Abundance of stones in the church

Regardless of which cycle of readings are being used in your parish this weekend, stones will be mentioned. Thanks to some online scholar, who certainly likes to count things more than I do, I learned that the word “stone” appears around 192 times in sacred Scripture, depending on which translation you are using.

Scripture tells us that the Ten Commandants were given to Moses on tablets of stone. Altars of stone were constructed for sacrifice. The psalms have many references to God as our “rock of salvation.” On the Second Sunday of Lent, Jesus was challenged by the devil to turn stones into bread, and Jesus founded the church on Peter the “rock.” During this Lenten springtime, each of us is aware that Jesus still challenges us to give up hearts of stone and become living stones.

Stones are powerful images of the steadfast and the permanent. Stone is a material of integrity; it patiently bears loads and its sturdy makeup allows it to weather well. Stones are often used to represent struggles, since one must be careful walking upon or climbing up loose stone. We stand in awe at the sight of a mountain range. The ancient presence and sheer size both humble us and cause us to lift our eyes to the heavens fulfilling us with images of the divine and the eternal. It makes sense then, that stone is a favored material by the church.

As you approach your parish church, you will begin to encounter the use of stone. Perhaps you see statues carved from stone in outside areas. If a cemetery is attached to your grounds, you see the tombstones, naming those who have gone before us and remain joined to us in the communion of saints

Consider the many varieties of stones that are in place within the church itself. First, the building sits on a bedrock of stone. You may be surrounded by stone walls or walk upon stone floors. If your church has arches, they have a keystone, the central stone at the summit of the arch. Most likely there is also a cornerstone. At one time, this was the first stone set in the construction and thus determined how all the other stones would be laid. Many main or side altars are made of stone and some of the older central altars probably contain an altar stone. This is a smaller stone set into the main altar and which usually contained the relics of a saint. A chalice or the monstrance used in your church may be embedded with precious stones such as diamonds, rubies or amethysts.

There is one stone structure in most churches, however, that is a juxtaposition of symbols: the baptismal font. Many fonts are either carved from stone or constructed with one block of stone upon another. But consider how the font is used: to hold the holy waters of baptism. If you pay attention in nature, you will see that even the smallest trickle of water has the power to cut through solid stone, transforming the face of the stone, smoothing rough edges and creating crevices where light can penetrate.

So it was for us at the day of our baptism — and for those who will be baptized on the Easter Vigil in two weeks; the water pouring from the baptismal font contains the grace to break down a stony heart and softens those areas in us that are closed up by sin. Through this grace, the light of Christ, in an ever-deepening manner, can penetrate our lives.

Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.