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Eucharistic Art Exhibit Highlights Mystery of Jesus’ Real Presence

‘I want them to see the sacrificial Lamb of God who willingly laid down his life for us.’
‘I want them to see the sacrificial Lamb of God who willingly laid down his life for us.’

Eucharistic Art Exhibit Highlights Mystery of Jesus’ Real Presence

By Joseph Pronechen, National Catholic Registers

Among the many ways the Eucharist is being highlighted and honored during the current Eucharistic Revival is through a major sacred art exhibit called “Do This in Memory of Me.”The juried show now being hosted at the Knights of Columbus’ Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center in New Haven, Connecticut, has 109 pieces of original sacred art from living artists chosen from more than 660 entries.

The museum became the main venue since the Seton Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage began in New Haven, the home of Blessed Michael McGivney. Generous support for the show by the National Eucharistic Congress and the National Eucharistic Revival team included prizes for the top two artists.

Knowing the power of sacred art, St. Edmund’s Sacred Art Institute in Mystic, Connecticut, organized and curated the exhibition to draw people into a deep intimacy with Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist and into the mystery of Jesus’ Real Presence.

 “It is being so well received that I started to realize that there’s a world hungry out there for the sacred,” Dan DeLouise, the artist in residence at St. Edmund’s Sacred Art Institute, told the Register.

“We tried to give everybody a flavor of what traditional sacred art looks like, and even a smattering of some modern art with the sacred in it,” Deacon Fran Valliere, coordinator of St. Edmund’s Sacred Art Institute, told the Register. “But more so, we were interested in getting the public to recognize that the Eucharist, the liturgy, the Bible, doesn’t have to be found in 400 or 500 old Renaissance paintings and sculptures. They can look toward contemporary artists today and find just as valuable works by people who have learned their [traditional] method or have advanced on their methods.”

While traditional paintings predominate, the variety also includes watercolors, charcoals, reliefs and sculpture, even an abstract or two. Some are quite large, from a 4-foot sculpture of the Blessed Mother to some paintings stretching 6 feet across.

“We tried to keep the theme as Eucharistic as possible,” DeLouise explained, including “saints that were committed to the Eucharist.”

Deacon Valliere pointed out, “We want a lot of sacred artists to get their name out there. We truly want to promote sacred art because it really tells a story. It brings the Bible alive. It tells us not only about Jesus, but the saints. Many parts of Catholic theology come through in these artworks.”

He highlighted the effects sacred art can have on souls. Prior to the exhibit opening at the museum, at the reception and preview at Enders Island he recalled the reaction: “People seated or standing in front of some of the artworks for minutes on end, meditating and praying.”

“As long as the works get seen and people are moved in their hearts and realize a renewed passion for a Eucharistic Lord,” DeLouise said, “we’ve done our job.”

Call to Meditation

Top prize went to Robert Armetta for his oil painting titled, The Entombment. Measuring more than 6 feet wide, the life-size painting forms a pair with a Crucifixion painting, Lamb of God.

The founder and former director of the Long Island Academy of Fine Art, Armetta studied at the best art schools in the United States and Europe. “This turn or this focus on sacred art is something that is a recent development, although that’s not entirely true, but it’s something that I’ve been more focused on as of late,” he told the Register.

In both paintings, there are wounds present, “but they’re not overly emphasized, and this was done deliberately,” he added.

The artist was interested in drawing people in to meditate: “I want them to see the sacrificial Lamb of God who willingly laid down his life for us. I want the viewer to meditate on this and ask, ‘Why?’ Sometimes, the gore can be a distraction and maybe even a roadblock for some to see Jesus resigned to his destiny. One approach is not better than the other; each depicts a distinct facet of a very complex reality. In the painting Entombment, my concern was I want the viewer to focus on the soon-to-be-resurrected Jesus, unencumbered by potentially distracting details.”

He would like his sacred art to do what the best of sacred art has always done: to move the heart of the viewer, redirect their gaze to Christ and what Jesus has done for them and what it means to them as children of God, whether or not they’re religious, whether in the church or outside of sacred spaces. 

“There’s something really potent about the power of sacred art, because it reflects and points to the single most potent force there is, and that is God.” He hopes “that the spirit of God can move through these images and powerfully impact and change the lives of those who behold them, those who gaze upon these images. … And what higher calling can any artist have than to essentially use the gift that God has given them? To direct or redirect the hearts and the eyes of the people who see and experience what they do to the giver of that gift, back to God.”

Armetta shared a thought about winning: “This is what God has for me. Winning this award is just confirmation that I’m truly doing what I’ve been called to do.”

‘Visual Homilies’

Second prize went to Kate Capato for her 36-by-24 oil painting, The Woman at the Well. Capato has been painting professionally since 2010 and full time the last seven years. “I do primarily sacred art, mostly because I feel called to spread our Catholic faith through painting,” she told the Register.

A traditional artist whose studies include time in Florence, Italy, the Cradle of the Renaissance where its major artists lived at one time or another, Capato’s oil paintings include traditional subjects like the Annunciation, Christ the King and the Holy Family. 

Capato explained how The Woman at the Well fits the theme of the whole exhibit. “That image resonated with the theme, too, because it shows that moment where the Woman at the Well recognizes Jesus. He’s saying to her, ‘I am what will quench your thirst.’ And so it’s her gaze of, ‘You’re him. You’re the Messiah.’ Seeing him physically in front of you, it’s more about the recognition of who he is before you that can tie us in Eucharistically as well. It may not be as explicit as the Last Supper, but it has that effect of recognizing God made flesh in Christ in that recognition moment; and also how, I believe, like many things, she has a foreshadowing of what’s to come. He talks about how he will be what satisfies her.”

 ‘The Woman at the Well,’ by Kate Capato(Photo: Courtesy of St. Edmund’s Retreat and Kate Capato)

What does she hope the viewer’s reaction would be?

“I would hope that they relate to the Woman at the Well, which I think many people do, even just reading the Scripture,” she answered. “I would hope that this image helps them really put themselves in her place. God willing, they don’t have five other spouses like she did. But we do, in a sense, when we cling to something that is not of Christ — a different idol. So again, that is another reason to have her pour out that water. I hope that people recognize it and say, ‘Oh, what do I need to let go of to see Christ before me and receive … the water that will satisfy.’”

Her aim is “creating visual homilies,” referencing her studies at Florence’s
sacred art school. “It’s our duty to not just paint something, but to know the faith well and then pray with it. So I really feel it’s a mission, every work that I create, to really express whatever it is that the Lord has called me to for that individual work.”

https://eacf6d2aecbca1829579f52c242141f8.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html Her process involves going to adoration, “and I’ll sketch things out there often,” she said, “or simply I’ll bring them up at Mass or say a Rosary with [the intention] of how the Lord will work through it and whoever seizes upon it, that they come closer to him. So really just continually giving it back to the Lord, to use how he would like for his kingdom.”

‘It Is Beautiful’

Third-prize-winner Neal Hughes painted Agnus Dei, capturing the moment during Solemn Mass in the Tridentine Rite when the priest elevates the Host as deacons, subdeacons and altar servers watch in adoration. Although not having done much religious art previously, he chose this particular subject thinking of the Eucharist within the High Mass and Benediction with all the incense.

‘Agnus Dei,’ by Neal Hughes (Photo: Courtesy of St. Edmund’s Retreat and Neal Hughes)

“Our faith does have a lot of beauty in it, the traditions, the more ceremonial aspects to the Mass,” he told the Register. “Hopefully it will inspire someone to look into that a little, because it is beautiful.” For this painting, he drew inspiration from beautiful churches — and an altar in particular.

Hughes was also inspired by attending Benediction growing up in southern New Jersey. “And I always like the beauty of the church itself,” he said. His family regularly attended a Miraculous Medal novena nearby where there was also Benediction and incense. “That’s what came to mind.”

Capato added, “I really feel like the Holy Spirit is inspiring the Church as a whole to bring more beauty back into our churches and to our homes. Beauty is essential.”

Honorable mentions, L to R: iconography, ‘Noli Me Tangere’ (Touch Me Not), by Jennifer Ward; and drawing, ‘A Mother’s Heart,’ by Mia Lang(Photo: Courtesy of St. Edmund’s Retreat and Mia Lang and Jennifer Ward)

VIEW

The show runs at the McGivney Center through Aug. 25. And a small grouping of the exhibit’s artwork will be displayed at the Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis.

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