This week the Scriptures describe future days and the end times, which can be a frightening prospect for those without faith. As the Gospel account opens, Jesus heard people describing the Temple which was “adorned with costly stones and votive offerings.” His sobering response was that there would come a time when the Temple and its beauty would be destroyed. Those words came to pass in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the Temple during the siege of Jerusalem.
The concept of “votive offerings” was not unique to Judaism. Many religions of ancient times and our own devotional practices today include the concept of votive offerings — of things dedicated to God. The name “votive” originally came from things dedicated, promised or “vowed” to God.
People vowed gifts with their prayers in the hope that God would look favorably on the gift and grant their request. Some people donated gifts in gratitude for a recovery from illness or deliverance from danger. Others didn’t actually promise a gift beforehand but simply gave an object in gratitude for blessings received.
Such acts of devotion might be as simple as lighting a “votive candle” to accompany their prayer or may be asking the intercession of a particular saint. The candle burns for several hours or days and eventually is consumed. While the candle serves as a reminder, the sacrifice and devotion is the virtuous part of the action.
Others have donated religious objects such as statues, vessels, the Stations of the Cross on the wall of the church or even a new organ or piano for use at worship. Many of our older churches have lovely stained glass windows. Sometimes they even have the name of the donor, or the one in whose memory the offering was made. The sacrifice of money used to purchase the gift is an act of devotion and the gift’s beauty stands as a permanent expression of their gratitude and faith.
Votive offerings may also be symbols of a prayer that was answered — like those who leave canes and crutches at Lourdes or at the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help in Robinsonville in gratitude for healing. Others offer money or other valuables to help the support of the church.
In another sense, the very building in which we worship, whether it’s a stone cathedral, a brick building or a simple wood frame structure, is a faith offering of the people who donated funds to build it.
As you wait in silence for the liturgy to begin this Sunday, you may want to look around the church to see how that space is adorned with expressions of your parish’s love, devotion and gratitude for blessings received. Some parts will have names and labels of the donors. The building and everything in it stands as a constant expression of our faith in God who is always good and gracious.
Sr. Rehrauer is the diocesan director of Evangelization and Worship.