Lenten Lecture Examines Images of Prayer in Art


In a Lenten lecture at Romita Auditorium on Thursday, April 3, Fr. Leo J. O'Donovan showed the many ways prayer has been depicted in art, and suggested that the very act of looking at art -- meditating upon it -- is a form of prayer in itself.

Fr. O'Donovan is president emeritus and professor of theology at Georgetown University and a trustee of The College of New Rochelle. His lecture, free and open to the public, was presented by the Office of Mission & Identity.

Fr. O'Donovan began by showing paintings inspired by Biblical scenes of prayer. This includes the story of Jacob's deceit, laying claim to the birthright of his brother, Esau. "We still looked to be blessed," Fr. O'Donovan said.

That blessing is a form of prayer, along with the Magi coming to adore the infant Jesus, and Jesus' baptism.

The miracle of fishes and loaves is also a scene of prayer, said Fr. O'Donovan, "prefiguring the Eucharist."

Other sections of the lecture showed scenes of individual prayer, liturgical prayer -- Masses and other sacraments -- and contemporary prayer.

The art featured paintings by artists such as El Greco, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio, up to more modern masters such as Salvador Dali, Norman Rockwell, and Mark Rothko. Fr. O'Donovan also included photographs and sculptures.

Fr. O'Donovan's last slide featured "Large Pine and Red Earth," a work by Paul Cezanne. It was painting whose beauty brought tears to his eyes, he said, the way the trunk reaches into the sky and disappears into the brush, the many splashes of blue. "It not only calls us to pray," he said. "It prays."

The lecture was followed by a reception, where Fr. O'Donovan was also surprised with a celebration of his birthday, two weeks away.