Have you noticed the different types of lighting in your church? There is ambient lighting streaming through stained-glass windows. Some churches have recessed lighting that covers wide areas or is specific to devotional areas. Many churches have large chandeliers that add to the architecture.
All lighting in church focuses our attention on the sanctuary. Here, the primary illumination is candles, and the primary focus is the tabernacle — the place of the reserved sacrament.
Nearby is a special light, called the sanctuary lamp. This light is perpetual, lit, as they say, 24/7.
While there is not a specific mandated location, the lamp should be as close to the tabernacle as possible. It may be a suspended lamp or multiple lamps, or it may be mounted on floor stands or on a wall. This lamp may be lit by a candle or burn oil.
Why focus on the sanctuary lamp? It’s about our faith in the real presence. In the Gospel, Jesus asks us to “gird your loins and light your lamp.”
In other words, be ready “for an hour you do not expect, (when) the Son of Man will come.” How adequately do we prepare for Sunday Mass? Speaking from personal experience, I have times when I am really prepared, with my music in order and rehearsed, my prayers said and I am ready to go. There are other times when the alarm goes off and I don’t want to get up yet. On those mornings I find myself rushed and discombobulated — a sign that I have not truly given God the respect and thanksgiving needed for girt loins and a lit lamp. Instead, my lamp is dim and running out of fuel.
Even more importantly, if we truly believe that the real presence is everywhere, at all times, then the whole of our lives — our homes, our workplaces, our communities — should reflect the light of that presence, our inner light.
Are our behavior and our faith girt and ready for that hour when we least expect the Lord to come? That is the question we have to ask every day. So the next time you enter into church, look for that special lamp and recall that old ad — “We’ll leave the light on for you.” Be open to being refreshed and re-nourished.
Wettstein is director of music and liturgy at Good Shepherd Parish, Chilton.