The Apse in a Systematic Scheme of Images

After writing last time about a coherent system of images inside a church building, I realized that I had neglected ceiling of the apse, directly above the Lord’s Table. In St Mark’s the image is a Christos Pantokrator:

I happen to think such an image, though theologically correct in what it expresses, is likely to be abused with veneration because of where it appears. And yet, though all attention there should be focused on the sacrament at the Lord’s Table celebrated according to the Lord’s ordinance and promise, a blank surface would not serve that purpose. What is needed, instead, is something that focuses attention and enriches meditation on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. To this end there is nothing better to use than the Gospel of John, whose theology has added a great deal to the accounts of the synoptic Gospels.

The sacrament on earth corresponds to a reality in heaven, of Jesus Christ as the great high priest of his Church. In him lies all our justification, and therefrom, through his Holy Spirit dwelling within us, comes our sanctification on earth. Apart from his perfection we are under the wrath of God, and apart from him we can do nothing:

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

What better to depict than a vine and its branches, using a metaphor of our Lord himself? For this is the reality of the sacrament. And no man will gaze upon such a figure as if it is itself to be worshipped, but will take it for a sign of spiritual things, that in lifting up his heart to the Lord he will know how it is that he can say with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord most High. Amen.’ By faith in the true vine, the Christ, we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.

In his Spirit, the promised Comforter, we have our Lord. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. What the Lord has, the Father gives the Church as well; and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord. This we have in Christ for ever. So let these sevenfold gifts, and the seven eyes of the Lamb, be shown as seven stars around the vine.

And this is the glory of the Eucharist, and let these be the words written above the vine: And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. The glory of the Son, even the glory of his death shown forth in his Resurrection and Ascension, is the point of the whole sacrament, for us to adore him and partake of his eternal blessedness.

Let that be the ornament of the apse in the system I have described for a church building on the model of St Mark’s in Venice. At the centre, at the focus, let our hearts declare the glorious and present mystery of the Cross.

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