Sunday, July 30th,
This Sunday is the 8th Sunday after Pentecost.
As I have mentioned in the past in my series of sermons on the Mass, everything in the Mass and surrounding the Mass has a purpose and a meaning. This morning I would like to speak on the symbolic meaning of some of our altar and sanctuary decorations bringing home to you the fact that every object and every ceremony surrounding the Sacrifice of the Mass has a meaning and that nothing was left to chance. But on the contrary, everything is very well planned. And even those objects which gradually lost their original functional value, have retained their symbolic and spiritual value up to our time.
Take for instance the altar candles, two for a read, or low Mass and six for a sung, or High Mass. The original reason for their use was a totally functional one: they were used to provide light in the dark catacombs where the first persecuted Christians assembled for the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Today, in an age of direct and indirect electric lights, the Mass candles not only remind us that we are members of a persecuted Church, born in the Roman catacombs, but they are also a symbol, a figure of Christ, the Light of our life, the Light of the world; " the true light...that enlightened everyone born into this world" as we we repeat every Mass during the the Last Gospel.
The pure wax of which these candles must be made, wax drawn by the bees from the nectar of the most exquisite flowers, represents Christ's unique human body, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary.
The bright flame of the candle represents Christ's divinity shining forth in everything He did or said. That divinity, that being the living God- Incarnate, which He proved above all through such miracles that forced even His enemies to admit " a great prophet has risen among us" and prompted the captain of the Roman guard on duty under His cross to exclaim: " Truly, this man was God the Son!"
The burning active flame of our candles is also a symbol of our active faith, burning itself out with hope and love of Christ on the altar.
And then there is the Sanctuary Lamp, the light that never dies, but burns perpetually, 24 hours a day, day and night, not over the already disintegrated returned to dust mortal remains of real or imaginary political or military heroes, bordering on the worshiping of false idols, but before the true living God in the tabernacle of Catholic churches where the true Sacrifice of the Mass has not been replaced by a sacrilegious mockery of it.
If we fully realized what it means to have the Eternal, omnipotent God truly living among us in the Tabernacle of this chapel, we wouldn't want to leave the chapel. We would remain here in constant adoration at the feet of Our Lord. But even Our Lord knows that neither you nor I can stay here all day and night, pressed as we are by so many other demands upon our time in this down to earth existence of ours. So we place a burning lamp in the sanctuary to take our place, and to let Our Lord know that when our mortal body turns its back to Him, our immortal soul does not.
Next we have the white linen altar clothes which remind us of the linen clothes which covered the Body of Our Savior in the tomb.
Then we have the flowers. To decorate the altar with flowers is an ancient and devout custom going back to the 4th century when Constantine's Decree brought an end to the persecutions and gave the Christians at last the victory of the freedom of public worship. The lovely colors of these flowers draw our attention to the altar, while at the same time showing the beauty and glory of God's creation.
After the blessed altar stone, the chief requirement of each Catholic altar is the Crucifix. The Crucifix reminds both priest and the people that the Mass is NOT a community meal , and NOT just a commemoration of the Last Supper, but the RENEWAL of the death of Christ on Calvary.
The Crucifix above the tabernacle speaks to us, simply, but eloquently: " It is here that Our Savior, Jesus Christ, renews the Sacrifice of Calvary. Here during the Mass His arms continue to remain extended, calling the sinner to return!
Here during the Mass His lips continue to pray Calvary's prayer of mercy, " Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing."
Poetry! you call it?
No my dear people all this is no poetry. It is reality!
And precisely because our Mass is that kind of reality, we shall fight till death those who attempt to take it away from us and our children!
And every time we look at that Cross of Calvary during our Mass, we know that they cannot succeed!
God bless you all.