worth at least a thousand words [updated]

When teaching, I try, like most teachers, to find pictures to illustrate the words I am using.

When I show the differences between the Mass of Pope Saint Pius V and the Mass of Pope Paul VI, I show this Ordo Missae page from a missal we have at the seminary. The Mass is being celebrated versus populum and the altar server is a boy who needs a haircut; but there is still a lot of appeal in this picture.

old missal artwork 2



Until last week I have been at a loss to find a picture to illustrate the Mass of Pope Paul VI. Then I received an announcement from Liturgy Training Publications about their new Ministry Enrichment Gathering program and I saw this artwork which LTP commissioned:

© 2104 Lalo Garciareduced size 4



@ 2014 Lalo Garcia. All rights reserved. Licensed to Liturgy Training Publications. Used with permission.

Suffice it to say that this painting knocks me out.

It seems to me that one way forward in the conversation about the liturgical reform is finding or commissioning the right art work to tell the story of what happens in all of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. I am amazed when I find Catholics still responding to the illustrations in the Baltimore Catechisms the people of my generation and older grew up with. Some of them are revealingly inaccurate. If there is enough interest in these, I can update this post with them.

What new or old art do you find illuminating? I also have other illustrations with which I can update this post. If you send me yours, I can add them: paulfford [at] stjohnsem.edu

Please be sure you have the correct copyright information and the necessary permission, if the pictures are not in the public domain.

[UPDATE, per #4 by Dale Rodrigue]:


Ms. Barth. 181 (Ausst. 67)


  1. The first picture is ad orientem and versus populum at the same time!

    Liturgical East faces a crucifix, not a tabernacle (consider the Benedictine altar arrangement). You can have Mass without a tabernacle, but you can’t have Mass without a crucifix.

    1. @Joe Walberg – comment #2:
      Hi Joe, it appears that for the living (laity) in the drawing it is ad populum with an angel escorting a soul to heaven.
      On the other side of the altar, ad populum, we see the “soul side” represented by St. Michael with his motto Quis ut Deus and his spear in the lion or beast with what appears to be souls in Purgatory.
      Can’t have Mass without a crucifix? I dunno about that. If that is true then we have almost one half of a millennia of invalid Eucharists.
      All in all the drawing is very interesting …….

  2. Beautiful and striking illustration Paul!

    My favorite is a 9th century “early medieval worship” illustration from Edward Foley’s “From Age to Age” with the bishop and what appears to be 5 priests (or priests and deacons) behind the bishop at the altar, some worshipers with hands raised in the orans position and it’s ad populum!
    There are ring shaped hosts on the altar with a large Roman double handled chalice, an antependium and two standing candles that are not on the altar and without a crucifix on the altar.
    Absolutely Vatican II….

    (1991 edition, illustration is on page 83 in the section Frankish Domination, 750 to 1073 A.D.)

    1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #4:

      And notice the position of the presider’s hands. In two dimensions, this is the only way of depicting hands extended over the offerings at the Hanc igitur.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #11:
        Paul, yes, truly amazing how we can exactly recognize a three dimensional action that is portrayed in two dimensions without even thinking about it!
        Another reason that I like the image is that it is so very revealing. Notice how the concelebrants do not have their hands pressed together pointed upward but rather are holding what I think are missals? Or do I dare say “missalettes? Also, the laity standing, not kneeling, one of them with hands in the orans position, one large double handled chalice, floor stand candles and no altar crucifix. And of course ad populum.

        My local church remodeled in 1977 and was remodeled to look very similar in appearance to this image from the 9th century, no kneelers, a small altar and no candles or crucifix on the altar. Place was always packed and standing room only especially on Christmas and Easter. In 2005 the small “reform of the reform” group under the leadership of a new pastor who was clericalist and “specialized” in “renewing” church buildings ie read: “reform of the reform” tore out the Vatican II remodeling, removed the lighting and replaced the altar with what he called a “gothic altar” and brought back the Tridentine altar and built an altar rail. Tacky, they even built a tall ambo with stairs the purchased ironwork railings you see on outdoor steps and placed them on the steps up the ambo . Now attendance is down almost 90% and it is a dark and gloomy place.
        Now, last year, they had to sell the rectory.

      2. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #15:
        “Notice how the concelebrants do not have their hands pressed together pointed upward but rather are holding what I think are missals? Or do I dare say missalettes?”

        Except that they didn’t have missals in the 9th century. To hand around books with other people’s parts in them, each having to be copied by hand on handmade volumes, would have been an impossible extravagance. Each minister had only the texts needed for the ministry in question: sacramentary, book of gospels, gradual, etc. And even great ecclesiastical centers might have only one copy of each of these. (Much was made by Amalarius of Metz about the borrowing of an antiphonary from Rome so that Charlemagne’s court chapel could have a copy of it, as well as Rome’s anxiety to get it back.)

      3. @Paul Inwood – comment #11:
        Paul, could you look at the second panel (comment #20) and can you or anybody else here (yes, you too Jack Wayne) speculate or have any ideas why the bishop has raised his right hand with his thumb placed in the middle of his palm? The description from Fitzwilliam museum states that he is raising his hand not for a blessing but to signal the beginning of the liturgy?

        As a side note, my grandfather’s sister (great aunt) was cured of paralysis in the 1920’s through the intercession of St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec and was left with a permanent paralysis of her thumb in exactly the same manner.

  3. Mass in a Connemara Cabin, by Aloysius O’Kelly:
    A painting of a “Station Mass” in a Connemara cottage can be seen at http://irishamerica.com/2012/03/rural-ireland-the-inside-story-at-the-mcmullen-museum/.
    The custom of having station Mass around a parish goes back a long way. It may have originated in Penal times, when Mass could not be celebrated in public. Nothing to do with Stations of the Cross; the “stations” were held in rural parishes, where Mass would be celebrated in private homes several times a year. The homes varied from year to year. It was also an occasion for redecorating the home! Confessions were heard beforehand, and breakfast was served afterwards. It was a big occasion. The custom continues in some parts of Ireland, sometimes also in urban areas.

  4. Thank you Paul for the picture!!!
    I just saw it out of the corner of my eye when scrolling up and said “Wait a minute, how???”
    It’s stunning and I believe it is carved in ivory and a 9th century Mass at that!
    Again, thank you!


    The LTP Ministry Enrichment image of the Paul VI mass has “Living Water” flowing from the altar. There is a similar scene at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Naples FL where they use a different colored marble to designate water flowing from the altar (top row of images, last on the right) http://varga-art.com/ecclesiastical_art/SaintAgnes/

  5. The beams of light coming down from heaven in the first picture appear to be coming from the celebrant’s left hand side and a little way in front, suggesting that this is an early afternoon celebration (strictly illicit back then, of course), and the priest is facing west. Is outrage!

    In the second picture the celebrant is definitely facing west; unless it is an evening Mass.

    What do you mean, I’m taking it all too literally?

  6. None of the images are technically correct, the artists take liberty to depict broadly what is happening at Mass. The first image could easily be an OF Mass and the 9th Century image reminds me of Low Masses I have been to where the floor candles were used instead of altar candles. I suppose the second image could only be the OF because of how the deacon is vested.

    What I find most interesting is how none of the images have conflicting messages. They show different things, but are not in opposition with eachother, which further convinces me that the idea of the OF and EF not being able to coexist because they supposedly have contradictory and vastly different ecclesiologies is baloney.

    1. @Jack Wayne – comment #13:
      Oy vey.
      Well thank you telling us that none of the images are technically correct and our interpretations are wrong because you “suppose” something then mercifully setting us all straight!

      Any then you mention baloney, well …..

      1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #17:
        When did I say anyone was wrong in how they interpreted the images? I had was not trying to correct anyone or seem superior. Apparently I’m not allowed to have an opinion contrary to yours, which seems very much colored by some negative experience you had with ROTR people.

        Perhaps you found it really insulting that I would compare your favorite image to the EF Mass? And yes, the “It’s all about ecclesiology” argument is unsupportable boloney.

  7. To the ivory plaque illustrated above should be added the other half which is in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. It is pretty obviously a ‘pair’ in date by the same hand (or workshop) and shows the word service with the Bishop preaching, lectionary in hand. The deacons (behind the Bishop) and the subdeacons (singers) in front of the Bishop are the same.

      1. @Paul F Ford – comment #16:
        Paul, I just returned to my computer — time difference because I live in Brussels — and I glad that Dale has already brought up the image from Fitzwilliam at Cambridge that I referred to. The two plaques make a marvelous pair when put next to each other. Note also that the bread on the paten is probably unleavened — it was still used inn the Western Church at the time the plaques were carved — along with the 2 handled chalice for communion in both kinds.

      2. @Philip Sandsrtrom – comment #25:
        Philip, take a look at Fr. Jims comment at # 21, it appears that there is a THIRD panel! It certainly has the same edge design as the first two!

      3. @Dale R. Rodrigue – comment #26:
        Yes, these three panels do certainly come from the same source. The first two showing the Mass seem to be approximately of the same size (13×4+ inches or 33×11+ cms). The image of Pope Gregory the Great certainly seems to be of the same artist (or workshop) but looks to be of a different proportionality. The Vienna Kunsthistoriches Museum’s information does not give any size indications however. The Fitzwilliam Museum information’s bibliographical notes gives reference to work by P. Turpin connecting the three pieces. The two Mass panels certainly provide a glimpse of how Mass was celebrated before the year 1000 (at least in Cathedrals and Abbeys.)

  8. Paul and Philip, yes please post the other half if you can! It’s probably just as beautiful as the image that Paul so kindly posted.

  9. Total guess, but maybe the hand gesture is a musical/conductor gesture, since the website says the panel may have been made for a chant book. St Gregory is holding a book with the Introit for the first Sunday of Advent and is surrounded by singers. Again – it’s a total guess.

    1. @Jack Wayne – comment #24:
      Maybe our friend Charles Culbreth can share some of his expertise on this and whether the hand/thumb position is connected to sacred music/chant in the Carolingian period?

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