4th Sunday of Easter
May your Easter Season continue to be blessed with happiness and spiritual joy.
Our Spring Carnival, is but 5 days away, and on behalf of the parish I want to thank Ben Lelina for the leadership he has provided these past several years. Ben has led the Carnival Committee as Chairman, inspiring the valued teamwork of committed volunteers that have made this event into the major fund raiser for our new building endeavors.
Last week we began a review (along with an explanation) of the various elements that make up our church. We explained the Narthex, the Nave, and the Sanctuary. Today I will provide information regarding the Altar, the Tabernacle, and, the Sanctuary Lamp(s). If any further questions come to mind, regarding any of the church elements, please write or give me a call at 777-3168 ext. 103, and I will be glad to amplify this information and explain further.
The Altar – The altar is the centerpiece, the most important part of the church to which everything else is subservient. Every Catholic church is built for the altar. Altars have been part of religious services going back to antiquity, even before churches were built; the name altar is derived from a Hebrew word meaning “place of sacrifice.” Well into the 4th century, there were no churches nor public worship. Christians held their divine services away from the occupying Romans in places like private homes. Often the altar was a simple wooden table or chest. The top of the altar is called the “Mensa”, a Latin word for table. All altars are consecrated by a bishop, as our two altars were at our Dedication Ceremonial Mass, and they become the symbol of Christ: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Mt 21:42). The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the altar: “On the altar, which is the center of the church, and the Sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs. The altar is also the table of the Lord, to which the People of God are invited” (CCC 1182). The altar is for us today….Mount Calvary…as here also, the bread and wine are turned into the Body and Blood of Christ at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated at the altar. In the early Church, altars were built on the sites of martyrs’ graves. As more churches were built, relics were contained in, or buried under altars, a practice that still occurs today.
The Tabernacle – Since there were no churches during those early centuries, Christians did not have a tabernacle. However, as we do today, they were careful to protect the Blessed Sacrament. There is some evidence that following their divine services, Christians took the consecrated bread home and consumed it during the week. By the fourth century, when construction of churches began, any reserved hosts were kept in various rooms in the church, including an area that became known as the sacristy. Theft, pilferage or worse, became a serious threat, especially following the Protestant Reformation, when violence was being carried out against the Catholic Church. The design of the tabernacle slowly evolved, and by the 16th century, tabernacles similar to those we have today, were in use. Our Tabernacle was custom-made in Italy to provide access doors from both the Chapel Altar and the Main Altar. Canon Law spells out the rules for the tabernacle’s location: “The tabernacle in which the Blessed Eucharist is reserved should be sited in a distinguished place in the church or oratory, a place which is conspicuous, suitably adorned and conducive to prayer” (No. 938.2). As authorized by Church law, and approved by the local bishop, some churches use a separate chapel to house the tabernacle. The tendency today is to keep the Tabernacle proximate to the altar, and not hidden away in some place, distant from the altar. Wherever it is located, the tabernacle is always locked and made immoveable in order to protect the Eucharist.
The Sanctuary Lamp(s) – In every Catholic church you will find a readily visible red lamp, or candle, burning in close proximity to the Tabernacle. This light serves a similar purpose to the light the Magi followed until it led them to locate the presence of the baby Jesus in the manger. This ever-present light (meant to be kept perpetually burning all the while that the Real Presence of Christ in reserved in the tabernacle) is similarly still meant to beckon each of us to take a moment to adore the “Hidden Jesus” contained therein. We all look for the flickering flame as soon as we enter the church. Our attitude and demeanor change as we recognize that we are in the house of the living God. The flame signifies Our Lord’s presence and serves as a reminder that our love for the Lord is Eternal, is never to be extinguished. The “sanctuary lamp” was first used in the 13th century. Canon Law 940 states the requirement that the lamp is to be kept burning continuously. This perpetual light is mentioned in Leviticus 6:6 in discussing the fire for burnt offerings: “Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continuously; it shall not go out.”
I will continue next with information on the Presiders Chair; Images and Statues; Reliquary for Relics; Baptismal Font; Easter Candle; Altar Rail; Sacristy; Ambry for Holy Oils; and Confessionals.
Yours in the Risen Christ,