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Telling the Story of Our Salvation

Once a year, Catholic Christians gather in the dark to tell their story and to baptize new members into that story. That night story is called the Easter Vigil, and it pulls together all human history, past and future, into the present.

In fire, music, water, bread, and wine we tell our story. We repeat that the story of humanity finds its clearest expression in the Passover of Jesus from death to life. We can only understand Jesus’ Passover, however, if we first come to see the Passover story of the Jews who shaped Jesus’ understanding of himself. We, in turn, understand our calling as Christians by entering into the Passover experience of Jesus. This happens in the daily experience of life which is lifted-up and celebrated in the Sacraments, and which comes to its fulfillment in a perfected Creation that we call the New Jerusalem.

The ten windows of St Norbert Church are the Passover Story. They represent many of the major road-marks on the Passover journey. As such they, like the liturgy, help us to celebrate our Easter experience in color, light, shape, and texture. The flow of the “story” begins with the window to the far right as you enter the church.

Acknowledgements

The coordination of the arts employed in the creation and execution of these windows was made possible through the efforts of many people. These included Mrs. Maria Morales (art consultant and designer of the stained glass windows), and Rudolph Rohn (stained glass fabrication).

Creation – Window #1

The dominant image in this first window is a pair of hands which gently shape and hold the sun, the moon, the brooding spirit-dove, the animals, the “man”, and the “woman”. This is the beginning of every story: God’s desire to create a world in love.

 

 

 

 

 

The Patriarchs – Window #2

Another part of every story, however, is our consistent refusal to accept God’s loving plan. We sin; God never gives up on us, but promises a new creation. This second window is marked by the rainbow and the dove bearing an olive branch. These are signs of God’s new covenant established after the Flood, symbolized by the whale at the base of the rainbow.

Our response to the covenant is obedience. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, is a powerful example of obedience, depicted in this window by the altar of sacrifice of which sits the ram. In the midst of the fire is Abraham’s knife, while the hand of God appears at the top of the window.

Leaders of God’s People – Window #3

This window presents images of four great leaders in the Passover story.

In the lower right hand corner we see the altar which is set with bread and wine (wheat and grapes) and a kingly crown. These represent the meeting of Melchisedech – the King of Righteousness and the King of Salem (which means peace) – with Abraham. This is seen as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist.

In the upper right hand section is the burning bush and the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. They represent Moses who led God’s people from Egypt through the desert to the border of the Promised Land.

To the left of the Moses section is a harp and a shepherd’s staff. David, Israel’s great king, was called from among the sheep to shepherd the people. In the Jewish and Christian tradition, David is remembered as the man who sang his prayer to God and established the choirs of singers in the Temple.

Below this part we see a sword, the scales of justice, and a burning oil lamp. Each of these has reference to King Solomon, who was known above all for his wisdom. The sword is a reference to the famous story where he deals with two mothers claiming one child as their own. The scales indicate his wise judgment. The light of the lamp is an ancient symbol of the light shed in life by the wisdom of God in our hearts and minds.

The Christmas Cycle – Window #4

Israel’s story comes to fullness in the Incarnation of the Word of God. We celebrate this in a special way in our annual liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas. This window contains images which touch upon key aspects of that celebration.

At the top of the window are stylized wings which indicate the angels who announced God’s message to Mary and Joseph and to the shepherds. Beneath the wings is a star. The Wise Men (the Three Kings or Magi) were guided by the star to Bethlehem where they presented gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts, along with the crowns of the Wise men, appear below the star.

The Christmas cycle is a story of “epiphanies” or revelations of God’s power in Christ Jesus. In addition to the Epiphany of the Wise Men, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, as indicated by the shell and the water flowing from it. Traditionally the Church has considered the miracle at the wedding feast of Cana to be the third epiphany in this season. That is represented by the water jars of the Jewish wedding feast.

The Waters of Baptism and the Bread of Life – Windows #5 and #6

The windows directly facing the congregation are backdrops to the Baptismal Font (on the right side) and the Blessed Sacrament Tabernacle (on the left side). These windows image each other. The abstract flow of design and color suggests fire and water. Water is the source of all human life and the sacramental symbol for all Christian life into which we enter through the baptismal font. Those who come through the baptismal waters find their lives transformed in the fire of God’s love which finds its greatest expression in the Eucharist.

The Phoenix – Window #7

God’s Word became flesh, and in accepting flesh assumed everything that is human except sin. Therein is contained a theology of the Cross: a deep-seated belief that life is born of death. One symbol for that in the early Church was the phoenix, a legendary bird which was consumed in its own fire, but rose transformed, from its own ashes, into a new life.

Fire, ashes, consummation, and the new life are all part of the cycle of death and resurrection that we call the Paschal Mystery, the Passover of Christ, the Triumph of the Cross. All these theological ‘handles’ find strong expression in the powerful image of the phoenix.

 

Sacraments I – Window #8

Christ’s Passover Mystery is only a story from the past unless it is lived and celebrated in our lives. We enter the story and celebrate it through the sacraments. This window depicts the sacraments of full initiation: Baptism (shell and water), Confirmation (Spirit-dove), and the Eucharist (wheat and grapes).

When we sin and fall from the fullness of the grace of initiation, we are restored through the sacrament of Reconciliation (hand raised in absolution and the keys of binding and loosing).

 

Sacraments II – Window #9

The fundamental grace of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist) is lived-out in various vocations. The vocations which are most essential for the life of the Church find sacramental expression in the sacraments of marriage (two rings joined in the Cross) and Holy Orders (book, stole, chalice, and host).

All Christians sooner or later give expression to the death and rising of Jesus in their very own bodies. In sickness and dying, the Church celebrates God’s healing love in the Sacrament of the Sick and Viaticum (the hand which anoints and the candle, which is sign of the Blessed Sacrament).

The New Jerusalem – Window #10

The Christian Scriptures close with the Book of Revelation, or Apocalypse, which closes with a vision of our dream for the world’s completion. We see ourselves called to a perfect city in which the only source of light will be the Lamb of God who is established in triumph before God’s throne. The sun, moon, and stars shall be dimmed by the glory of the Lamb, who will reveal God’s presence in every nook and cranny of human life. This window represents that dream of the Christian imagination.

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