Friday, December 30, 2011


Eyes are the window to the soul so they say. Perhaps that is why they are so important in symbolism. They tell you so much.

There was a parish in Cleveland that recessed lighting in its very high and flat ceiling. Around one of the lights a giant eyeball was painted. This was the eye of God that tells us He is all knowing, all seeing, every present. (Now that I think if it, that eye was kind of creepy, which is probably why I liked it so much. It has since been painted over and the building closed.)

The eye in a Triangle is a symbol of the Trinity. Accompanying it will often be an areola. If the eye is alone, it is usually a depiction of God the Father.

Where eyes are looking is often very telling. Eyes cast down might be grief, humility, or shame depending on the greater context. Eyes looking to heaven might be prayer, inspiration, pleading, or the eyes of someone seeing a vision (think of St. Stephen.)

Eyes directed at you means the painting or statue is trying to tell you something directly – even if it is just “be holy.” Eyes looking elsewhere are trying to direct you to something else more important. It might be to an action or a person that is supposed to be the focus. Of course blindness and the ability to see, whether real or symbolic are very important in the spiritual life.

Very little direction to where one’s eyes are supposed to be are given in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. One direction that is given is in the Roman Canon (or Eucharistic Prayer one.) When the priest says, “With eyes raised to you . . .” the rubric states that the priest is to look up toward heaven. However, where a priest looks is very important during the Mass. A lot of misinformation can be given by where he chooses to look, so powerful are our eyes. For years I thought that the Eucharist prayer was directed to the congregation because the priest made such a big point about staring at the people as he said the prayers. In fact, almost none of it is. It is directed to the Father and we are supposed to be joining the priest in this action. Not even the phrase, “Take this all of you and eat it,” is directed to the congregation. We are reminding the Father what the Son said in order that God will make the bread and wine into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus.

There are a few places that the priest SHOULD look at the people because he is directly addressing them. These are such times as when he says, “Let us pray,” or “Behold the Lamb of God,” or giving the homily or proclaiming the Gospel. (Though I understand it is difficult not make the wrong impression at times since we are standing face to face even when we are not addressing each other. But good efforts should be made.)

Eyes on a plate are a symbol of St. Lucy. Prior to her martyrdom she was tortured by having her eyes gouged out.

In iconography the eyes are extremely important. They are a window to heaven and as we gaze at the image of the saint, one should “look through their eyes” into heaven itself and contemplate things of God.

Much more could be written but this is just a taste (just think of what is done to eyes by Hollywood especially in spookier movies! That is how important they are.) But this gives you a taste (or should I say a glimpse?)


Anonymous said...

what is the name of the church that has been closed?


Fr. V said...

Saint Rose

Foxie said...

Where should the lay people look during the mass? I have had this question for years I was just too shy to ask. Should we look at the priest at all times or are there exceptions? There is a new mosaic in a church I visited and it takes most of the wall behind the altar and when I saw it for the first time I was so distracted almost the whole mass^^' The mosaic is really beautiful and pictures can be found here: . Funny thing is that it's in the cathedral of San Sebastian and also depicts him:D Have a happy new year father and all the readers! :)

Fr. V said...

Very interesting quesion Foxy. There are many opinions on this. For example some liturgists argue quite strongly that nobody should be reading the readings along with the lector because the importance is that they are being proclaimed. Of course if you are like me and you tend to be more visual you pick up so much more if you read along . . . then of course the counter is "study it more beforehand . . ."

The basic rule of thumb that we give our servers is that one should pay attention to where the action is . . . readings - Eucharistic prayer. BUt even this can be taken too far. THis is from where the practice of glass chalices came so that people could "see" better. THERE IS NOTHING TO SEE. It will look exactly the same. There is no magic trick here. We walk by faith and not by sight as the song goes.

Then there is the whole idea of churches in the round which does have its place in the history of the church - but rather than that people like them because they can "see each other and encounter the body of Christ in the assembly" which is dubious in nature to say the least.

THe nice thing about artwork is that if your mind and eyes should wander, perhaps it will be to something holy still and that should eventually bring you back to what is going on.

THink of it as being with a friend. We look at them when we are engaging them right? So do we engage the Mass. And when we are not singing from books or have some ritual to which we pay attention, or are deep in pryaer, there is still the art (hopefully) but it is not the time to engage others. The time for that is immediately following int he social hall.