Visual communication through art in Christian churches dates almost to the church’s beginning.
Often art was used in churches because most people couldn’t read, so religious stories were portrayed in pictures to make them memorable.
In addition to education, the art serves to inspire, sometimes just from the beauty of the decorative objects.
Often objects were designed to point the way toward God or to honor God.
In Lafayette, a museum has gathered artifacts from the region to display. See the related story, “The art of faith.”
The first art seen by many when visiting a church is stained glass windows, a practice that dates to at least the 800s.
Styles and symbols used for windows have changed through the centuries, but the use of the rich colors continues.
Inside the church, many opportunities for art exist. Many of these are directly linked to the Eucharist and celebration of Mass. Here are some of the items, with definitions from the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms and information from other sources.
CHALICE: From the Latin “calix,” which means “a cup.” This is the cup holding wine in Communion. It is often a footed cup.
CIBORIUM: From the Greek “kiborion,” which was a hollow seedcase of an Egyptian water lily used as a drinking cup. This is a lidded vessel that holds the Eucharistic bread. This can also be a four-column canopy over an altar.
CHASUBLE: From Latin “castus,” which means “clean” or “pure.” This is a priest’s or bishop’s outermost vestment while celebrating the Eucharist.
MONSTRANCE: From the Latin “monstrantia” and “monstrare,” which mean “to show.” This object shows the Eucharistic Host or bread so it may be venerated. Often it is a cross surrounded by a sunburst. The center holds a round glass case, or luna, which holds the consecrated Host. Another item that houses the consecrated bread is a pyx, a small wooden box. It can be used to carry the Host to the ill who couldn’t attend Mass.
An item that will be in the Lafayette exhibition is the icon, sometimes spelled ikon. The word comes from the Greek “eikon,” which means “image.” These are flat, two-dimensional images of people who are venerated, painted according to strict rules. In the Eastern church, icons are considered windows to heaven used to help prayer, not an object to pray to. Icons are most associated with Eastern churches, however, Roman Catholic churches and individuals also use icons.
Sources: Advocate files, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, by Donald K. McKim
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