Wherein a painting helps Fr. Z drill into the mystery of the Visitation and authentic Active Participation

In the Kunsthistorisches Museum there is a canvas by Josef von Führich depicting the journey of Mary – in haste – over the hills to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

This is the Gospel of today’s Mass in the Vetus Ordo, the Roman Mass, for Ember Friday in Advent.

Mary has received the Annunciation from the Archangel Gabriel.  She gave her “Fiat”.  She pondered what happened.  She acted.  That is her pattern.  It should be our pattern too, especially for liturgical participation: active receptivity of what God wants to give us, then internalizing it, then acting outwardly.

In this painting – you should be able to click it for a larger version – has charming elements.

Take a good look.

RIGHT Click and open in a new tab for larger

Note the accompanying posse of angels, who have different tasks.  Immediately above the Virgin are apparently more important (larger) angels dropping roses before Mary as she walks.  One of her titles in the Litany of Loreto is Rosa Mystica.   Directly following is St. Joseph, gathering each fallen rose as if they are precious.  He doesn’t want to miss even one of them… which will be a lot of roses by the time they reach the house of Zechariah.  Perhaps he and the angels have a recycling deal?

Going before the virgin is a gang of smaller angels.  It looks as if they are consulting a map.  “It’s this way!” “Noooo…. I’m telling you, it’s that way!”  “Look. I’ve been there.  We have to go right.”  It looks like they consulting a map.  But…. No.

Look more carefully, this is a choir, a schola cantorum, singing as the Virgin hastens along, the embodiment of festina lente, calmly hurrying.

Now you can also see an angel with a thurible, incensing the Blessed Virgin.

Orrrr… incensing the God made flesh within her.

It’s starting to look at lot like a Corpus Christi procession, isn’t it?

Mary is the perfect ostensorium, “show-er,.. displayer” of the One who will be Host.

This is a good way of connecting our own way of participation at Holy Mass – active participation properly understood – with the lessons derived from Mary, who is the Lord’s First Disciple.

A tip for PRIESTS from Joseph: Don’t let a single lovely rose – words and gestures and all the liturgical elements you can control by ars celebrandi and choices of good taste – escape your loving and respectful grasp.  Bow down, bend yourself humbly down to take them up and make them yours, yours for distribution to others who depend on you for “the good stuff”.  This is your heritage as a priest of the ROMAN Church!     Don’t let it be lost.  This is your flock’s patrimony.  Help them to keep it.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Chrisc says:


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  3. Mariana2 says:

    Thanks for all the good stuff, Father!

  4. Herman Joseph says:

    What you wrote, Father, got me thinking about we lay people too…the way we make the Sign of the Cross, respond, genuflect, walk up to the Communion Rail, etc…we too should behave just like Saint Joseph, not miss a single rose.

  5. Fr. Reader says:


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  7. Semper Gumby says:

    Josef von Fuhrich (1800-1876), belonged to the “Nazarene” group of painters within the larger circle of 19th century Romantic artists.

    Fuhrich’s entry in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica: “Fuhrich has been fairly described as a “Nazarene,” a romantic religious artist whose pencil did more than any other to restore the old spirit of Durer [Albrecht Durer 1471-1528: “St. Jerome in the Wilderness,” “Albrecht Durer the Elder with a Rosary] and give new shape to countless incidents of the gospel and scriptural legends.”

    As for Romanticism itself, art historian Paul Johnson: “The Romantic movement was the central fact of art for most of the nineteenth century but it was not a simple phenomenon. It had three main ingredients: religion, nationalism, literature, all interconnected.”

    Jane Austen’s 1811 novel “Sense and Sensibility” (a 2008 BBC miniseries) contrasts the sense of the practical Elinor Dashwood with the impulsive emotional sensibility of Marianne Dashwood who is charmed by the calculating pleasure-seeker Mr. Willoughby.

  8. Semper Gumby says:

    The Nazarenes formed in Vienna in 1809 among a small group of art students, they decamped the next year to Rome- partly to recognize the Christian themes and techniques of the Italian Renaissance as their heritage, and partly to distance themselves from Napoleon’s occupation of Vienna. Fuhrich, after time in Prague and inspired by Albrecht Durer, joined the Nazarenes in Rome in 1828. The Nazarenes disbanded in 1830 but its influence remained among the participants, for example Fuhrich’s painting above “Mary’s Journey Over the Mountains” dates from 1841.

    The Nazarenes essentially rejected the Neo-classicism of the 18th century, believing that art should have a religious and moral purpose, and be inspired by the Old and New Testaments rather than Zeus or Aphrodite. The Nazarenes recognized historical paintings could hold value, such as The Death of Socrates (1787) by French painter Jacques Louis David…


    …but the Nazarenes recognized a problem as 18th century Neoclassical art encountered the early 19th century Romantic movement in the context of the Napoleonic Wars.

    Before arriving at the problem, here is Neo-classicist Jacques Louis David again, now in 1801, “Napoleon Crossing the Alps”:


    Heroic art can serve a constructive purpose. Thus, “Judith Beheading Holofernes” by Artemisia Gentileschi (1620), “David with the Head of Goliath” by Caravaggio (1610), and Raphael’s “St. Michael Vanquishing Satan” (1518). Moving forward, we have in these United States “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutz (1851), and “The Prayer at Valley Forge” by Arnold Friberg (1975).

    Now, here is, among other things, what the Nazarenes noticed: “Napoleon on His Imperial Throne” by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. This 1806 painting presents Napoleon to the public as Zeus, Caesar and Charlemagne combined:


    Among the details, such as the imperial eagle on the rug in the foreground, is the heraldry in shadow in upper right. The heraldry is that of Italy and the Papal States (Emperor Napoleon was also crowned King of Italy in 1805).

    Meanwhile, here in the early 21st century, this is what several modern art critics and art journals have to say about Fuhrich’s 1841 painting “Mary’s Journey Over the Mountains”: “saccharine” and “irretrievably retrograde.”

    Various Catholic journals and blogs have been calling for a renewal of Catholic art. They obviously have a point, and, Deo gratias, there are some artists working today.

    “Beauty matters. It is a universal need. If we ignore that need we find ourselves in a spiritual desert.” – Roger Scruton

  9. Semper Gumby says:

    Here is a gallery of 20th century paintings of Jesus Christ. Most of the painters were not overtly Christian artists, many were overtly secularist who mainly painted themes such as folklore, nature and Classic mythology. Their painting styles varied from Realism to Symbolism. Note socialist painter William Balfour Ker’s “The Great Socialist” (1906) and “The Call of the Carpenter” (1914).


    A photograph from the aftermath of the 1915 Battle of Neuve Chapelle. The maimed metal statue known as “The Christ of the Trenches” was rescued from the battlefield by Portuguese soldiers, it is now the Crucifix in the Portuguese Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This photograph circulated in several Allied countries in 1915 as a postcard, uncaptioned except for “Neuve Chapelle – Christ of the Trenches.”


  10. Semper Gumby says:

    Regarding the two paintings by socialist painter William Balfour Ker and the actions of the Portuguese soldiers after the Battle of Neuve Chapelle.

    Romantic-era painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840): “The noble person recognizes God in everything, the common person sees only the form not the spirit.”

    Philosopher Roger Scruton: “Beauty matters. It is a universal need. If we ignore that need we find ourselves in a spiritual desert.”

    Historian Paul Johnson: “Ideology is not necessarily the enemy of art but it tends to become so when applied relentlessly and obsessively.”

    Roger Scruton: “Beauty is an ultimate value – something that we pursue for its own sake, and for the pursuit of which no further reason need be given. Beauty should therefore be compared to truth and goodness, one member of a trio of ultimate values which justify our rational inclinations.”

    Caspar David Friedrich: “All authentic art is conceived at a sacred moment and nourished in a blessed hour; an inner impulse creates it, often without the artist being aware of it.”

  11. Semper Gumby says:

    The best-known painting of Caspar David Friedrich is “The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog”:


    Paul Johnson observes in “The Birth of the Modern” that Friedrich’s 1818 painting visually expresses William Wordsworth’s poem “A Night-Piece” (1798, published 1815), which closing lines are:

    At length the Vision closes; and the mind,
    Not undisturbed by the delight it feels,
    Which slowly settles into peaceful calm,
    Is left to muse upon the solemn scene.


    Contemplation is indeed part of the wider and sometimes wild Romantic movement- which tends to be lumped in with the high drama of the late 18th century “Sturm und Drang” (Storm and Stress) movement. Friedrich’s paintings have been mischaracterized by some not as introspective but as merely melancholy; by late 19th century occultists who see moon and ruins and think: Gothic and Bubbling Cauldrons; and by National Socialists of Weimar and the 1930s who see epic landscape and think: Blood and Soil, Stukas and Panzers. Those impulsive thoughts are merely skimming the surface, they are deceptive and transitory. Friedrich was contemplating, to borrow T.S. Eliot’s phrase, the Permanent Things. As does, more starkly, “The Christ of the Trenches.”

    A helpful guide to appreciating the Permanent Things in Friedrich’s paintings is Philippians 4:8.

    “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

    Which brings us to that grand Romantic artist Ludwig van Beethoven. In 1803 Beethoven wrote his magnificent Third Symphony titled “Napoleon.” Upon hearing Napoleon crowned himself Emperor, an enraged Beethoven scratched out “Napoleon” (there are photos of the original title sheet with scratches) and wrote simply “Eroica” (Heroic). Thus, Romanticism and the Napoleonic Wars.

    Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony “Pastorale” is excellent, try Christian Thielemann conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. The Sixth Symphony has five movements, Beethoven provided titles: I Awakening of Cheerful Feelings Upon Arrival in the Countryside II Scene by the Brook III Merry Gathering of Country Folk IV Thunder Storm V Shepherd’s Song. Cheerful and Thankful Feelings After the Storm.

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