One of my surprises when arriving at the Eucharistic Congress here in Ireland was to see four icons in the center of where we were gathered. As I looked through the pilgrim guide, I learned that these were the four official icons of the 2012 Congress.
As soon as I saw the four icons, my mind began turning as I tried to figure out why these particular icons were chosen. It did not take long to see their connection to the Eucharist. There are four parts of every mass and these icons are here to call us to a deeper understanding of each of the parts.
The icon of Our Lady of Refuge and St. John is meant to remind us of the first part of the mass when the Church assembles together each week after having been sent out the week before into our homes, neighborhoods, and places of work. These two people should remind us that the Church is meant to be continually gathered at the foot of the cross in the same way Our Lady and St. John were at the crucifixion. We begin each celebration of the Eucharist with our eye on the cross, remembering the water and blood that flowed from the side of Jesus that represents our Baptism and our regular partaking of the Eucharist.
The second icon of the Congress coincides with the second part of the mass, the Liturgy of the Word. The Pantocrator icon reminds us of our need to fed regularly by the Word of God. This icon depicts Christ holding open the Book of the Gospels for us while giving us His blessing. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we are called upon to listen attentively to God’s Word through the reading of the Scriptures and to let it slowly sink into our hearts, so that we may grow to love God and our neighbor more deeply.
Perhaps the icon that most surprised me by its presence at the Eucharistic Congress is the icon of Elijah the Prophet. It was just a few months ago that I finished writing an icon of Elijah that looks strikingly similar to the one being venerated here in Ireland.
This third icon represents the heart of the mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This scene of Elijah being fed by the raven prefigures the sacrament of the Eucharist in which we are continually being fed by God with the bread from heaven. At this point in Elijah’s life, he was at his weakest. This icon reminds us that we too are weak and in need of nourishment that only God can provide. Our efforts alone are not sufficient to lead lives of holiness. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we ask God to send down his spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine He has already provided us and to transform them into the Body and Blood of his Son. Our reception of the Eucharist connects us physically to both God and one another. Through our sharing in the Eucharistic banquet, we become one body, one spirit in Christ.
The last official icon of the Eucharistic Congress is the icon of Pentecost. It was during Pentecost that the disciples received full measures of the Holy Spirit and were sent out by Christ to bring the Gospel to all nations. At the end of each mass we too are sent to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Each time we gather as a community centered on the Eucharist, God lifts us up, washes us clean, tends to our wounds, then fills our pockets with wealth beyond all telling and sends us forth again to share it with others.
These four icons have been a great help to me this week as I have prayerfully contemplated the Eucharist. I hope they will help both those gathered this week in Ireland as well as Christians around the world to enter more fully into the sacred mysteries we celebrate each week.