Roaring like a lion: Have you ever seen an ambo, gospel book, or another item in your church decorated with four winged creatures? Take a closer look. You’ll probably find a human, a lion, a bull, and an eagle. These are traditional symbols of the four evangelists: Matthew (human), Mark (lion), Luke (bull), John (eagle). The symbols refer to the four living creatures who surround the throne of God in Revelation (4:6-7). Several early Christian writers assigned different pairings, but St. Jerome in the late fourth century gave us our current tradition. He did not provide specific reasons for the pairings, but some have connected each creature with how each gospel begins. Today’s gospel from the beginning of Mark combines Isaiah’s messenger “crying out in the desert” with John the Baptist proclaiming a message of repentance. This is why some will say that Mark is symbolized with the roaring lion. Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus, thus the human figure; Luke starts with Zechariah in the temple, where oxen or calves are sacrificed, thus the bull; and John’s opening prologue of the Word coming down from heaven reminds us of the soaring eagle high above.
These symbols are good mnemonics for remembering how each gospel begins, but perhaps there’s a deeper meaning to these fantastical creatures. The living creatures around God’s throne serve only one purpose: to constantly praise God night and day. The gospels are not history books about events in the past. They are the living Word that has but one message, that God is wildly in love with us. For those with faith to hear this message, the gospels cannot be entirely analyzed and explained simply by rational thought, because, like any relationship with a person we love, the gospels embody the irrational, beyond-what-we-can-imagine kind of love God has for us through the person of Jesus.
When we proclaim the gospels and listen to them with the ear of our hearts with that kind of love in mind, we too might roar into the desert-places of our world the glad tidings that God is crazy in love with us.
Excerpt from Living Liturgy: Spirituality, Celebration, and Catechesis for Sundays and Solemnities, Year B, 2018, by Brian Schmisek, Diana Macalintal, and Jay Cormier, published by Liturgical Press. Copyright © 2017, Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. All rights reserved. Used with permission..
About Living Liturgy
If you enjoyed this short catechetical article of mine on liturgy, music, or the RCIA, I encourage you to check out the entire Living Liturgy 2018 resource because you will get so much more than just reading from my excerpts. Brian Schmisek and Jay Cormier did a fantastic job of providing a wealth of theological information, pastoral reflections, and practical resources for every Sunday and solemnity of the entire year. Not only do you get all the readings, opening prayers, and Gospel verses for every feast, but you also get scripture exegesis, homily points, psalm response reflections for your psalmists, liturgical preparation questions for all your liturgical ministers and catechists, a lector’s pronunciation guide, sample penitential act tropes, and intercessions, including the presider’s introduction and concluding prayer for those intercessions.
When the 2018 edition debuted at last summer’s NPM convention, it completely sold out from the Liturgical Press booth! I was at the booth for most of the week, and I heard so many great comments from participants of how beautiful and useful this resource looks. So many more also told me how they have relied so much on this resource that was begun by Joyce Ann Zimmerman, CPPS, and Kathleen Harmon, SNDdeN, in 1999!
I have been blessed to be part of this project that continues the good work begun by Sr. Joyce Ann and Sr. Kathleen and LitPress, and I pray that our team’s contribution through Living Liturgy will help you every week of the new liturgical year.