VATICAN CITY –– Standing in the Sistine Chapel under Michelangelo’s famous ceiling frescoes, people are reminded that the world was created by God in a supreme act of love, Pope Benedict XVI said.
“With a unique expressive intensity,” the pope said, Michelangelo depicted the power and majesty of God the creator in a way that proclaimed “the world is not the product of darkness, chaos or absurdity, but derives from intelligence, freedom, a supreme act of love.”
Pope Benedict made his remarks Oct. 31 during an evening prayer service marking the 500th anniversary of the prayer service led by Pope Julius II in 1512 to celebrate Michelangelo’s completion of the ceiling paintings.
Up to 20,000 people visit the Sistine Chapel each day as part of their tour of the Vatican Museums, but, “the chapel contemplated in prayer is even more beautiful, more authentic; it reveals all its richness,” the pope said.
With a small group of cardinals, Vatican employees and guests joining him for the prayer service, the pope asked them to try to imagine what it must have been like 500 years ago to look up and see those famous paintings for the first time.
The ceiling, measuring 134 feet by 43 feet, has nine principal illustrations of events recounted in the Book of Genesis, including the various stages of creation and the great flood. The most famous of all the scenes is God creating Adam and transmitting life to him through an outstretched finger.
All of the chapel’s paintings recount stages in the history of salvation, the pope said, but “in that encounter of the finger of God and the finger of man, we perceive a contact between heaven and earth. In Adam, God entered into a new relationship with his creation,” a relationship in which a creature is created in God’s image and called into a direct relationship with God.
Pope Benedict noted that, 20 years after Michelangelo finished the ceiling, he concluded work on the massive wall fresco, the “Last Judgment.”
Illustrating humanity’s origin on the ceiling and its ultimate destiny in the “Last Judgment,” Michelangelo painted “the great parable of the journey of humanity,” which leads to “the definitive encounter with Christ, the judge of the living and the dead,” the pope said.
“Praying this evening in the Sistine Chapel — surrounded by the story of God’s journey with humanity, marvelously represented in the frescoes above us and around us — is an invitation to praise,” he said.