Catholic Line Art: Creating the Cover Art for the 2023 Source & Summit Missal
Sep 16, 2022
It seems to me that we would be hard pressed to find a person, having come across the 2023 Source & Summit Missal, who would not be attracted and drawn in by the striking image of Christ the High Priest on the cover. Notice the gravity and intelligence in his piercing eyes, his erect and stately posture, the striking rays of divine light bursting forth from his person. The remarkable sharpness of contrast in simple lines: light . . . and dark. Isn’t it amazing that the way things are in the material world corresponds in large part to the way our human eyes work? A marvel of God’s creation and a hint of his desire to be seen and known. I understand that there are over two million working parts in the human eye (second only to the human brain in complexity). If you’ll pardon the pun, it’s clear that we are designed to encounter reality through image. Now, admittedly, I am partial to this way of thinking and to this particular image of Christ the High Priest. It was created by Ruth A. Stricklin (my wife), and images are our business. We are New Jerusalem Studios, a liturgical art and design studio in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona. So yes, I’m partial, but still, the centrality of image in our lives of faith is well worth recalling.
What About Images?
Appreciating the image in our Catholic tradition begins and ends with the Logos, the Word made Flesh. In the fullness of time, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn. 1:14). In Jesus, what was unthinkable in the thousands of years of history of God’s relationship with Israel was now radiantly clear: in Jesus, God allows Himself to be seen face to face. In St. Paul’s words, “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.”
In the economy of salvation, Jesus is the image, par excellence, the perfection and fullness of the pattern of all creation and redemption. In the beginning, God said “Let there be light.” With this first act of creation, the invisible God becomes manifest in material form, in the order, grandeur, and multiplicity of creation. Every dimension of time, space and habitat are ordained by God to be means of revealing and sharing his divine life with us.
Creation is the first image, revealing the mind of the creator, the Logos: “He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (Jn. 1:3-4). Notice, then, that it was through visual perception that “Eve saw that [the fruit] was good for food and pleasing to the eye.” With the original sin, man ceases to be able to see God face to face, separating himself from this intimate sharing of divine life through creation and man’s own personhood. But as the Bible tells us, God did not abandon his creation, but set about drawing man back to himself. In the same economy of his creation, he uses visible signs - the bow in the sky, pillars of cloud and fire, circumcision, the law, the prophets, the Temple, and so forth.
“In many and various ways, God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Christ reveals the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature” (Heb. 1:1-3). In Jesus, God has a human face. He is Emmanuel, close, immanent, in a clear way, no longer only transcendent and in shadow, but radiant, attractive. “Come and see,” he says to Phillip at the beginning of his public ministry. In the person of Jesus, the transcendent God takes human form in the “stuff” of creation—carbon, magnesium, calcium—and imbues it with supernatural power. In this tangible form, Jesus reveals and makes truly present to our eyes God himself, his love, and his saving action. In Jesus, God’s revelation, shadowy in the Old Testament, now becomes visibly radiant. Through the incarnation, transfiguration, and in the visual appearances of Christ after the resurrection, the glory of God shines through the visual image of the incarnate Word.
Book of Kells, (Latin: Codex Cenannensis; Irish: Leabhar Cheanannais; Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS A. I. C. 800 AD)
The Sacramental Nature of Reality
It should not be surprising, then, that in God’s providential care of his people, through Christ’s life, passion, death, and resurrection, he establishes a visible Church, the real presence of his life and mission. “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you” (Cf. Lk. 22:19) In the Eucharist, Christ is present, body, blood, soul and divinity, present and active, extending the love and mercy of the Father to all creation. This brings us to a full, Catholic way of understanding all reality. It is what may be called the “sacramental” worldview”: the Sacraments are the normative means through which Christ lives and acts in his Church today. All the signs and symbols of the liturgy participate in making Christ present—the “smells and bells,” as we like to say. Christ entering the midst of the assembly in the iconic image of the priest, stately processions evoking our earthly pilgrimage, ornate vestments revealing the festive celebration of the wedding feast of the lamb, the warm and radiant candle light of Easter night, reminding us of the light that pierces the darkness which will not overcome it.
Sacred art too, participates in this sacramental system. Truly beautiful sacred art reveals and makes present in attractive and legible ways the mysteries of our faith. In sacred art, we perceive the presence of the Logos, mysteriously just beyond the image. In and through the colorful and theologically rich images of sacred art, mosaic, and statuary, we behold his face, attracted with our eyes and drawn to his heart. Truly beautiful liturgical art, like all beauty, produces in us spontaneous joy, because we perceive in and through the image the one who loves us with an infinite love: Christ the victim, Christ the priest. This joy then gives us the energy to cooperate with God’s grace in our lives through the hard work of conversion. As John Paul II said in his Letter to Artists, “it enthuses us for work and raises us up.”
Rabulla Gospels(A.D. 586), Evangeliarii Syriaci
Liturgical Books are Sacramental
This sacramental vision has been the foundation for centuries of our Catholic Christian view of the sacramental books of our liturgy: the early sacramentaries, evangeliaria, lectionaries, antiphonaries, graduals, and the missal. When the Eternal Word of the Father, Jesus Christ, took human flesh, he took to himself human language. He called his first disciples with spoken words, preaching the Kingdom of God, saying, “take this, all of you, and eat of it…” In a profound way, our incarnational faith is also word-based. What is natural to human beings—language—is imbued with supernatural power through Christ. Thus, the liturgical books serve an essential function in the sacramental economy, imbued with the power of the Logos, drawing mankind audibly and visibly through the word proclaimed into Christ’s eternal sacrifice of praise. By the means of natural materials—animal hide, papyrus, and pigment—page and ink are imbued with the power of Jesus' paschal mystery to be the sacramental means of his presence. Thus, these sacramental books of our tradition have always been artfully and lovingly created, preserved, and venerated. Everyone knows the joy of holding in one's hands an actual book—the feel of it, the smell, the way it moves in our hands. All the more with a book for use in the liturgy, which helps draw the person into communal worship of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Cover Art, Source & Summit Missal 2022-23, Ruth A. Stricklin
The 2023 Source & Summit Missal and Christ the High Priest
Because of the high sacramental understanding of word and image in our Catholic tradition, books for use in the liturgy have been created by artists from the earliest times of Christianity. Elaborate and attractive calligraphy, and colorful, expressive illumination are hallmarks of the liturgical books. Among the earliest notable examples is the Syriac Evangeliary written in 586 AD at the Monastery of Zagba (Mesopotamia) by the monk Rabula. This tradition perhaps reached its high point with the great illuminated manuscripts of the medieval period, with notable examples such as the Book of Kells. In these rich works of art, which weave together word and beautiful decoration, our appreciation of the liturgical words is expanded and deepened, and our hearts and minds are elevated. With the advent of printing, new forms, such as the wood cut print, emerged and eventually brought the Bible and liturgical books and artwork into the hands of the faithful. With the hand missals of the late 19th and 20thcenturies, Christians encountered the Word sacramentally through elegant type and elaborate miniature images, expressing the glories of our faith.
Today, Source & Summit continues this great tradition! Following in the custom of Catholic line art, which developed from early woodcut prints, artist Ruth Stricklin used a technique which started with traditional methods:
“I began this piece by hand drawing in pen and ink. This creates subtle variations in line thickness and intricate compositional details. Hand drawing gives the figure dynamic life and character, which I believe is perceived instinctively. Computer-generated lines and shadows can tend to look rigid and automated. This method also connects the line art to the fine craftsmanship handed down by tradition, so it is immediately recognizable and accessible to the viewer.”
The image is then transformed into a digital file for refining. Imperfections, which we may subconsciously perceive but may not notice, give the figure a sense of dynamism and authenticity.
The design of Christ the High Priest went through many iterations in collaboration with Source & Summit to bring out just the right compositional elements and visible radiance. In terms of the medium and technique, Ruth explains:
“a challenge in this work was that the background of the 2022-23 edition was to be dark. This necessitated essentially creating certain aspects of the drawing similar to a photo negative. For instance, notice in the chasuble of Christ, what in a normal drawing would be dark ink, such as the outline of the vestment. In this image the basic structure had to be turned into negative space, such that the eventual gold would form the outline. Conversely, in the face of Christ, the host, and the chalice, the negative space which is rendered as gold would be given structure in the conventional way by dark line. This alternate use of negative and positive space was chosen carefully in order to highlight specific aspects of the design.”
The starting point for the subject matter was inspired by the US Bishops’ efforts for a National Eucharistic Revival, which was launched on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi this year and will culminate with a Eucharistic Congress in July of 2024. Source & Summit desired to portray both the grandeur of Christ the High Priest and the intimacy and tenderness of the one who became like us in all things but sin and offered himself out of love for our sake. Notable details of the design include the image of Christ the Priest standing on an altar, with the words “Do this in memory of me” engraved on it in Latin. To make the connection that Jesus is both the High Priest who offers his life on the cross, Christ the Priest stands on the altar as victim. To convey the significance of Christ the Priest, he also offers himself as bread and wine, clothed in priestly vesture.
In terms of the style of the drawing, Ruth employs a pseudo-iconographic style characterized by two-dimensionality. She was influenced by a 1920s hand missal done in an art deco style and the Beuronese style in general. This type of art, which is more stylized and less naturalistic, is well-suited for the clean lines and black-and-white presentation of line art. In sacred art in general, figures are not portrayed in a naturalistic way, as they would have appeared on earth, but rather, in a glorified way, perfected and healed of all wounds of sin in the fallen world. In the liturgy, artwork should portray the reality that we celebrate in the Mass, the worship of God by the whole Mystical Body in Christ, centered around Christ’s eternal self offering in Heaven. Thus Christ the High Priest is portrayed in a glorified, stately posture, radiant with divine light.
For New Jerusalem Studios, creating the cover of the 2023 Source & Summit Missal was a distinct pleasure. We are grateful that, in some small way, we are blessed to participate in God’s sacramental work in this age of the Church. Furthermore, we see our partnership with Source & Summit as one among many examples of the great revival we are experiencing in the Church today. It never ceases to delight and encourage us that phone calls regularly come in from chaplains and pastors looking to enhance the sacramental beauty of their chapels and churches. From mural work for high schools and newly built churches, to renovations, large and small, New Jerusalem Studios remains as busy as we could ever hope to be (if interested, check out our Instagram to see what we’re up to and to follow our work!). The current flowering of interest in and devotion to beautiful sacred art and classical architecture, reverent and faithful liturgical celebration, scripturally based and glorious sacred music, and fine liturgical books is truly encouraging. Despite the challenges the Church faces in our times, there are many reasons for hope and joy as we press on with great zeal in our efforts of liturgical renewal.