Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fisher of Men

Girogio Vasari, Calling of St. Peter and St. Andrew
Italian, no date (lived 1511 - 1574)
Vatican City, Apostolic Palace
Former Room of the Swiss Guard
As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.

He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matttew 4: 18-20)

In a few hours the Church will celebrate the inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of our new Pope, Francis, with a Mass in honor of St. Joseph, the patron of the universal church.

When a person attends a papal Mass or other ceremony at St. Peter’s you are given a small and rather beautiful booklet containing the liturgical prayers and readings and music, produced by the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and printed by the Vatican Publishing House. It is simple, white paper with black and red ink in the printing with white covers, perfect bound (i.e., bound like a book, not stapled down the spine). What makes it beautiful is the cover. A work of art from the Vatican collection is printed on the cover, different works for each of the ceremonies.

Today’s booklet can be found online at http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/libretti/2013/20130319_inizio-ministero-petrino.pdf
However, one detail of the actual printed booklet is never available online -- the cover. The cover for the inauguration of the Roman Pontiff on March 19, 2013 features the painting above, the Calling of St. Peter by the late Mannerist painter Giorgio Vasari.  In the painting we see, as it were, two scenes from the same act.  In the upper background, Andrew points out the approaching Jesus to his brother, Simon.  The Sea of Galilee is seen in the background, along with buildings that represent the town of Capernaum, their home.  In the foreground we see the encounter of the two brothers with Jesus. as He tells them to follow him as He goes forward. 

Vasari was a prolific painter, responsible for much of the decorative painting in late 16th century Florence and Rome. His training and background comes out of the circle of the Tuscan artistic community and especially the greatest of its members, Michelangelo, who was still alive for most of Vasari’s own lifetime. He was also a highly regarded architect in his own time.

But his greatest influence in history, far beyond that of his own works of architecture or of painting, is his work in words. He is the author of the first attempt to create a history of how the painting of his own day came to be. Called Le Vite de’ piu eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects) it continues to be a valuable source for us today. On account of this work he is regarded as the “Father of Art History”.

As the Church joyfully welcomes its new Shepherd we can see in the cover of this little liturgical booklet deep connections that unite the first century Peter, the first Pope, through the centuries during which the chants it includes were introduced under Peter’s 64th successor, Gregory the Great, the painting on the cover was done under one of the late 16th century Popes (the 224th through 226th successors) and the inauguration of, Francis, the 267th successor of the Rock (Petrus/Peter).

Around the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is written in letters of gold the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew: “Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversum eam et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum.” (And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.) (Matthew 16:18-19)

These words will also be sung by the Sistine Chapel Choir several times, in different settings, during the ceremony and the following Mass. Welcome to the new “Rock” who comes to us, as he said himself, from “the ends of the earth”. As he receives the Fisherman’s Ring, may God grant him to be a great Fisher of Men.

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