The Crack of Doom

doom-painting-afterAfter restoration, Coventry Church Doom painting

Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, voices, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets made ready to blow them.

—Rev 8:5

In medieval English churches a standard architectural/artistic element of the liturgical environment was the Doom painting in the tympanum of the western wall of the Church. This depiction of the Last Judgment was located above the doors of the Church, so that it could be seen by the people as the exited the building.  ”Doom,” in this sense, is a synonym for Judgment Day.  Thus, the Crack of Doom, does not refer to some opening in the earth from which proceeds the apocalyptic judgment, but, the moment in time when the impending judgment is announced by the “crack” of thunder and trumpet blast.


The Doom within the church building, like the Rood, separating the sanctuary from the nave, marks out a place and time toward which the faithful must orient themselves and though which, like a frame, we are able to experience the liturgy.  The apocalyptic moment is the age to come already present in the here and now, especially in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The faithful, nourished by the Eucharist, are sent forth to face the end of time and the cosmic battle that leads to it.  Christ extends his hands over the entire panorama of space and time, showing the living and the dead the marks of His passion and His victory over death.  The faithful leave the Church with the sense that at any moment He may come.

But our doom is not only an end.  Perhaps it is important that in the Sistine Chapel and other post-medieval Churches, the Doom was transferred from the western wall to the eastern wall over the altar of sacrifice.  Benedict XVI has reminded us that facing East in the liturgy we are led by Christ into eternity.  The heavens open, eternity invades time, and we are taken from this present age into the age to come.  Our doom is victory.Doom-Painting-Coventry

At the end of this time, which is is 2013, we have an opportunity to make an assessment of our own spiritual orientation.  In the context of such an assessment Bob Moynihan, publisher of Inside the Vatican has pointed to the reference Pope Francis made in November to Robert Hugh Benson’s The Lord of the World, which is a novel about what would happen if the principles of Freemasonry were universally adopted, and the effect it would have on those who believe in Christ.   The Holy Father’s statement was a commentary on the persecution of the Jews by the pagans in the Maccabean period and how some believed they could negotiate a peace with the world that would be compatible with the worship of the true God.  But Pope Francis called this “adolescent progressivism” and “the ‘globalization of hegemonic uniformity,’ a uniformity of thought born of worldliness.”  He called such a compromise “apostasy” and “adultery.”  He said that Robert Hugh Benson’s book was prophetic of this kind of apostasy which was to come, and in fact, has come.

Joseph Ratzinger in 1992 made a similar reference to The Lord of the World in the context of his criticism of President Bush’s “New World Order.”  He said that it represented ”a similar unified civilization and its power to destroy the spirit. The anti-christ is represented as the great carrier of peace in a similar new world order.”

If the liturgy teaches us anything about this, I believe it has something to do with this west/east paradox of the Doom wall.  There are no utopias in time, but our protection against such masonic nonsense is not the adoption of dystopian philosophy.  Our defense against sentimental optimism is not systematic, hyper-rational historical pessimism.  What separates us from the hegemony of relativism is our faith in Christ and his lordship over history and the way in which His control over time is lived out in the Church under the protection of His providence.

In some versions of the Doom painting the angels flank the image of Christ with their trumpets poised to blow and St. Michael holds a set of scales upon which are set in opposition Adam and Eve on one side and their sins on the other. With his sword raised against the perpetrators in anticipation sin-weighted result, Our Lady standing by, crowned and holding a scepter in one hand, with the other presses down on the mankind’s side of the scales correcting the result in our favor.

Sometimes this seems to be our only hope.  And that is how it ought to be.

Spes nostra, salve and Happy New Year.





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