By Father Matthew Gamber
Catholic News Service
ROME (CNS) — To thank God for bringing him to the Catholic Church, an author spent seven years traveling around the world photographing and collecting art that shows Catholic priests celebrating the sacraments, preaching and sometimes facing danger.
The more than 550 color images Danish author Steen Heidemann collected are included in his new coffee table book, "The Catholic Priest — Image of Christ through Fifteen Centuries of Art."
Published to mark the Year for Priests, the book was released March 17.
At a book launch in Rome, Heidemann told his audience that the 320-page work is his "gift to God" in thanksgiving for his conversion to Catholicism, which took place in England after an adolescence marked by a series of family tragedies.
The author travelled to art museums and private collections throughout the world, including China, to photograph noteworthy paintings about the priesthood. Many of the paintings have never been shown to the public.
Heidemann did not collect stiffly posed formal portraits of priests, but brought together a wide variety of images to show the day-to-day, but often unnoticed, activities of priests captured by painters: celebrating the sacraments, preaching, teaching and guiding their parishioners.
Some of the paintings depict courageous and heroic episodes from the lives of famous saints and unknown priests: caring for plague victims, supporting persecuted Catholics, and even shedding their blood in martyrdom.
A painting from the Museum of Fine Arts in Rennes, France, dramatically illustrates its title, "Clandestine Mass on board a boat off the coast of Brittany during the French Revolution."
On the next page is an unknown artist’s painting of the "Martyrdom of St. Pierre Borie in Vietnam," showing the French missionary being decapitated in 1838. The painting hangs in the seminary of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.
The photos are accompanied by essays written by cardinals, bishops and priests as well as the text of a speech Pope Benedict XVI gave in 2006 to the clergy of Poland on the topic of priestly holiness.
Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, head of the Vatican’s supreme court and former archbishop of St. Louis, contributed an essay and spoke at the book launch.
"In these days when we hear very sad news about some priests in the press, it is easy to miss the reality of the priest’s divine vocation, which is a mission to be ‘another Christ’ at all times and places," he said.
Archbishop Burke called the book "a profound tool to help deepen an appreciation for the priesthood," and said he was particularly struck by the images in the book that show the connection between the priesthood, Jesus Christ and the Eucharist.
In his essay Archbishop Burke wrote, "The artist can show how the priesthood in its being and action unites the human to the divine, and can thus rekindle the flame of enthusiasm which has always stimulated respect for the priesthood among the faithful."
The book, which is selling for about $60, was released in English, Italian and French and is being translated into German, Portuguese and Spanish.
Copyright (c)2010 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
CNS – 3211 Fourth St NE – Washington DC 20017 – 202.541.3250