Triumph of the name of Jesus,
Painted by Giovanni Battista Gaulli (1639-1709),
stucco reliefs were executed by Ercole Antonio Raggi and Leonardo Reti,
Ceiling of Church of the Gesù (Rome),
Painted in 1674
© Wikimedia

 

Triumph of the name of Jesus,
Painted by Giovanni Battista Gaulli (1639-1709),
stucco reliefs were executed by Ercole Antonio Raggi and Leonardo Reti,
Ceiling of Church of the Gesù (Rome),
Painted in 1674
© Wikimedia

 

Gospel of 2 January 2022

In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God

John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word:

and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him.

All that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.

A man came, sent by God.

His name was John.

He came as a witness, as a witness to speak for the light, so that everyone might believe through him.

He was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light.

The Word was the true light that enlightens all men; and he was coming into the world.

He was in the world that had its being through him, and the world did not know him. He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him.

But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to all who believe in the name of him who was born not out of human stock or urge of the flesh or will of man but of God himself.

The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.

John appears as his witness. He proclaims: ‘This is the one of whom I said: He who comes after me ranks before me because he existed before me.’

Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received – yes, grace in return for grace, since, though the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Reflection on the Painted Church Ceiling

There are four Masses celebrated for the Feast of Christmas and each Mass has its own set of readings. Each of these Gospel readings, gives us sections from the infancy narratives that we are all familiar with. Looking at the Gospel readings:
  • The Gospel for the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve is taken from the start of the Gospel of Matthew.
  • The Midnight Mass announces the birth of Jesus through the Gospel of Luke.
  • The early morning Mass on Christmas morning continues the story of the birth of Jesus according to Luke, culminating with the shepherds' visit to the infant Jesus.
  • The Christmas Day account by John (repeated as today's reading) lifts us up already towards heaven. If we can call it this, the 'Christmas according to John' doesn't focus on all the paraphernalia around the birth of Jesus such as the inn, the stable, the shepherds, etc… Even though these are indeed very important aspects of them birth narrative that has been handed to us, John wants to take us already from gazing downward to the manger, to look already upwards to heaven. John takes us beyond our world already: to the beginning of time, before the world was created, when Jesus already existed.
As John takes our gaze upwards, it is a good day to look at and contemplate the Gaulli church ceiling at the Church of the Gesù in Rome. Painted in 1674, we see a spectacular rendering of Jesus in Heaven. A burst of light with the letters IHS is at the centre of the ceiling. It captivates the sense of the eternal Jesus who existed since the beginning of time. This vault of the nave was finally unveiled on Christmas Eve of 1679. The combination of fresco painting, stucco, and extensive gilding depict the Triumph of the Most Holy Name of Jesus (we celebrate this feast tomorrow) in spectacular style. We see to the left of the IHS burst of light, the Magi offering their gifts to the name of Christ. The kneeling figures in prayerful poses are drawn up into Heaven by this light. Below them the clouds darken and we see sinners being banished into Hell… It feels as though these figures project downward into the space of the viewer…

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