The Vatican released the official icon for World Meeting of Families 2022, and it was created by artist (and Jesuit) Fr. Marko Rupnik:
I genuinely hope the Vatican (nor Fr. Rupnik) minds me resharing this icon for this blog!
When I opened the article to see the image firsthand, I was stunned.
I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. The longer I look at it, the more I love it.
The first thing I noticed was the Blessed Mother clinging to Christ. Something jarred me, and it took me a moment to realize it was the fact that Our Lady and Jesus shared an eye. I then drifted over to note that His hands were outstretched- He was Christ Crucified. Our Lady held a chalice under His Heart as if having caught the blood and water that would, eventually, gush forth from His side.
My eye fell down upon a figure that I immediately recognized as St. Paul. I was confused, then, because why was St. Paul in an icon depicting family with Jesus and Mary? Doubling my confusion, I realized that St. Paul was hunched over, pouring wine into another chalice. But what was that other hand doing? Oh yes- he was pushing back a gauzy veil. Wait a second! Who are those shadowy figures behind the veil? It was then that I realized I was looking at an image of the Wedding Feast of Cana. I was STILL super confused as to why St. Paul was there, but at least the image made more sense for why it was chosen for World Meeting of Families 2022.
So I read the article and found out Fr. Rupnik chose to portray the servant from the story as St. Paul due to his revelation in his letter to the Ephesians about the Sacrament of Marriage being a reflection of Christ and His Church.
With that foundation in mind, onward to the analysis!
The icon is made of primarily red and yellow paint, creating a sepia-like effect. In iconography, yellow is often indicative of joy and blessing. As the most visible color on the spectrum, yellow tends to be attention-catching (think of a yellow highlighter or common road signs). Red, on the other hand, is indicative of sacrifice, specifically of blood/life. The fact that both of these colors are intertwined to create the image underscore the immutable Truth of the Sanctity of Marriage in that it is both an all-encompassing sacrifice (red) and all-encompassing blessing (yellow).
Here we have the Blessed Mother holding her Son close. Presumably, this is the moment she tells Him that the newlyweds are out of wine. As I wrote in a previous entry, Our Lady is our best intercessor ("Mediatrix of All Graces" is one of her titles) and her actions at the wedding are proof of this. She recognized the shame that would come upon the family should the guests realize they ran out of wine, so she asked Jesus to step in before He planned to start public ministry.
And of course, because Jesus can't deny the heart that never denies His Will, Jesus begins His public ministry early by miraculously transforming water into wine.
The striking choice of the Blessed Mother sharing an eye with Jesus in the icon is indicative of their unity in thought and will (AKA, the Divine Will). She holds a chalice of wine under Jesus' breast, and since Christ is presented Crucified, the image is meant to harken to the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Our Lady, with her left hand, embraces Jesus Crucified, and with her right, holds Him in the Eucharist. The Blessed Mother thus represents the Church.
At first glance, it seems Jesus' garments are painted sloppily, with the red spilling over Mary's fingers. I believe this was intentional and again highlights the transformative power embedded in the story of the Wedding at Cana: Jesus' stole-like garment is, in fact, the blood-water that spilled out after His Crucifixion.
Again, it is interesting to note that stoles (pre-Vatican II) were associated with the Passion of Christ. Priests wore (and still wear) them hanging open in the front while deacons tie them off to the side (helpful during early liturgies in which they were doing more manual labor). The stole was supposed to remind priests of their vocation to sacrifice themselves for the Church as Christ had done, and so they "yoked" themselves at each Sacrifice of the Mass in which they emulate Jesus, in fact acting in persona Christi.
Jesus is dressed here as a priest, and His stole has transformed into the Eucharistic Sacrifice that is imperceptible to human eyes.
The only reason we are able to see this is due to St. Paul's right hand pushing back the veil, a common theological symbol denoting a separation between Heaven and Earth, sacred and profane. Speaking of St. Paul...
We see him doubled over not only in an act of service, but humility and reverent awe. In the foreground, we see the six stone jars filled with water (that has yet to be transformed to wine). In St. Paul's hands (St. Paul who was an ordained priest!), the water is turned to wine not by his own power, but by the Power of Christ who is with him (just as He is with all priests at Consecration). This theological truth is hit home by the color of Christ's stole flowing out and covering St. Paul. *Swoon*
In fact, St. Paul's hand and the jug, together, look like a tongue of fire, right? And any Catholic school child can tell you that a tongue of fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit! St. Paul is afire with the Spirit which is why he's able to "push back the veil" between Heaven and Earth to see with spiritual eyes that which human eyes cannot comprehend- the ineffable mystery of Christ's union with the Church that is hidden within the Sacrament of Marriage.
St. Paul could not have come to that realization alone; the Holy Spirit inspired him to recognize the transformative power of Matrimony. The husband and wife vow their lives to one another and become "one flesh" just as Christ and His Church are One Body.
Back to the water for a second, because the water is just as much a "character" in this icon as any other. Water was also important for Jewish weddings due to the practice of mikvah immersion. Women were expected to immerse themselves three times as a means to cleanse themselves and ask for God's blessing on their marriages. Sound familiar? It should, because mikvah prefigured Baptism.
Just as Jesus transformed the water into wine, He also transformed water for ritual cleansing into Baptismal waters that ushered in the New Covenant, sealed by the Eucharistic Sacrifice inherent within the newly blessed wine.
This is all symbolism at this point. Obviously at the Wedding Feast of Cana, Jesus had not yet endured His Passion nor offered the First Mass on Holy Thursday. For the purposes of this icon, however, all these themes are tied together so beautifully that it's impossible not to note them.
Finally, we have the newlyweds, still hiding behind the veil, barely perceptible. The husband has his head bowed while his wife looks lovingly at Jesus who has His Hand raised in blessing over them.
I love this choice because it is a complete inversion of what we experience with our human eyes. When we attend weddings, we witness the bride and groom share their love and we celebrate their union. What we don't see is the mystical union of Christ and His Church that is inherent within Sacramental marriages. In this image, it is the reverse: we see clearly the union of Christ and Church while the married couple is obscured.
(Seriously, people, I'm so giddy over this image I don't know what to do with myself.)
The table (or altar!) St. Paul is working on is huge, round and almost planet-like. I can't help but feel as though St. Paul is indicative of priests, bringing Christ and His Church to the whole world.
I love EVERYTHING about this icon. EVERYTHING. And the longer I stare at it, the more things I find to love. I genuinely believe this was divinely inspired, and given the very real battles raging in the Church, specifically regarding the Sanctity of Marriage (I'm looking at YOU, Germany), this icon is prophetic. It affirms marriage as being between a man and a woman because that bond is indicative of Christ's bond with His Church. Marriage also reflects the Trinity- God Himself . Just as the Father and Son are one and Their love brings for the Spirit, so too does the love between husband and wife bring forth children.
This Divine mystery seems to have been forgotten by many, so it is remarkably beautiful to see this truth (and the beauty of the priesthood) highlighted so perfectly. Mary's importance as Mediatrix and Mother of the Church is also a welcome spotlight. Finally, just as the Wedding Feast of Cana was a story of transformation and blessing, I hope this icon serves to be just as transformative to all who see it.
Should Fr. Rupnik ever stumble upon my lowly little blog: Thank you for your vocation and thank you for using your incredible talent to edify us on such deep theological truths.
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