A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Glorious Mysteries in Stained Glass

by Glen McCullough

Last month I wrote about the history of the beautiful stained glass in St Mary of the Angels church in Wellington, and in particular the sets featuring the Mysteries of the Rosary. 

I was interested to read in one of the church handouts that “It was left to the parish priest, Fr Stanislaus Mahony SM, to organise and complete, even to literally giving a hand himself to save costs. Some weeks Fr Mahony had to ask the workers to wait until after the Sunday collection for their pay!”

The Mysteries of the Rosary windows are in the Lady Chapel to the right of the nave. This article highlights the set of Glorious Mystery windows (left).

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The top left window is of the crucifixion, the fifth Sorrowful Mystery and will be discussed in the next article.The other five windows are glorious!

The first Glorious Mystery is the Resurrection [2]. Jesus rose on the third day to give us hope of new life. The window shows Jesus emerging from the tomb, partially wrapped in a shroud and carrying a white banner with a red cross. The window must follow Matthew’s account, which says that the guards “shook from fear and fell down, as though they were dead”. The other three Gospels tell of an empty tomb with the stone rolled away. 

I have lots of questions about the scene in the window. The angel came and rolled away the stone. Wasn’t that what the soldiers reacted to? Did Jesus physically emerge from the tomb, or did he just disappear? What does the banner he is holding mean? If he is wearing the shroud what was the one left in the tomb?

 No matter how many questions, or how dramatic the scene, the fact remains that Jesus rose from the dead, and in doing so gave us the hope of new life. The ‘how’ of it is a glorious mystery!

The second Glorious Mystery is the Ascension. Mark and Luke’s Gospels tell that Jesus was taken back up to Heaven, Mark going further and stating that he “sat down at the right side of God”. The window [3] shows Jesus rising towards the clouds, surrounded by disciples. 

Which reminds me that the last instruction he gave the disciples was the ‘Great Commission’, to tell the Good News of salvation to all the world. The amazing thing was that His disciples did just as he instructed, and they and their successors converted the known world. What models they were for us today, if only ...

The most telling window I have seen of the Ascension shows, not Jesus, but the disciples all looking towards the sky with lost, bewildered looks on their faces. They must have felt bereft - they had been trained by Jesus for three years, had gone through the agony of his trial and crucifixion, then rejoiced at his reappearance. Then to lose him again in such a spectacular fashion. At the same time, they must have had hope, because Jesus told them he would send his advocate, the Holy Spirit.

But through his Ascension, Jesus gave us hope that we might join him and his Father in the next life. That’s a glorious mystery!

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The third Glorious Mystery is the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The Pentecost narrative in Acts 2 describes the event shown in the window [4]. The tongues of fire can be clearly seen, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. 

The number of people depicted is limited by the size of the window. I am not sure how many were there - it could have been the apostles, Mary and “the women”, but could have been the whole of the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty). 

There is no mystery about the gift of tongues that was given to the disciples for anyone involved in the charismatic renewal. Nor is there any doubt that the courage and spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gave to the early church was probably the reason they were so successful in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.

To me the mystery is the Trinity - God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit that came down to show the love between Father and Son. I believe in the Holy Spirit, have experienced his very real presence, but cannot fully explain it. That’s the definition of a mystery, isn’t it? It’s just that this mystery is glorious! 

The Assumption [5] and Coronation [6] of Mary are the last two Glorious Mysteries. 

The church teaches as dogma that “having completed the course of her earthly life, [Mary] was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory”. I believe it. 

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The church also views Mary as the woman clothed with the sun in the Book of Revelation 12:1–3: “A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head”.

I find it very difficult to separate these two events - surely Mary would have been crowned at the same time as she arrived to join her Son?

The windows show Jesus welcoming Mary into Heaven, and then being crowned by Christ the King, with the Holy Spirit looking on. They are standing on clouds, indicating they are in Heaven.

Aren’t they glorious, like the mysteries they represent!?  


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