Do you ever have moments like the apostles did in today’s Gospel? You look at something or someone you’ve seen hundreds of times in a new light. In our liturgical life, the church uses objects that are much more than they seem. Let us consider just a few that are most familiar to us.
Most obvious is the bread and wine. After the consecration, we know that ordinary eyes will still see a round host and a chalice of wine. We, who are the followers of Jesus, see the actual body and blood of Jesus.
At each Mass, we see the priest wearing a chasuble. Its purpose is much greater than to make Father look good. When the priest dons the chasuble, the church tells him to take on “the yoke of Christ.”
When we see the color of a chasuble, we are invited to go to a certain place in our spiritual journey. White draws us to purity and glory. Red reminds us of sacrifice. Purple evokes the need for penitence and green denotes hope and growth within the church. Under the chasuble, the priest wears an alb, a white garment that reminds him to have purity, of both soul and body, and a stole which is a sign of priestly authority.
At Mass, candles always burn near the altar. They bring honor and dignity to the altar table. They remind us to be a light to others, yet the church says, “Look deeper.” Candles do their work only in total consumption. If we desire to be people who are the light of Christ, we must be willing to embrace great sacrifice and a dying of self.
Many churches have an area for votive candles. Often we light these candles to honor and manifest devotion to the saint before whose image a candle is lighted. However, “votive” is taken from the Latin word votum, meaning vow. The next time you light a votive candle, look deeply into yourself and your intent: what promises have you brought to the Lord?
Incense, as our Catholic “holy smoke,” brings a solemnity to a liturgy. As the puffs of smoke fill the air, it is easy to make the connection that our prayers are being lifted up to God as well. Incense also serves to honor things we see as holy, such as crucifixes, altars and the book of the Gospels; and things to which a blessing is being given, such as bodies of the dead. There is one object in your church that has grains of incense placed into it. I’m not going to tell you what it is. Instead, let me encourage you to go to the Easter Vigil and pay very close attention to the beginning rites. Then you will know the secret, too.
Lastly, when you look at the stained glass windows in your church, what do you see? Certainly you see the colors in the glass play against the light coming through them, and the variety of designs that come together to form an image. But do you see the church’s story, your story? Take time to see what each window is trying to tell you. Do you begin to see a particular color or pattern that has an impact on the story? Choose a particular window. If this were to be your last prayer book, what thoughts, what words of prayer, would be drawn from you as you gazed upon the image?
This Sunday, every Sunday, come and really see.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.