Happy Solemnity of All Saints!
In my travels since I have entered the convent (it will be two months in a few days), I have experienced many things and seen many things.
One of my favorite things is going church-hopping. I LURVE church-hopping.
When we go to different churches for Mass or just to visit, I love to wander around and admire the different characteristics of the architecture, layout (though they tend to be the same in general) and the aesthetics.
When I went to NYC with my classmate and a contact of ours, my favorite part of the trip were the hour or so we spent at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. You walked in that place and you could feel the history smack you and imbue your very soul. Just the thought of how many Masses and prayers have been said here, who has said them, and all the experiences the area has had through its history.
Of course, this does not just apply to famous churches like Saint Pat’s or even Saint Peter’s in Rome, it applies everywhere, it’s just that more people are aware of the history of places like this because they are so well-known for one reason or more.
This past Sunday, I found a new favorite church (well, really, one of a few) in Pittsburgh. Saint Bernard’s in, I think, Mount Lebanon (a borough of Pittsburgh). Built in the 1940s but it. is. gorgeous. I want to say that it’s an early style of Gothic (the windows remind me of both Sacred Heart Seminary and Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit).
There were high ceilings. There were statues (a tasteful number of them) and they were all works of art. The side altars were beautiful with intricate and shiny mosaic reredos. Did I mention that the ceiling over the high altar (which was nicely preserved and is still in use) and the dome are all in mosaic tiles and they tell stories of Revelation and the life of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.. Did I also mention that they are told in LATIN!?!?
And they still have the altar rail, though I have not seen it in use, at least it’s still there (Vatican II said NOTHING about getting rid of those).
And … the choir sings classical. We were at Mass there on Sunday and during the Communion Rite, after singing a common contemporary song (though it was a nice rendition), I heard the first few notes of Mozart’s Ave verum corpus, I was beside myself. If only more choirs would sing music like that along with the Haugen-Daaz with which Catholics are surrounded nowadays.
What is the point of all of this?
This is just a small demonstration of what makes Catholicism so wonderful.
We’re not “just” Sacred Scripture, Tradition, and the Church’s teaching. Those are all integral to the Church’s identity. Take one or more of those away and you lose the authentic Church.
But we also have the smells, the bells, the Latin, and the lace. We have the statuary. We have the ethereal sounds of sacred polyphony and classical music. We have the tinkling of Rosary beads with the softly-uttered prayers. We have the majestic Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque (etc.) churches that call the persons within to look beyond the immanent and raise their hearts to the transcendent by their always-ascending architecture. We have the flipping of well-loved prayerbook pages. We have the ancient intonation of Gregorian chant that is the creation of the Church herself. We have the holy water. We have the blessed salt. We have the relics of saints and beati. We have the medals, crucifixes, and scapulars that should not only adorn our persons but be indicative of an internal state of holiness and virtue.
We have so much as Catholics. Why do some want to do away or de-emphasize it? Why do some call it backwards or *ugh gag gag gag ugh* “pre-Counciliar.” Just so we are on the same page, the Church existed before 1965, I would say that 1,964+ year old traditions have more precedence than the pipe dreams of an oh-so-educated liturgist, etc.. Heck, did they even have “liturgists” before the Council? Talk about innovation! *trad rant ended … for now*
One of my favorite devotions, as I previously told you all, is praying the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours). When I pray the Office I feel a connection to the Church at prayer. There is also a wonderfully tangible experience of the Church year as one flips the pages and moves the ribbons. The ebb and flow of the liturgical year. Advent comes, then Christmastide, then a bit of Ordinary Time (or Weeks after Epiphany, I think, for my more traditional friends), then Lent, Triduum, then Eastertide, and then more Ordinary Time (aka Weeks after Pentecost).
Catholicism is a very sensual faith in the most positive sense of the word. It’s sensuality is a concrete means of portraying the transcendent. Man is a creature of senses. He comes to understand that which is around him by his senses. It is through the senses that reality is experienced and interpreted. Man cannot see the divine because it has no body. That is, until the Incarnation and until the Institution of the Mass by Christ. Christ Himself is the Incarnate God made Man. The Mass, through the ministry of the priest (acting as an alter Christus) brings about the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Now, any Catholic can visit the Lord Himself in any Catholic church. God Himself is present to us. How blessed we are.
In the statues we see our saintly fore-bearers (how appropriate for this the Solemnity of All Saints) and many find that this helps them to make the lives of these persons to be more real. These were real people. They led real lives. They lived real virtue.
Bells and incense remind us of the presence of the sacred. Bells mark off sacred time. Incense sanctifies space with the symbolic smoke of prayers and the presence of God in the Church.
Scapulars, medals, rosaries, and other devotional items are tangible reminders of to whom we are devoted and to whom we belong. They are not just fashion statements. They are not just things to be collected. They are to help led the person live a life of holiness.
The vestments of the priest and other sacred ministers (but especially the bishop and priest) indicate his special role in the Church as an alter Christus and in the case of the bishop, the successor of the Apostles. The symbolism of the different vestments they don is layered in history and the tradition of the Faith.
The veil worn by the religious sister or young woman’s chapel veil, which I see as unnecessarily controversial, is not a tool of oppression. It is an external sign of the holiness of women. It was through woman that the Word became incarnate. It was through woman that the salvation of man was begun in a Fiat to an angel. It was a woman who was crowned queen of heaven and earth. Yeah, women are oppressed. The veil is a sign of sanctity.
I could go on. And a basically have, but this is just a small listing of what makes the Church so beautiful and what makes me wonder why anyone would want to divorce the faithful from their beautiful treasury of tradition.
I hope you all have a blessed Solemnity of All Saints!