Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Yes, “Gather Us In” exists in stained glass

May 11th, 2011, Promulgated by Bernie

You will want to first read the previous, related, post.

In this post I would like to try and come to a reasoned judgment as to the worthiness of these stained glass windows from St. Margaret Mary Church (of Blessed Trinity Parish) in Apalachin (near Endicott, in the Diocese of Rochester). I only pick these windows because I suspect that they would have a strong appeal for most people. They were designed by Steve Jeremko.



I will ask myself the four basic questions I recommended in my previous post entitled Can there be a stained glass version of “Gather Us In?”  for determining the worthiness of specific sacred or liturgical works of art. The questions are based on the stipulations outlined by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy:  

1. To what extent are the works quality stained glass windows?

2. To what extent do the works have the exclusive aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God?

3. To what extent are the windows Catholic? Can we see the influence of Catholic tradition in the symbols or iconography? Are the images orthodox –indicative of correct belief?

4. To what extent do the windows exhibit noble beauty? Do the elements and principles of design communicate a lofty feeling rather than a common or base one?

I invite you to try and answer these questions first before reading my conclusions.

First off, question number one is probably impossible for us to answer here so let’s assume that the windows are perfect examples of stained glass.

Let’s move on to the second question: Do the windows have the exclusive aim of turning our minds devoutly toward God? Here, already, we run into a problem.  The first window, especially, with its theme of inclusiveness is less about worshipping God than it is about a man-centered feeling of community and inclusiveness. It is rife with political correctness. Topping it off, off course, is the socially charged emphasis on the rainbow which not only signifies an array of differences but also calls to mind homosexual inclusion. Now, these are not bad things but they are also not exclusively God-centered –unless you think of God only in human terms; as only existing in your fellow man and in human relationships. The windows do not devoutly turn us toward the majesty of God –which is the aim of worship—but, rather, to ourselves and our social policies. There is nothing offensive about the ‘inclusive’ window; it is just not sacred, liturgical art, if we consider the requirements outlined  by the Council fathers.

Is it Catholic? I think we run into even more difficulties in examining the works based on question three. I don’t think these windows  look at all Catholic. When I look at them I am reminded of stereotypical Protestant or non-denominational art. Notably lacking is any reference to the unity and apostolicity of the Church through time. The windows lack any theological foundation other than an ambiguous spirituality or pastoral feeling.  The marriage window seems to reference the scriptural story of the wedding at Cana (employed as a mere setting) but the use of intertwined rings and heart frame introduce essentially secular symbols or signs. It is safe to say that there is nothing here that is doctrinal or dogmatic or even, specifically, scriptural in a Catholic sense. If there were some reference in the marriage window to, for example, the relation between Christ and His Church we might have something with which to work.

In addition, the prominence of the rainbow and its clear associations with the socially and politically charged issue of homosexually seems to imply an attitude that is actually in opposition to Catholic Church teaching on chastity, as far as homosexual persons are concerned.  That may not have been the intent of the artist or those charged with supervising the artist but this is what can happen when you fail to consult tradition or and have no solidly orthodox goal in mind.

How about noble? Do the windows meet the Council Fathers’ mandate that sacred art exhibit noble beauty? The word noble infers, among other things, outstanding qualities or elevated ideas and thoughts. A feeling of seriousness, formality and appropriateness come to my mind, as well, as I consider the meaning of the term nobility.

These church windows are pretty, certainly –pleasant enough to look at. Pretty, however, is not noble beauty. These windows do not inspire anything more than a pleasant feeling.

The reaction to my conclusions regarding the worthiness of the windows in St. Margaret Mary Church may very well be the same as reactions to the criticisms of the song “Gather Us In.”  I have tried to reach a critical judgment of these windows based on what I understand to be the standards or guidelines outlined in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

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19 Responses to “Yes, “Gather Us In” exists in stained glass”

  1. avatar Bruce says:

    This was well-done, so thank you, and I agree with your conclusions, especially regarding their Catholicity.

  2. avatar Scott W. says:

    It’s also decidedly unmasculine and unadult-like.

  3. avatar Hopefull says:

    They look like children’s coloring books. How sad. And the subliminal message seems to be that Faith isn’t for adults. Ouch!

  4. avatar Bona says:

    Some of the most beautiful stained glass around is at St. Thomas the Apostle Church.

  5. avatar Christina says:

    Another thought with the first image…Jesus is in the dark, the light (sun) is opposite him. It appears he is leading people from the light into darkness.

  6. avatar Snowshoes says:

    St. Augustine’s had beautiful stained glass windows… That church helped raise a kid’s mind and heart to God. Thanks, Sir Bernard, for a masterful analysis. Oremus!

  7. avatar Bernie says:

    A reader sent me an excellent critique of my critique and I would like to share it, in summary, with you. As I mentioned in the previous post, we may not be able to all agree on the worthiness of a particular liturgical work but the four questions allows us at least an objective process for reaching consensus.

    The reader correctly points out that we need to consider when the windows were commissioned. In the case of the rainbow, did it have the same connotation then as it does now? (Probably not as the windows were installed in 1967!) Could it be then that the rainbow is a reminder of God’s promise to us (Gen 9:12-17) and not “nefarious” or naive? (“you may be adding modern sensibility to something that was innocent at the time.”

    Our reader also points out that “there is much Scripture in those windows.”
    “Window 1: Matthew 18:1-5 “Become like little children”; Matthew 19:13-14 “Let the children come to me.” Window 2: Matthew 19:1-12 (Teachings on Marriage); John 2:1-11 (The Wedding Feast of Cana). This also does a good job at illustrating that the Cross does play an important role in matrimony. Window 3: John 10:1-18; Psalm 23 (The Good Shepherd). Possibly a reference to Holy Orders?”

    The reader finds my aesthetic argument to be correct but my doctrinal arguments specious.

    I thank him for his thoughtful and detailed email.

  8. avatar Raymond Rice says:

    Hopefull: Stained glass windows were originally developed as pictorial “books” for people who could not read or write to look at and still absorb the message. For adults, they have become a thing of beauty and are still a relevant media for children whose reading ability may still be emerging and whose imagination may be at full throttle!!

  9. avatar Anonymous says:

    I find it incredibly ironic that the very “Catholic” stained glass window posted above, from the Church in Elkhart, Indiana (where the blood is pouring from Our Lord into chalices), is from an EPISCOPAL (i.e. non-Catholic!) Church. Despite it being in a non-Catholic church, presumably Bernie likes that better.

    Bernie, with respect to your rainbow comment, I’m certain that St. Margaret Mary’s windows long pre-date any association between rainbows and homosexuality, but perhaps you are interested in revising the Genesis account of Noah to remove any reference to the offending biblical bow as well.

    I consider myself to be a pretty conservative Catholic, but posts like this one present the real and present danger of everyone posting on this site being branded as NUTS. The SMM windows are FINE. And Bernie, you gotta find more to do with your (limited) time! Aren’t there poor to feed or sick to heal?

    Who the heck are you to sit in judgment of St. Margaret Mary’s stained glass windows, anyways? How about just a bit of humility here? Did you bother to ask the people of Apalachin who worship there their opinion, or do they not matter?

  10. avatar Bernie says:

    Feel better now?

  11. avatar Nerina says:

    And Bernie, you gotta find more to do with your (limited) time! Aren’t there poor to feed or sick to heal?

    And you know he doesn’t feed poor people or volunteer in some way?

    Who the heck are you to sit in judgment of St. Margaret Mary’s stained glass windows, anyways? How about just a bit of humility here?

    Are we not allowed to discuss things rationally? Bernie laid out the criteria – if you have an argument to make for the stained glass, then make it. Don’t resort to making presumptions and judgments about the author. Just because you don’t agree with his assessment doesn’t give you the right to lambaste him.

    Here’s the thing, imagine that you are sitting in Bernie’s living room while having this very discussion. Would you adopt this same tone in a face-to-face encounter? If you would, you need to learn some civility.

    I find it incredibly ironic that the very “Catholic” stained glass window posted above, from the Church in Elkhart, Indiana (where the blood is pouring from Our Lord into chalices), is from an EPISCOPAL (i.e. non-Catholic!) Church. Despite it being in a non-Catholic church, presumably Bernie likes that better.

    It’s more than just ironic, it’s sad. Sad that too many Catholic churches care so little for decor and art and design. It doesn’t only happen with art, but with music too. Thank goodness for the Anglicans who have preserved so much of the sacred choral music.

  12. avatar Bernie says:

    For the sake of argrument, try to set aside knowledge of the historical facts concerning the date of the installation of the windows. I acknowledge that they predate the association of rainbows with the homosexual agenda, and that my pointed criticism is invalid.) Now, pretend that you have been presented with these designs as proposals for a new church for your parish, today. How would you judge their worthiness as sacred, liturgical art? What would your reaction be to the “rainbow” window? Would you immediately think of the sign of Noah? (We’re not even sure if that was actually the artist’s intent. Us hippies were into rainbows, too, you know.) What would we think?

    The whole purpose of the post -and if you’re paying much attention to my other posts- is to get us thinking on how we can make reasoned decisions in line with the thinking of the Church. I don’t think it is just a matter of opinon, of liking or disliking, or who is in power. I think we can work through these issues by using reason.

    I like to pick as examples local projects because they hit close to home and I think we can see the obvious impact of paying attention to sacred, liturgical art that is meant to support the our liturgies in our churches. I’ve pointed out in some posts what I thought were some good local examples as well some that I believe fall short but most importantly I have tried to explain why -to give reasons for my judgments.

  13. avatar Snowshoes says:

    Thanks again Bernie, I agree with your analysis, even though the windows show cartoonish scenes, one could say they’re better than the lollipop assortment most “modern” stained glass consists of. C’mon anonymous, a beautiful “traditional” stained glass window elevates the mind with its noble beauty, these windows just don’t do that. We’re modern so we’re better, right? So let’s BE better… (That’s a tip of the hat to our evolution-minded brethren…;-)

  14. avatar Dr. K says:

    And Bernie, you gotta find more to do with your (limited) time! Aren’t there poor to feed or sick to heal?

    Anonymous-135225, don’t keep the poor waiting while you post bitter comments on the Internet!

  15. avatar Scott W. says:

    My stock response to the non-responsive “you should be doing something else with your time” response is, “I could be arguing in my spare time.” 🙂

  16. avatar Bro AJK says:

    For art to be considered in the Catholic Church, it must be both aesthetically and doctrinally correct. If both criteria are not met, it must not be installed. Aesthetically, the art must be but noble and simple. I take noble to be of first-class material and skill. Simple I take to mean non-distracting as opposed to over-the-top.

  17. avatar Anonymous says:

    Bernie – in answer to your question – I really like these windows. They clearly portray biblical events, are tasteful, they are very high quality (I’ve seen them in person), and they turn my heart and mind to Our Lord. As for whether they’re “Catholic” or not – I have no idea what you, I or anyone else can mean by that. I still do not equate rainbows with “gay” agendas, nor will I, so that doesn’t offend me even today (i will not let homosexual activists claim exclusive right to one of God’s greatest created natural phenomena).

    So these windows were presented to me, I’d vote “yes.” That said, I’m not fond of the architecture of SMM Apalachin, but that’s another blog post I suppose.

    Sorry if my tone was brusque.

    And Bona, the times I’ve been to STA, I found the stained glass windows to be very unattractive. Those that actually have an image rather than random colors, that is.

  18. avatar Bernie says:

    Anonymous-135225: Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you are still with us!

    I personally think the concept of “noble” is more difficult than “Catholic.” My thinking is still evolving on both. Bro AJK in his comment, I think, limits too much “noble” to materials and skill. I believe most people who ponder such things, and reflecting on sacred art in light of the Council, have also interpreted the term as he has. But, I think it also includes the visual expression that is the result of an artist using the elements of art according to the principles of design, skillfully fashioning in high quality materials. In simpler language, the image should “look” or have a noble expression as well as be of high quality material and skillfully painted, constructed, carved, etc.

    “Catholic” is also a difficult concept when applied to sacred art. It certainly means that the work cannot be heretical but, I think it also means a work of sacred art should not be ‘ambiguous’ or susceptible to possible misinterpretation. That’s what I think I meant when I criticized the SMM windows (considering the design apart the date they were made). I also think “Catholic” means that a new work should have some visual clues in style that call to mind our heritage of Catholic sacred art; images that call to mind -these are just by way of an example- Byzantine, Romanesque, or Gothic style renderings of human figures, spatial relationships, environments or decorative details. I don’t mean copying. I mean sensing in the image some inspiration from our artistic tradition. Is it therefore possible for a work to be in a modern style like cubism or expressionism? Yes, I think so. But I don’t think that just because a work is based on scripture or represents a scriptural story that it is necessarily “Catholic.” I’m possibly on thin ice here but I’m trying to make my understanding clearer.

    If you have not already read the previous post on this topic I invite you to do so (click on the yellow ‘previous’ at the top of the post).

    I will be doing a post on the St. Thomas the Apostle windows as soon as I get permission from the photographer to post his pictures. I hope you will join that discussion, too.

    I am so very glad to hear back from you!

  19. avatar Denita says:

    Being an artist, I love and appreciate stained glass art. That said, I can understand some people’s apprehension at certain types of Catholic (or Episcopal) stained glass windows. I prefer the more traditional myself. My Cathedral has some beautiful examples.
    Maybe all this “focus on youth” that some of these churches have inspires the artist to put a “contemporary spin” on the windows. Just a thought.

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