The Groups of Angels

Nearest of all, the Child-angels round about the Holy Child; then beyond them the Angels of Prayer. To the left (facing the picture) there is an Angel of Contemplation, an Angel with a censer and other Angels suggesting prayer. Then come the Angels of the Sorrowful Mysteries, standing. One holds a Cross, another a Scourge and another a Cup. Kneeling, there is an Angel with a Crown of Thorns. High up at the side, nearest the arch, there is an Angel holding three nails.

On the other side (right, facing the picture), there are the Angels of Prayer, next to the Child-angels, one kneeling with a censer. After them come the Angels of the Incarnation. Two with uplifted arms, are intended to suggest the Angelic song at the birth of Our Lord – “Glory be to God on high, on earth peace, good-will towards men”. Another Angel of the Incarnation is a smaller kneeling figure, holding a scroll. He is intended to represent the Finding in the Temple. The words on the scroll are “Lo I come to do Thy Will, O Lord”. The Visitation is suggested by two small Angel-heads, kissing one another. In between these, is a tall Angel with a banner with a red cross – the Angel of the Resurrection, life triumphant. Next to the archway is a kneeling Angel with a crown – the Angel of the Ascension.

The Glorious Mysteries are partly represented by the two Angels with a crown which they hold over Our Lady’s head, a part of the design first indicated by Father Noël. The crown is made of lilies and roses. Our Lady is “crowned with humility”. It is the crown He gave, He her Son Who chose her to be His Mother.

“Then from lowliness exalted
Dwelleth Mary, full of grace
Ever with her presence pleading
For the heirs of human race.”

Mystically she holds the Eternal Child, holds Him out to us, and in Him she sees all the Mysteries of the Incarnate Life. Who better than she can “ponder these things”, lifting them up in prayer; she who was so close to Him not only as His human Mother; but also in heart and understanding and will. It was she who suffered with Him, as far as she might, going with Him all the way and standing beneath the Cross, and it was there that He gave her to us to be our Mother, He our Elder Brother. So now we rejoice with her in her joy and hail her three times a day at the Angelus, not as someone far away and out of touch, but as close to us in her Beloved Son, an ever-present Mother.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

If you go into the Sanctuary and stand close to the apse, you will see that there is still a painting high up, right at the very top (it was hard to reach and the painter had to put two packing-cases on the top of the carpenter’s bench and crouch on them to get high enough; not quite lying on her back like Michelangelo, but leaning at a rather perilous angle). The painting is of a Chalice and Host with a nimbus round it, and just beyond the nimbus you can see if you look closely, a circle of little Angels, dancing; they are meant to represent “joy”.

The idea of the symbol is that the Blessed Sacrament is the extension of the Incarnation. In it we touch and hold, mystically, but in true reality, Him Who was Incarnate for us, and so it is very fitting that there should be this small picture above the picture of the Holy Child and His Blessed Mother, gathering up all that He says to us and is to us, gathering up the message of the ever-Virgin Mother, gathering up the message of the Angels with their prayer and praise and their symbols of the Incarnate Life. Into that holy fellowship we, too, are gathered when we make our Communion, for it is at the Altar that heaven and earth are made one.

Now look low down in the picture, right down among the clouds on which the figures seem to rest, and which support Our Lady’s flowing robes. There you see little buildings here and there – a tower or belfry or red roof, tucked away almost out of sight. They have a story of their own and it is this. The students of that day and the artist decided that College buildings must have their place up there under St. Mary’s robes, just to show that they had a right to be up there, sheltered by their own Madonna and very close to her. So there they are – Canterbury and Lincoln and a bit of Bangor – enough to show that they represent all the College Houses (Winchester did not exist when the picture was painted). The Tower of St. Mary’s is indicated too, and also the belfry of the Sisters’ Chapel of the Resurrection – all are included. And so we pass on the thought to you, the present students of the Training College (now Rhodes University’s Allan Webb Hall) and all who worship at St. Mary’s.

The Blessing of the Picture, 2nd February 1929

Father Thornely blessed the picture on the Feast of the Purification, 1929. He said some simple prayers at the end of Mass and the censer was brought in and he censed it from below.

The substance of one prayer I often remember and it has been abundantly answered. He prayed that whoever should make a petition looking devoutly at the picture should have a favourable hearing in the court of heaven and should receive the gift that they asked for. Those were the words that I shall never forget; I cannot remember all the prayer.

And so with love and confidence we pray:

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”.

Last Modified: Fri, 15 Jul 2011 15:01:10 SAST