by Christ, risen from the tomb to win for us eternal life.”

Here at St. Albert’s a group of students covered the crosses and statues in preparation for Vespers I of Palm Sunday. They will remain covered until the appropriate times during the Triduum liturgies. In the meantime, we hope to more thoughtfully focus our attention on the central mysteries of our faith-–the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Br. Isaiah Mary Molano, O.P.'s picture

Fourth Sunday of Lent

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This past weekend, I preached at Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in Concord, CA. I hope you enjoy.

During the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent, the Catechumens undergo the scrutinies. These are times in the catechumens’ lives where the Church asks them why they want to enter the Catholic Church, testing their resolve.

At the end of each scrutiny, the Catechumens go through an exorcism to purify their intentions. The scrutinies are moments in which catechumens’ souls are exorcised in order to prepare them for the Easter Vigil.


We don’t talk about the Devil anymore. We generally think that the Devil can be explained through a bad childhood or a bad situation.

Yet the Devil exists.

Lucifer spends his time keeping us from Christ. Lucifer tells us that we cannot pray more, that going to Mass once a week is enough, or that we don’t need Confession. Lucifer tells us to think that praying 5 minutes before Mass is sufficient for spiritual growth. He tells us that what we do behind closed doors has no ramifications in family life or in the public sphere.

This is the work of the Devil.

The work of the Devil is to keep us from God. Lucifer paints a picture of the God of Wrath and Destruction, as though God were sitting atop Mount Tamalpais, waiting to strike us down.

This is not God.

Moses reminds the Isrealites that God has made them “dearer than any other nation”. The prophet Hosea talks about God as the Seducer of Hearts. Tradition has interpreted the Song of Songs as God wooing the soul into a loving and passionate relationship.

This is God our Father.

The Prodigal Son is useful here. Like the father in that story, God the Father has let all of us go in order to allow us to understand what God the Father has to offer us. We might go to Church every Sunday. We might give a lukewarm Confession to Father so-and-so. But we live a life where God is uninvolved, compartmentalized on Sunday, whereas our real life is everything except Mass and prayer.

But as the story of the Prodigal Son shows us, the moment we turn back to Him, God the Father chases us like a little puppy. The Majestic, Glorious, All-Knowing, All-Powerful King, the Creator of the Heavens and Earth, losing all of His dignity in order to grab our attention. God the Father waits impatiently for our attention, and does not want to let us go.

When the catechumens are scutinized, they will be given grace from the Father to live in compassion and love.

This is the work of God our Father.

This grace is offered to us also. The Prodigal Son teaches that God yearns for our attention. Let us give the Father our attention. As Lent continues, let us offer the Father fervent prayer and thanksgiving. As we go to Reconciliation, let us resolve to turn our hearts to the Father with zeal and passion. As we receive the Eucharist, let us be like God the Son, who always had the Father in the forefront of his mind. As we live our lives, let us offer everything to God our Father.

Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

Seeing God In Lent

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"Table reading" is a traditional monastic practice of taking meals in silence while some book of spiritual significance is read for the duration. This Lent, our community at St. Albert's has undertaken to begin nightly dinners with ten minutes of table reading from Church Father and desert ascetic, St. John Cassian, who is a kind of spiritual father of the Dominican Order. It is said St. Dominic kept with him and would read a little from two books every day: the Gospel of Matthew (his favorite of the gospels) and the Conferences of Cassian. The conferences afford useful insights into the Christian life which are particularly appropriate to Lent.

In the first conference, Cassian speaks of two "ends" or "aims" of the spiritual life. The final end (telos) of the spiritual life is the Kingdom of God. But the "immediate" or "closer" aim is its skopos (Greek for something to "fix the eye on," as an archer his target). This skopos is purity of heart, as in "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God"(Mt. 5:8). Lent is a special time to purify our hearts so our spiritual vision may be sharpened.

We all have the experience of giving something up to get something better. Doctors, athletes, teachers, mothers; any worthwhile life requires moral, physical, and mental discipline to be lived well. During Lent, the Christian refocuses his spiritual energies by giving certain things up so he can live the Gospel more deeply. Food is taken in smaller portions; perhaps we resolve to rise a half-hour earlier in the morning for extra Scripture meditation; or resolve to visit infirm friends and relatives who otherwise lack companionship.

As a Dominican, I've found Lenten disciplines extremely helpful: abstinence from certain foods and full portions of meals trains a certain inner-temperance and self control which – I've found – can make me more alive and alert to my neighbor, even at times more perceptive in prayer and so with a deeper thanksgiving for God's many gifts, and greater insight into His desires for my life. Underneath the outward discipline, a kind of hidden and secret exultation in God is discovered, a way of perceiving and "seeing" Him more clearly.

It is a bit like backpacking in a great national park like Yosemite or Kings Canyon. On such trips – especially the ones of several days – food is spare, sleep is uncomfortable, and fatigue is constant. But precisely by giving up normal conveniences, we receive marvelous visions of pristine wilderness, and often a deeper companionship with the comrades we journey with. Somehow we often come back more energized and appreciative of our everyday life. Every Christian undertakes such a journey in Lent, but in a spiritual way. I myself rejoice to do it as a Dominican: every ounce of my energy given to studying, contemplating, and rejoicing in the Lord, so that he may use me to bring his gospel to the world.

Br. Isaiah Mary Molano, O.P.'s picture

Lenten Blossoms

My father died during my third year in the Order. As a memorial, my mother donated two magnolia trees--my father's favorite--to the gardens of Saint Albert Priory. The one featured here is our Magnolia Solangiana Rubra Rustica, located west of the chapel.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "Lent" comes from lengthen, meaning "spring" or "Springtime." Spiritually speaking, then, Lent is a season in which we revive our devotion to the Lord Jesus and His Passion.

I took these photos the Thursday after Ash Wednesday. It's interesting and profound, I think, to see the Solangiana blossoming at the beginning of Lent, especially against the morning fog. In a sense, too, our spiritual lives are called to blossom as Lent moves on.

For all of us, may this Lenten season be a time of revival, penance and conversion, as we await the Springtime of the Ressurection.