27 September 2017
Backwards and Forwards
Anniversary of the Dedication of St. Pius X Church
Today we have the great joy of celebrating the Anniversary of the Dedication of St. Pius X Catholic Church. We have the chance to exclaim with the psalmist, “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord God of Hosts.” This may seem odd that we would take a day to celebrate a building. But as Catholics, we know that the material world has been redeemed in Christ and sanctified, and what is visible has become a way for the invisible to be communicated. Bricks and mortar are no longer bricks and mortar, but are elements that remind us that each of us plays a role in building up the kingdom of God.
But how do Catholics view a church building? While this sense has been lost by many, a church building is not about functionality. Church buildings do not exist simply so that people can stay protected from the rain and snow, the heat and the cold. Our church building is a temple for the True God, which points us back to the Temple that King Solomon built (we heard about that in our first reading today, and it was alluded to in the Gospel). And that temple points us back to the Garden of Eden, the place of paradise where humanity and God could dwell in peace and harmony. But it also looks forward to the heavenly Jerusalem, the temple not built by hands, eternal with God.
The temple was divided into different parts. There were different courts, or areas where people could gather to pray. Then there was the sanctuary, where the priests could go and offer sacrifices, some of which went to God, some of which went to the priest, and some of which were given back to the people. Then there was the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary, where the High Priest could go, once a year on the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, and ask forgiveness for all the sins of the previous year.
In our own church building, we have different areas. We have the narthex, sometimes called the gathering space, where people are welcomed to the church each time they come to Mass. This is the place where we can speak to each other and find out how each other has been since the last time we saw them. Then we have the nave, the place where the pews and the choir are, the place where we have devotional candles set up. This is the place of prayer, where our focus changes from talking to our neighbor to talking to God, the best friend of our soul, who rejoices with us in our joys, and comforts us in our sorrows. Then there is our sanctuary, the raised area where the Word of God is proclaimed and the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross at Calvary is re-presented for us. This is a place that is proper to the priest, but into which other commissioned extraordinary ministers of the Word and of Holy Communion, and servers are invited in during particular parts of the Mass to assist the priest. And at the head of our sanctuary is the Tabernacle, the Seat of Mercy of God, which holds our reserve Blessed Sacrament. Christ remains here with us, always interceding for forgiveness for our sins before God the Father.
But our church also points back to the Garden of Eden. No, this doesn’t mean we get to be naked in church; no one wants that! But it is meant to be a place of peace and harmony with God. In this building God speaks to us directly, as He spoke to Adam and Eve, helping us to know what His will is for us, both as a Church and as individuals. God also feeds us, as He gave Adam and Eve every good food for their sustenance. God gives us the Body and Blood of His Son, the bread of eternal life, which sustains our souls as we try to follow Jesus. And in the center of this Garden of Eden is the tree of life, the Crucifix, from which we are able to receive eternal life because of the sacrifice of Jesus, the unblemished Lamb, whose Blood speaks more eloquently than that of Abel, the son of our first parents. That is why the Crucifix plays such an important role in our faith and in our church: because it is the source of immortality for all who believe and unite their lives to it.
But our church also looks forward to heaven. In fact, in the Mass, the veil that separates heaven and earth is pulled back, and we are able to anticipate here on earth the glory and peace of heaven. As the Book of Revelation says, those who have been redeemed sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts” to God the Father and to the Lamb who was slain but lives. We worship with all the angels and saints, of which our few statues, and in the future our icons, will remind us. We see those here on earth who worship God, but we probably do not see the myriad, the thousands upon thousands of angels and saints who join with us in worshipping God. In this church we also anticipate heaven we are also called to leave the fallen world behind, and so we are invited to “lift up our hearts” from the fallenness of our world to the perfection of heaven.
That all sounds nice, but how does it affect us? How does our understanding of the church building help us follow Jesus? It changes the way we behave, the reason why we try to keep quiet in the nave, so that everyone can pray to God in the silence of our hearts; the reason why we don’t chew gum or drink coffee as if this were simply an auditorium. But it also gives us a reason to return each week. Who here doesn’t need a break from our fallen world? Who here doesn’t want to have communion with God? Who here doesn’t need time away from technology and the cacophony of sounds to have time with God in the silence? I know I do! And, as we have a chance to be refreshed by God, we can then better respond to our fallen world, and share the love and the truth that Jesus calls us to spread as He calls us His disciples.
So while we celebrate a building today, we celebrate a place that prepares us for heaven, and allows us in our own time to taste a little of eternity. And that is certainly good news for us, who need to hear God and be fed by Him. And for that reason, we can all say, “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord God of Hosts.”