Angels round the Altar

Published on 21 May 2018
Angels in opus sectile around the altar
A reflection by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ

Among the beauties of Saint Ignatius’ church are the fine mosaics above and around the sanctuary.  In the middle of the golden background to our celebrations is a stately flock of tall, wide-winged angels seemingly floating round the altar.  We believe that our prayers, especially at Mass, are supported by the angels.  The angels live rejoicing in the presence of God and they draw us and our prayers into the same delightful presence. At Mass, we are invited to go up to heaven, and, in response to our prayerful attention, heaven comes down to us. The angels who adore God all the time worship with us as we pray eucharistically. They help us to gather strength from what happens in church for our ordinary life elsewhere.  We meet the Lord in their good company and angelic support accompanies us we carry Christ into every corner of our activities.

The golden background to the Saint Ignatius angel-mosaics gleams in the morning light.  The artist intended the gold to stand for timelessness.  God is timeless and the Mass participates in his timelessness.  Our prayers reach towards a God who has always been and will be forever. Prayer, be it ever so focused on some immediate, pressing need, moves us towards eternity. This is not escapism but an expression of our trust in God.  Our prayers, firmly grounded in the present and in the human situation, are full of the hope of heaven and of happiness forever with God.  The angels, themselves so obedient to God, help us to conform what we desire to the divine will and Providence. The angels never waver in their focus of God and they help us also to keep him always in view.  The mosaic-artist pieced together the angels we see in our church from many tiny fragments of stone.   Their over-all magnificence has been painstakingly constructed of many different pieces. The Eucharist, which they surround, unifies everything for us. At Mass we are spiritually united to Christ, to our brothers and sisters and to the whole of creation.  The angels reflect this unity as they gleam. In their light we see forward towards all that the unifying God has prepared for us.

This was originally published in the St Ignatius Church parish newsletter.