The Madonna in Art

by Rev. Larry Rice, CSP

One of the most common themes in Western art is that of the Madonna and Child—a serene painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary, holding the child Jesus in her arms. But this image, so familiar that it has appeared on US Postal Service Christmas stamps nearly every year since 1966, was not always a staple of Christian art.

For most of the first three centuries of Christianity, the Blessed Virgin was usually depicted as part of a group of apostles, or as part of a Nativity scene; she was almost never alone or a central figure.  But in the fifth century, the Council of Ephesus addressed the Nestorian heresy, which claimed that, when Christ died on the Cross, it was only his human nature that experienced suffering and death. By extension, the Nestorians claimed that Mary was the mother only of Christ’s human nature and not
the Mother of God. The Council of Ephesus reinforced the Church’s long-held belief that Mary was the Mother of God and worthy of the Greek title “Theotokos.” Shortly thereafter, the Empress Eudocia sent a painting of the Madonna and Child home from the Holy Land and had it placed in the Church of Constantinople. This is the first historical mention of the Madonna and Child as an artistic subject. That painting was taken to Venice in 1202, to the Cathedral of St. Mark.

In subsequent centuries, the Madonna and Child has become one of the most popular themes in Western art. This popularity reflects the Church’s veneration of Mary for her role in our salvation and also for her place as an exemplar of the virtues of purity, humility, and faithful acceptance of God’s grace.

madonna image

Fr. Rice is the vocations director for the Paulist Fathers.
Copyright © 2015, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Reprinted with permission.

Fully Alive

Theology of the Body Series

Missed the first course? Can't make all 6 weeks?  That's okay - we'd still love for you to join us! 

Audio/video recordings and slideshow handouts will be available to those who miss a week, but want to catch up on what they've missed.*  If you want to join us after the first session, simply send a note to the presenter Kristin Bird, and she will send you the material to get caught up.

*Note:  Learners attending for Ongoing Formation credit through the Diocese who miss a week will be required to listen to audio recordings and present a one page typed response to the content covered on the week they missed in order to receive full credit for the course. 

Be inspired by St. John Paul II’s teachings on the meaning of life & the purpose of love!


Saturdays 9-11am

April 25, May 2, May 9,
May 16, May 23 and May 30

Most Blessed Sacrament
Oshkosh, WI

St. Peter Church - Aquinas Hall

(enter via doors on Pearl Ave)


In this 6-part series, learn more about the legacy left behind by St. John Paul II. This introduction to his Theology of the Body will explore these questions (and more):

  • What does Scripture reveal to us about who God is? About who we are?

  • Why do I have to go to Church? Why can’t I just pray by myself?

  • How is God’s Divine Design revealed in sacred art and architecture?

  • What exactly is God’s Plan for sexuality? What does the Church really teach about sex?

A Diocese of Green Bay Ongoing Catechetical Formation Course.

To register, contact Diocese of Green Bay Department of Education:
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Why Do We Celebrate Easter for 50 Days?

Most people think of Easter as a single day. It’s never had the commercial appeal of Christmas, and because it always falls on Sunday, most people don’t get an additional day off from work. But for Catholics, Easter isn’t just a day, it’s a whole season. The Easter season stretches all the way to the feast of Pentecost. Lent, which sometimes feels like it’s stretching on forever, is actually forty days long. Easter, on the other hand, is all of fifty days long. About these fifty days theologian Nathan Mitchell writes:

‘The great fifty days of Pentecost are not an unwelcome, unrealistic obligation to “party on,” even if we don’t feel like it, but an invitation to explore more deeply “the weather of the heart,” to awaken our memory of God’s presence and power in our lives, to look more closely at all the rich and varied textures of creation.’

One way the church pursues this goal of seeing God present in the world is through the reading of the Acts of the Apostles. At Masses all through the Easter season, our usual practice of reading from the Old Testament is replaced be reading from the Acts of the Apostles. These readings tell the story of the church’s earliest days, and the beginnings of our faith’s spreading throughout the ancient world. These stories of heroism, controversies, persecutions and miracles all testify to the continued presence of the Risen Christ in the world, through the lives of his disciples, and the actions of the Holy Spirit.

All of this should be an encouragement and a sign of hope for us today. Despite war, violence, personal struggles, and an under-performing economy, God has not abandoned us, nor left us to our own devices. The risen savior is still with us. These 50 days of Easter ask us to reflect on his presence, and—even in the face of danger or fear—to live with joy.

by Rev. Lawrence Rice, CSP.  Originally published on Copyright 2015 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Used with permission.

Did You Know...About Sacred Chrism?

Chrism is blessed at the end of Lent by the diocesan bishop, at a special liturgy called the Chrism Mass.

by Rev. Larry Rice, CSP

The Catholic Church uses lots of physical materials in the administration of its sacraments: water,
wine, bread, and oils are typical examples. We have three kinds of sacramental oils: the oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick, and sacred Chrism. This last is a kind of multi-purpose oil used for many kinds of sacraments and blessings.

Like all our sacred oils, Chrism is made from olive oil, although other vegetable oils can be used if olive oil is unavailable. And like the other two, Chrism is blessed at the end of Lent by the diocesan bishop, at a special liturgy called the Chrism Mass. Unlike other sacramental oils, Chrism is scented, usually with essential oil of balsam, giving it a woody, pine-like fragrance.

Sacred Chrism is used primarily for baptisms and ordinations. At Baptism, after the Baptism in water, the one being initiated into the Church is anointed with Chrism, along with a prayer that recollects Christ being anointed priest, prophet, and king. During a priesthood ordination, the hands of the ordinand (the candidate for ordination) are anointed with Chrism, while the bishop prays,

“The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.”

While this is happening, the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus is usually sung.

In addition to these sacramental uses, sacred Chrism is also used to consecrate a new altar and to bless church bells at their installation.

For centuries, this fragrant blessed oil has been a symbol of God’s overflowing grace and
generosity. It’s a multi-sensory reminder of the goodness of creation and of people and objects that are set apart from that creation to serve a sacred purpose.

Father Rice is Vocations Director for the Paulist Fathers.
Copyright © 2015, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. Used with permission.

Five Holy Week Suggestions for Famillies

Holy Week @home

During Holy Week, the Church celebrates the mysteries of salvation accomplished by Christ in the last days of his earthly life, beginning with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. For nearly 40 days, the Christian faithful have practiced the disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Now the Church invites us to an even deeper spirit of prayer as we follow Christ on his journey to the Cross.

Traditions - especially those children can see, hear, feel, smell and taste -- provide vivid and lasting impressions for all members of the family. Take advantage of all the 'smells and bells' of Holy Week to help everyone in your family celebrate the holiest time of year.

Here are five suggestions for families to use this week as an opportunity to grow in holiness as individuals and as a family.

  1. What do you do with the palm branches you bring home from Palm Sunday Mass? Consider a simple ceremony to place them in your home. See our Palm Sunday post for a suggested ritual.

  2. During the week, pray the seven Penitential Psalms together (Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). These are especially appropriate during Lent. Prayerfully reciting these psalms helps us to recognize our sinfulness, express our sorrow, and ask for God’s forgiveness.

  3. Celebrate the Sacrament of Penance if you haven’t already done so during Lent ( Many parishes have extra hours and/or communal penance services during Holy Week.

  4. Attend a service together on Holy Thursday and/or Good Friday. On Thursday, the Church recall the Last Supper and Jesus’ gift of his Body and Blood. On Friday, parishes hold services to celebrate the Passion of the Lord; many have Stations of the Cross as well.

    What about little ones?  Can they sit through these sometimes long services?  This liturgy director offers some practical insights and suggestions: Children and the Triduum.

  5. On Holy Saturday, pray for those who will be received into the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil. Pray, too, for a deepening of your own faith and the grace to endure the suffering and celebrate the joys of married life.

Additional Suggested Resources:

  • Your Guide to Holy Week (PDF)  Download this great guide offering brief explanations of the history, traditions, and symbols of Holy Week along with 12 practical suggestions for making Holy Week meaningful.

  • Ways to Teach Your Kids About Holy Week  Here are some things you can do so that even the little ones in your family can join in celebrating one of the holiest and happiest times in the Church year.

  • 15 Ways to Observe Holy Week  Ideas for busy families with children of all ages.

  • Stations of the Cross  The Stations of the Cross are a great prayer to do as a family.  This guide will help you find the right tool to participate even if you've never done them before!

Adapted from an article originally published on the For Your Marriage website.
Copyright © 2015, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Used with permission.

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