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The Sacred Liturgy… Where Thy Glory Dwells

October 22, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Part 4

Yes, the liturgy of the Church must be sacred. The Church did not institute the liturgy for our Sunday entertainment, but to give glory to God. Because of its sacredness, it cannot be celebrated just anywhere, as in parks, beaches, or backyards.
Today, there is a weird trend — to put it charitably — whereby people choose to celebrate their weddings outside of the church buildings, for reasons of convenience or simply because of a whim.
But our Lord Jesus Christ deserves much more than that. He honored the Temple of Jerusalem, and as soon as the Church obtained her freedom in the Roman Empire, the early Christians started to build churches or simply to take over the empty pagan temples, exorcize them and transform them into Christian churches.
There is a beautiful psalm of David when he sings, “I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of thy house; and the place where thy glory dwells” (Psalm 26:8). The place where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is going to be celebrated must be built in accordance with the grandeur of the realities that are going to take place in it: the transubstantiation, the Real Presence of the Divine Redeemer among us, the forgiveness of sins in the confessional, and the marvels of the other sacraments.
Hence, we understand the mind of the medieval people in Europe, who built marvelous cathedrals and churches to last for centuries, in times when the faith and the salvation of souls mattered more than anything else among the Catholic clergy.
Thus, a church is supposed to be a sacred place: A church is dedicated or at least blessed before use. Why is it so? Because it symbolizes that spiritual building which Christ is building up from the living souls of the faithful.
A Catholic church building is expected to be rich in symbolisms, which remind us of superior realities, unlike a Protestant church, deprived of beauty and style, and always man-centered. In a properly built Catholic church, you find the baptistery which contains the baptismal font of water blessed during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. It is used to baptize the newcomers into the Church, infants, children, or adults.
The holy-water font at the entrance to the church is there for us to bless ourselves upon entering the church in remembrance of our Baptism, when we were incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, and became living stones of His Temple. The altar is the place of the offering of the Holy Sacrifice, and is a symbol of Christ. It often contains relics of a martyr, someone who laid down his life for Jesus Christ, showing that he loved God more than himself.
In better times, there were columns inside the church, and they represented the apostles of the New Testament on one side, and the prophets of the Old Testament on the other side. Stained-glass windows represented the doctors of the Church; these windows filtered the light of the sun into pictures for our learning.
By ancient tradition, the priest faced the people to greet them or to address them. But then he turned around to the altar, where the tabernacle containing the Real Presence is placed, to face the same way as the people, to be their leader and mediator, as both priest and people are oriented to the Lord. The east, or the direction where priest and people face, becomes symbolically the transcendent reference point.
But since the 1960s, Mass facing the people has become commonplace, even though there has been no directive of the Second Vatican Council to do that. It was the result of the influence of some rabid liturgists, who wanted to make the Catholic worship as similar as possible to Protestantism.
Hence you often see that the choir no longer sings from the choir loft but is placed directly in front of the congregation, as the Protestants do. Now in some places people applaud the choir, as if it were a public performance of some sort.
But traditionally in the liturgies of East and West, the altar faces east, whence the rising sun comes, as a symbol of our waiting for the glorious appearing of our Savior, the Sun of Justice (Mal. 4:2).
There used to be a Communion rail, where the faithful knelt to receive Communion, separating the sanctuary from the nave or body of the church. Today in most places people line up to receive it standing. The tabernacle (tabernaculum means tent in Latin) is the residence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. It is indicated by a sanctuary lamp (a light near the tabernacle, to signify that the Captain is in His Tent of Meeting).
The confessional is the place for the Sacrament of Penance, where sins are truly forgiven by a man acting in persona Christi.
Sacred places are ennobled by sacred art: sculpture, images, statues, paintings, icons, furnishings, adornments, and architecture.
It is unfortunate that during the post-Vatican II period, the ancient heresy of the iconoclasts was revived and destroyed countless works of art in statues, paintings, and altars. Protestantism had already revived that ancient heresy by removing every sign of artistic beauty in its church buildings, but that “revival” was done outside of the Catholic Church.
After the council, iconoclasm erupted within, as part of the smoke of Satan in the sanctuary, in the process of auto-demolition that Pope Paul VI denounced so clearly.
But in our days, thanks be to God, some churches are recovering their ancient beauty and splendor, due to the faithful work of good Catholic architects and conscientious parish priests.
The liturgy also contains sacred signs and symbols such as bread and wine (which become the Body and Blood of Christ), water, oil, the cross, crucifix, palms, ashes, candles, and lights.
But there is plenty more in the symbolisms of the Church for us to admire. Take, for instance, the liturgical seasons, where every year we celebrate the Incarnation, Birth, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and related mysteries. The Church also commemorates the life and privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our mother, and the saints and angels.
The saints are those faithful who took God at His word and followed His will in every aspect of their mission and walk of life. Today we would call them “radical Christians.”
The Liturgical Year does not coincide with the normal calendar: It begins with the First Sunday of Advent and concludes on the Saturday after the Feast of Christ the King.
The basic liturgical year grew up in the first centuries of Christianity, centered on the Paschal mystery, and, later, on the Birth of Christ. Thus, our Church year has the two poles of Easter and Christmas, each one preceded by a period of preparation (Lent, Advent), and succeeded by an extended celebration of the mystery (Paschaltide, Christmastide).
We ought to take time to learn more about the Catholic Church, the institution founded by Jesus Christ to perpetuate His Presence in the world.

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(Raymond de Souza is available to speak at Catholic events anywhere in the free world in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Please email Sacred or visit or phone 507-450-4196 in the United States.)

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