The Carfin Monstrance
Missionary Monstrance at Carfin Grotto
The shrine of Our Lady of Carfin now happily possesses a monstrance which on account of its symbolism may be described as unique in the world.
How was the gift made possible? Innumerable clients of the Carfin Lourdes Grotto- none of them wealthy, some of them in actual want- parted with their jewels and long treasured gold pieces in order that the tribute to the Eucharistic King might be worthy and complete. By a happy thought, the blessed gold of the wedding rings was reserved for that part of the monstrance which contains the Sacred Host.
Blessing of Holy Father
It was a fitting climax to the sacrifices of the pilgrims that our Holy Father Pius XI should cordially approve of the masterpiece. On seeing its photograph he declared that, if it were sent to the Vatican, he would personally bless it. This he did last Christmas Day. The missionary monstrance must have made a strong appeal to the Pope of the Missions, of St. Thérèse, of Mary Mediatrix, of the Jubilee of Christ Crucified, and of the feast of Christ the King.
Rev. Dr. Brown, University chaplain, and Father Tozzi, the Salesian Provincial, carried it on Palm Sunday. Five hundred teachers, with nearly two thousand scouts and other lads, had assembled that day at Carfin. They came to assist at the unveiling of the magnificent statue of St. John Bosco, an intrepid apostle of frequent Communion, as well as of the Madonna, and the modern boy.
The symbolism of the new Grotto monstrance is intended to illustrate the teaching of Christ's missionaries in Pagan lands- 'Going, therefore, teach ye all nations … baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.'
A Unique Design
What strikes an observer most forcibly and renders the design unique is the position of the Sacred Host. The Blessed Sacrament replaces the heart of Christ Crucified in the great central figure of the monstrance. We are reminded of Paray-le-Monial and St. Margaret Mary, of the devotion to the Eucharistic Heart of Christ, and of the Heart itself, symbol of the love which gave us the Bread of the Angels- 'With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you before I suffer.'
It is Christ the Crucified Victim- as the bleeding feet testify- who hangs upon the Cross. Nevertheless it is also Christ the eternal High Priest, hence the sacerdotal vestments, and Christ the King of Kings, hence the royal crown. This noble figure, of shaded silver, by a foremost Flemish artist, is affixed to a cross fashioned of exquisite mother-of-pearl, interlaced with gold. In shape the latter resembles closely the famous Celtic cross of Cong, as does the great processional Grotto crucifix. A circlet of large pearls surrounds the aperture inside of which lies the gold 'lunette' containing the Host.
The Missionary Patrons
But the missionary must preach the mystery of the Triune Deity as well as that of the Incarnate God. So the Trinity is completed by the dove overhead, emblem of the Holy Spirit, and- at the summit of the cross- by the figure of the eternal Father- 'And Jesus being baptised … (John) saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and coming upon Him, and behold a voice from Heaven saying- 'This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.' '
Kneeling on either side against a background of rich purple enamel, are the official patrons of all Catholic missionaries. St. Francis Xavier, apostle of India and Japan, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the apostle through prayer of all the missionary world. St. Thérèse, the Little Flower of Jesus and Mary, to use her self-chosen title, was appointed patroness by Pius XI at the request of nearly every missionary Bishop.
But all graces reach us through her through whom Christ came to the world. He is the one Mediator. His mother is our mediatrix. So Mary is seated at the foot of the Cross holding a chalice into which falls from the pierced feet of her Divine Son a twin stream of rubies, symbol of the Blood that has redeemed us. The chalice is a replica of the famous one of Ardagh, the ancient Celtic masterpiece, now one of the treasures of the British Museum.
As the Blood overflows from the chalice on the gilded globe which represents the earth, it is lapped up by two deer, symbolic of human souls- 'As the hart panteth after the fountains of water, so my soul panteth after Thee, O God.'
'I Will Draw All Things to Myself'
Two striking inscriptions in light blue enamel on a dark blue background adorn the monstrance. The upper one, circling the Host amid the rays of golden lilies spread fan-wise from the Cross, gives the Latin version of the Master's words- applicable to the monstrance as well as to the Cross- '(And I,) if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself.'
The lower inscription girdles the globe beneath, on which Our Lady is seated. Translated it means- 'Thy Eucharistic Kingdom come!' Underneath the globe, vine leaves and wheat recall the Eucharistic text- 'This is My Body … This is the chalice of My Blood.'
We now turn to the obverse side of the monstrance. The delicately carved figures, from the imagery of the Prophet Ezechiel, which occupy the ends of the cross, are the traditional emblems of the four Evangelists. They tell of the Gospel the missionary must broadcast- 'But we preach Christ in Him crucified.' St. Matthew is symbolised by a man, an allusion says St. Jerome, being to his human genealogy of Christ; St Mark by a lion, alluding to the voice of the Baptist from the desert of Juda; St. Luke by an ox, in reference to his beginning with Zachary's sacrifice; St. John by the singularly appropriate eagle, symbolising the apostle who soared to the bosom of the Trinity to tell the story of the Word made Flesh.
On either side of the Sacred Host the letters Alpha and Omega, A and O, first and last of the Greek alphabet, recall Our Lord's words in the Apocalypse- 'I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.' He is Rewarder as well as Redeemer, He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
Between these letters is carved the historical monogram of Christ. Though it resembles the letters X and P, it is really composed of the first two letters, Chi and Ro, of the Greek word 'Christos'.
'In This Sign Thou Shalt Conquer'
This monogram brings us back to the year 313 and to one of the most interesting anecdotes of history. Constantine, son of St. Helen, saw the Chi-Ro emblazoned in the sky, while underneath were written in Greek the celebrated words- 'In this sign thou shalt conquer.' He was instructed to have it embroidered on his banners before going forth to fight the pagan Emperor, Maxentius, at Pons Milvius. He did so and the result as foretold was the rout of the heathen army and the dawn of Christian freedom.
The symbolism of the monstrance continues in the fish, a frequent figure of the Eucharist in the catacombs and on early Christian monuments. The allusion is to the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes as told in the Gospel. The fish was also widely used in the early Church as the figure of Christ on account of a curious anagram. The Greek for the fish is IXOYC i.ch.th.u.s. The five letters forming this word are also the initial letters of the following words in Greek-
Jesus – Christ – God's – Son – Saviour.
This completes the explanation of the monstrance. Not only is it fascinatingly beautiful, but its value as an approved work of liturgical art, apart from its material worth, renders it a unique treasure. Though measuring 3½ feet in height and weighing 21 lbs., it will be easily carried in the Grotto processions by means of a tray fastened to shoulder straps. It may be added that an equally elaborate baldachino or small pillared dome, for Benedictions in the Grotto, and a gorgeous canopy, in keeping with the lofty monstrance, are presently being prepared in Bruges. These will complete the Carfin gift to the King of Kings.
As a fitting conclusion we append a translation of the Latin inscription carved on the ball which represents the world.
In Honour of the Most Blessed Trinity,
Invoking the Mother of God,
Mary Mediatrix and Queen of Apostles,
Together with the Patrons of the Missions,
St. Francis Xavier and St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus,
This Monstrance Wrought by Flemish Art
From the Gifts of Gold of the
Pilgrims who Flock to the Sanctuary
Of the Mother of God at Carfin in Scotland
Was Blessed and Dedicated to Jesus Christ,
King of Kings, Eternal Priest, Saving Victim,
Light of the Gentiles,
By Our Holy Father Pope Pius XI,
In the Vatican City, Upon Christmas Day
In the Year of Salvation, 1934.