A Visual Examination of Conscience
All that We Have: The Iron Gates to the Daily Mass Chapel, Part 1
Published on May 11-12, 2013 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
A pair of black iron gates stands at the entrance from the narthex to the Saint Andrew’s Daily Mass Chapel. Built for the chapel in 2001 by Sylvester F. Fister, Jr. (1940-2004), they feature welded images that evoke the Works of Mercy, acts that every apostle of Christ is called to practice in his life.
When opened from the narthex, these gates reveal to the viewer their wrought iron designs: the gate on the right presents images signifying the Corporal Works of Mercy, the gate on the left images representing the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
The first gate recalls the words of Christ Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 in which He discloses the standard by which all the nations will be judged at His Second Coming. He says that what one does for another, what mercy is given to another, is extended to Himself: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of Mine, you did for Me” (Mt. 25:40). This gate thus serves as a visual examination of conscience, a guide for every churchgoer in reviewing how he has served the Lord outside of Mass before he comes in to serve Him at Mass.
Tradition calls these works of mercy ‘corporal’ because they minister to the bodily needs of one’s neighbor. The parable from Matthew’s gospel lists only six of them; the seventh—to bury the dead—is believed to have been taken from the Book of Tobit (cf. Tb. 1:17).
At the top left of this first gate is an image of a table setting; it signifies the work of feeding the hungry. Right next to it is the image of a pitcher and a cup representing the work of giving drink to the thirsty. In the section right below these two is a house with an open door; this evokes the work of welcoming the stranger, of sheltering the homeless. In the third section, the bars and the latch that locks these gates call to mind the work of visiting the prisoner and of ransoming the captive. The garb in the fourth section recalls the work of clothing the naked. Finally, the bottom section has on the left the image of a grave with a tombstone and on the right the image of a hospital bed; these represent, respectively, the works of burying the dead and of visiting the sick.
This gate also features the image of a chalice with the christogram ‘IHS’ inscribed on its cup. The ‘IHS’ is derived from the first three letters of the holy name of Jesus in Greek (Ίησους). Together with the stalks of wheat and the clusters of grapes that are found in both gates, the chalice evokes the singular work of Divine Mercy that is re-presented at every daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist in this chapel. It was this Divine Mercy that fed the Christian in his hunger and slaked his thirst, clothed him with a white garment and took him in to the Father’s house, ransomed him from captivity and nursed his sin-sick soul, and buried him in baptism (cf. Rm. 6:4; Col. 2:12) so as to raise him to new life. Thus, in practicing the Corporal Works of Mercy, a Christian but shows to all the same mercy that first was shown to him by that Divine Mercy.