In Your Midst

IMAGE OF THE DIVINE:  A Meditation on Cathedral Art

March 2005



In Leonardo DaVinci's original, the face of Christ was left unfinished because the artist "could not think that it was possible to conceive in the imagination that beauty and heavenly grace which should be the mark of God incarnate."  The artist of the Cathedral's marble relief supplied the face of the Lord as well as his feet, which are not visible in DaVinci's original.

This marble relief of the Last Supper comes from the original high altar of the Cathedral. It was carved at the turn of the century and is modeled on Leonardo DaVinci’s 1498 masterpiece. DaVinci chose to portray the moment when Christ told his disciples, “One of you will betray me.”

Georgio Vasari wrote in 1550: “Leonardo imagined and succeeded in expressing that anxiety which had seized the Apostles in wishing to know who should betray their Master. For which reason in all their faces are seen love, fear, and wrath, or rather, sorrow, at not being able to understand the meaning of Christ.”

The Eucharist is portrayed not simply as Christ’s gift of himself in the bread and wine, but as a moment of challenge, bringing about an intense self-searching. All around the table the disciples start up from their places and with vivid gestures beg to be reassured, “Surely not I, Lord!”

The artist reminds us that we are never passive onlookers at the Eucharist. We come not just to receive, but to give, and to give without measure: “I do not seek your gift; what I seek is you… I gave my whole body and blood as food so that I could be totally yours and that you might be mine forever. But if you hold yourself back and do not freely offer yourself to my will, then your offering will be incomplete” (Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ).

In this Year of the Eucharist Pope John Paul II has invited us to make every Eucharist we celebrate a moment as profound, as dynamic, as life-altering, as the first Eucharist.

Christ, present in the bread and the wine “must be a kind of magnetic pole attracting an ever greater number of souls enamoured of him,” the Pope writes in Mane Nobiscum Domine. “In the Eucharist our God has shown love in the extreme, overturning all those criteria of power which too often govern human relations…

“It is not by chance that the Gospel of John contains no account of the institution of the Eucharist, but instead relates the washing of feet: by bending down to wash the feet of his disciples, Jesus explains the meaning of the Eucharist unequivocally…

“We cannot delude ourselves: by our mutual love and, in particular, by our concern for those in need we will be recognized as true followers of Christ.”

- M.L.


Other articles in the March 2005 issue:

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