Missa – Panorama
Sitting in a catholic church, there is a lot to take in. In our last post we ended with a few personal prayers before mass. At this time I will sit back in the pew and take in the scenery which is different in every church. Some of the things which will vary tend to be in the area of aesthetics. Some churches will have stained glass, others may not. Icons or statues of saints will vary depending on the church patronage; for instance attending a church named after St. Andrew will most likely have a statue or picture of the saint in a prominent place. Often there will be votive candles in several places where people can light a prayer candle. Most churches still have stained glass and it is always interesting seeing the different interpretations of biblical stories or persons. There are also some things that will always be in a catholic church. In this post I thought it would be good to make note of some of the basics.
My attention is first drawn to the Altar and the surrounding area. The altar is a centerpiece of sorts as it is from here that the bread and wine are consecrated. There are usually candles on the altar and depending on the amount, tell a little about the type of mass you are attending. A low mass or weekday mass will normally have two candles, while a high mass will have four or six. If a bishop is presiding there is an additional candle making seven. Candles are made of pure beeswax which represents the purity of Christs’ body, the wick represents His soul and the flame His divinity.
Above the altar there is usually a Crucifix though there may also be a cross with an image of the risen Christ. Contrary to the criticism of some, the crucifix is not understood as Christ still being on a cross. Catholics know Christ has risen from the grave, we do celebrate Easter after all. Some crucifix’s can be extremely graphic and some less so. In either case the point is to remind us of the incredible humility and depths of the love of God.
A Tabernacle is also behind the altar and located near is a red or white candle which represents the presence of Christ. The Tabernacle is where the left over Eucharist are kept. These will be brought out during the mass to be added to the newly consecrated and distributed to the church during communion or sent out to those who are sick.
A rather large candle will often be seen to the right of the altar. This is the Paschal Candle which is blessed every year at the Easter Vigil. The candle has symbols on it which are a Cross, an Alpha, an Omega and the numbers for the current year.
To the left is the podium from where the Scriptures will be read. In older times Bibles were chained to the podium to keep them safe. In those days Scriptures were produced by hand and took a lot of effort to make. The Book was chained to prevent it being stolen.
In some larger churches there may be some smaller shrines or grottos which often will have a statue of the Virgin Mary, Mother and Child, or the Holy Family and as mentioned above, other saints, especially the one which the church is named after.
A series of plaques surround the church which are called the Stations of the Cross. They are scenes from the passion of Christ and during the season of Lent churches have a special devotional gathering which follow them. However a person can do a private devotion on the stations anytime through the year.
In general, the church building is arranged to bring all focus on Christ. All the art, the statues, and even the lighting draw our attention to the Altar/Crucifix. In the time spent awaiting the Mass to start, I can sit still and take in the story of the Gospel.