The Living Rite column explores what you will see, hear, taste, touch or smell while at church this weekend.
This Sunday we will hear in the Scriptures “Behold God’s dwelling is with the human race.” For many, our immediate thought about where God “dwells” is a church. Our churches run the gamut from cathedrals and the basilicas with their ornate chairs and tabernacles of gold, chalices of sliver and jewel-encrusted vestments, to the mud hut churches in mission areas adorned with whatever the local people can make from the materials at hand. Every church bears the same message, “Here believers worship God.”
Within the church building we receive the very body and blood of Jesus. One way we express our gratitude for such a great gift is by creating beautiful places for worship. While to some it may appear to be a waste of money to purchase hand-crafted statues or gold tabernacles, remember that when Mary of Bethany poured the nard oil upon the feet of Jesus, onlookers also called that a waste. Jesus, however, recognized the excessive love poured out for him.
Churches are a place where all sinners and all the poor are welcome. Imagine for a minute a place like St. Peter’s in all its magnificence — yet it is as accessible to a homeless person as it is to a president. For many of the poor, their church is the only ornate home they will ever know, the only richly-appointed place where they are not out of place. Even if we did sell all our church artifacts and gave the money to the poor, it would feed them for maybe a few weeks, and then a new type of poverty would emerge — one lacking not only food and money, but spiritual beauty as well.
Secular architecture boasts of magnificent office buildings reaching skyward, resorts with marble pools and opulent hotels; places to give people pleasure. The church creates sacramental architecture to provide a place of quiet beauty where people can go and pray, worship and mediate.
Beauty is the language of the soul. People entering a church should see and feel that they are entering a sacred space, one that is out of the ordinary. In the beauty of a church with its statues and paintings, its windows and embellishments, one’s heart can be lifted up to God. Here, each religious artifact contains its own sermon found in its symbolic or pictorial representations.
In our churches we avoid cheap materials, poorly crafted objects and tacky figurines because such things are temporary. We strive to use that which is solid, dignified, beautiful and has integrity. Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is permanent, everlasting. We build and maintain our churches in that same hope; that through bricks and mortar the mystery of salvation may be expressed, and our Catholic faith ever ancient and ever new, will be celebrated in our church buildings long after we are gone.
God’s dwelling is with the human race and he has made his presence known to his people: on the holy mountain, in the upper room, in the tent in the wilderness, in the Temple in the Holy City and in the very church you will sit in this Sunday.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.