Some believers can make the Faith their own, writes Colm Fitzpatrick
Very few people in Ireland can say that one of their creations has been blessed by a Pope, but luckily for retired farmer Noel Ward, he is one of these very few.
The Cork-born man had a chance to witness Pope Francis bless the Holy Family Monstrance when he visited Knock during the World Meeting of Families in August this year. Noel says it was “wonderful news”, and that it has and will bring a “strong message” to people across the country about the importance of the Catholic Faith.
The concept of the Holy Family Monstrance was the product of a deeply established love for the Blessed Eucharist, and its origins can be traced back to seeds planted by family devotions and also a prayer Noel learned from his mother who he describes as a “role model” for his Faith.
“It really started in my childhood – when I was a very young age my mother taught me a prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour,” he says. This prayer reflected on Our Lady’s love for her Son on the Cross, and the Calvary scene from the Gospel where Jesus gave his mother to his disciple John and how John took Mary into his home (John 19:26-27). “The prayer left an impression on me over my lifetime. I used to say it regularly.”
Noel adds that during his Faith development he made a special Novena to Our Blessed Lady, asking if he could spread her message, and promised to help people understand the suffering she experienced in “her mind and heart for us” at Calvary.
As he grew up, and continued to work as a farmer, his enduring focus in the Faith matured to fashion the monstrance elements: the blessed Eucharist, the Cross, Our Lady leading us to Jesus, and the Word of God as proclaimed by St John.
Speaking about his inspiration for this devotional creation, Noel says: “I set out to explain St John’s Gospel in modern form. I wanted to highlight the reality of suffering that Jesus went through on the Cross and Our Blessed Lady’s role and St John representing our priests.
“I looked at it the same way St Patrick looked at the shamrock. St Patrick took the shamrock and explained the message of the Trinity and if you the break a leaf of the shamrock you lose the symbol.”
The main structure of the design is stainless steel. The central pyx hold a six-inch diameter consecrated host surrounded by a 12-point gold double star. Pilate’s posted declaration ‘INRI’ – Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum – heads the cross. Below, astride the arms, sits Christ’s Crown of Thorns. At the end of each arm is embedded a semi-precious stone, a third above the foot of the cross, and a silver chalice stands before it’s base. To the right stands Mary, Mother of God, presenting her son to us, and on the left stands St John, holding his inspired works. Both figures are of silver, coated bronze, the garments edged in gold.
None of these details are incidental or superfluous, but for Noel convey the total message of salvation. Explaining the iconography of the design, he says: “I felt they should all be linked together in one image. This was the model given to us at Calvary – there’s no point in arguing about that.” Being retired now, his main focus is trying to convey and share the message of the Gospel, and in particular how the scene of Calvary impacts all of us. The Holy Family Monstrance, he says, is one way to make this possible, given that there are five principles it promotes.
It can help create a greater awareness of the real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; promote thanksgiving for what Jesus suffered for us on the Cross; help people to realise that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a sacrifice each time it is offered; convey the Blessed Lady’s role in our redemption in all her titles; and also allow us to understand the real meaning of the priesthood in family life.
The spreading of this message, he adds, will hopefully be heard as it continues to travel around Ireland, and will garner more attention especially since Pope Francis has blessed it.
Given that it’s already been in places such as Armagh and Limerick, as well as Tipperary and Kilkenny, there’s no doubt that Monstrance has already made an impact on Catholics across the country to date.
Alongside this, Noel also wants to highlight the prayer of Our Lady of All Nations which calls God to let the Holy Spirit live in the hearts of all nations, and preserve us from degeneration, disaster and war. Despite this being a tall feat, Noel’s Faith could convince anyone that anything is possible.