The Symbolism of the Altar Book, part II

For the great festivals the effect would have been somewhat marred by putting shields upon the large initial letters, and so these have been used on some other letter—at Christmastime for the second collect for Christmas Day, which bears the Latin work for “I rejoice,” which happened to be the heraldic motto of one of the compilers of the book, whose birthday fell on Christmas Eve. For Saint Stephen’s Day there is a stone, emblematic of the manner of his martyrdom, hung upon its shield. For Saint John the Evangelist, his emblem of a cup and serpent. For the Innocent’s Day, a sword. For the Sunday after Christmas Day, the Name of Jesus, which is alluded to for the first time in the Gospel for the Day. For the Circumcision, the monogram, “IHS,” alluding to the first suffering undergone by our Lord for men. For the Epiphany, the Epiphany star; and for the First Sunday after Epiphany, which is in its octave, the same. For the Second Sunday after Epiphany, the three crowns, symbolic of the three kings, who brought their Epiphany offerings to Christ; and for the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, gold in the form of a church, or shrine; frankincense; and the branch of myrrh, being the three Epiphany offerings of the three kings. The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany shows again the Epiphany star; and the next Sunday, which is the third Sunday before Lent, and begins the preparation for it, together with the Second Sunday before Lent and the First Sunday before Lent, have three figures, emblematic of different parts of penitence—prayer, almsgiving, and repentance. The various Sundays of Lent, and the days of Holy Week have the instruments of our Lord’s Passion, while for Good Friday our Lord’s title of “The Lamb of God” is put upon the shield.

For the second Communion of Easter Day are shown the three Marys, while for the Monday and Tuesday in Easter Week the shield bears the Greek terms for “Jesus Christ, Conqueror of Death.” The Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Sunday after Easter bear emblems of immortality, the pelican, butterfly, phoenix and peacock. The Sunday after Ascension-Day has the eagle, who mounts to the sun, and the Monday and Tuesday in Whitsun Week, the Pentecostal flames of fire.
The First Sunday after Trinity, which is in the octave of Trinity Sunday has three intertwined rings, and the twenty-four Sundays after Trinity have upon their shields the three virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity; the four cardinal virtues, Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude; the gifts and fruits of the Spirit—Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Faith, Fear, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Meekness, etc.; while the final Sundays after Trinity has these virtues summed up in the “Duty toward God” and the “Duty toward our Neighbor” in which all these virtues have their sphere of action.
The collects for the saints’ days have upon their initials the symbols of the saint to which they refer, like the lion for St. Mark, the keys and cock for St. Peter, the Mount of Transfiguration for the festival of the Transfiguration, the scales and dragon for St. Michael.
The Holy Communion has no symbolism of this sort, with the exception of the phrase beneath the picture of the Crucifixion, which reads, “And I, if I be lifted up, shall draw all men unto Me.” For the Occasional Offices, at the end, the initials bear scrolls with the various titles of Christ, —for instance, for The Communion of the Sick, “Savior;” for The Visitation of Prisoners, “Redeemer;” for Thanksgiving Day, “Mighty God.” While for the Ordering of Deacons, Priests, and Bishops we have the title of the three-fold ministry of Christ, as “Prophet,” “Priest” and “King.” For the final office, which is for the Consecration of a Church, we have the word, “Emmanuel,” signifying “God with us.” The colophon bears these words, “To the glory of the Most Holy and undivided Trinity, One God, blessed forevermore. Alleluia.” The arms are those of the two makers of the book, and the motto underneath reads, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Name give the praise.”

The seals on the binding represent the two parts of the sacrament—the Agnus Dei on one side, and the Pelican feeding her young on the other. The motto around the Lamb is as follows: “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” That around the Pelican reads, “For whosoever does according to the will of God, he is the son of God.” —D.B.U.

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