Mary Gateway of the Eucharistic Covenant Icon by Sister Regina Rose Pearson
Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Regina Rose Pearson reflects on her icon Mary, Gateway of the Eucharistic Covenant that she wrote for a recent iconography class at Silver Lake College of the Holy Family, Manitowoc, WI.
Despite the power and beauty of many ancient icons, it is difficult to interpret the entirety of their details because one does not know the mind of the artist. One can make many suppositions by way of prayer and reflection but, instead, I have simply chosen to write about the significance and symbolism of my own icon. In my mind, I have chosen to call it Mary, Gateway of the Eucharistic Covenant, or Maria, Porta de Eucharistica Foederis. The icon is built on three main concepts, all of them being important to me, of course, but also to our lives as Christian Catholics, I believe. These concepts certainly represent major portions of my personal spirituality. The components of my icon consist of Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, the Eucharistic face of Christ, and Mary, the Queen of Heaven.
The original Ark of the Old Testament was said to bear the actual Presence of God. It was a sacred vessel, touched and looked upon only by those God had designated. The Ark was a symbol of a covenant God had made with His people, to be present among them and a reward to them for their faithfulness to Him. Mary, as the one who bore the Word made flesh in her virgin womb, became the Ark of the New Covenant designated especially by God.
This is in direct relation to my second depiction. In his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, John Paul II redirected the interest of the Church towards the person and face of Christ in the Eucharist. He issued an appeal for all the members of the Church to renew their dedication and fervor for the Eucharist but especially to contemplate the Eucharistic face of Christ. He said “to contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize him wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of his Body and Blood. The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by Him she is fed and by Him she is enlightened. The Eucharist is both a mystery of faith and a “mystery of light.”
The beauty and mystery of the Eucharist is that it both conceals and reveals the face of Christ at the same time. In much the same way, we do this for each other when we receive Him there. His flesh becomes our flesh, his face our face. Mary, as Ark of the Covenant, carried within her all of the promises for this fulfillment and for the life and hope of the world. In regarding the face of Christ in the Eucharist, we too are drawn to make a sacred space for this covenant, which is in the promise of the Eucharist, to reside. We are beckoned to reciprocally reveal His face to others and to the world. “We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known” (1 Cor: 13:12).
Finally, I chose to depict Mary, Queen of Heaven and earth. Once she made her fiat, Mary was no longer just a peasant girl…when considering and praying with icons, it is helpful to know the pictorial symbolism intended by the writer. In this icon, Mary stands with open arms, inviting all to share in the mystery of the Eucharistic Christ, to enter into His body and His blood and become one with Him. As she and her Son shared breath, blood, and life, so they share the same with us. In the upper corners, there are two sets of wings to represent the specifications found on the original Ark of the Covenant: two cherubim of hammered gold with wings spread upward, facing each other at the ends of the cover. They faced inwards towards where the Presence of God could be found. The wings also represent a heavenly, or divine, nature and presence. Mary wears her queenly crown and purple robes, signifying her royalty. The altar table is found to be red, indicative of the table of sacrifice. There are seven red gems on the chalice, representing the seven sorrows of Mary, who in every way gave herself to allow her Son to enter.