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The Church Building

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Signs, Symbols, and Gestures of the Catholic Faith

As with everything we have been exploring, there is so much to share about the church building, so I am going to focus on two images every church we see should evoke in our mind.

The first image is that of home. A home is different than a house, and I always feel affirmed when I hear many of you call St. Dominic your home, for a house is just a building, a home is a place where we belong and also where someone is waiting for you.

At the moment of our baptism, every single church building becomes our home. No matter where we are in the entire world, we have a home to go to. A home where we find rest, safety, family, where we can truly be ourselves, and in each one of these homes someone is waiting for us, God.

The very notion that we have a place where God dwells is incredible. That is why the Jewish temple was so important, it was literally the only place where the presence of God dwelt, he was not confined there, but that was his home on earth. With Christ and now the Eucharist every Catholic Church becomes a home for God. We do not have to fly to Jerusalem to go home, we can drive here. Every time we see or enter a church we are reminded we are never homeless. And as with any home, it is always good to visit often.

The second image is that of a ship. Architecturally speaking many churches especially those in the Middle Ages often have ceilings which resembled a boat upside down-explain. The reason for this is to remind us that we are pilgrims, we are navigating the waters of the world to the harbor of heaven and the church is our ship. Flying the St. Dominic flag.

As pilgrims we must be careful of how much weight we are bringing aboard, for we do not want to sink it or slow her down. We need to do our part as any sailor to help this ship and her passengers make it safely to her journeys end. While admiring the beauty of the world as we sail, we do not want to stop too long at one place for the harbor of heaven awaits us. 

So every time we enter a church we should realize that we are coming home and also entering the boat journeying toward the heavenly harbor.

The Procession

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Why do we have a procession from the back of the Church to begin Mass? As with the past topics we have covered, the physical actions we perform in our Faith convey a message which would take much longer to say with words. Case in point, the procession takes about a minute, while its explanation takes 3-4 minutes.

A procession always has a destination; you process to something. In our case, we process to the altar which represents Christ, so at its foundation it is a procession toward God.

Now while it is technically only the ministers who process down the aisle, they represent the larger assembly. One of the reasons we all face the same direction in the pews is to reflect this. We are all moving in the same direction, moving toward God. This unified movement toward God is very important, for it is a reflection on how all of us outside of Mass should be living our life, toward God. We are growing in holiness together, not as individuals.

The more unified in this act we are, the smoother and easier the road, the procession, will be. If you have ever been to a Packer Game or any stadium environment, you probably have experienced the same frustration I have when encountering someone who is walking against the flow of traffic. It causes a ripple of chaos.

The same holds true when someone stops suddenly or is just standing there. It causes great disruption. So it is on our spiritual procession toward God, the more we grow in the holiness, the less we move away from God or stop because of sin, the quicker and easier it is for not only ourselves to reach him, but others as well.

It is one of the strange yet beautiful aspects of our Faith, when we grow in holiness, the people it benefits the most are those around us. We make it easier for them to move to God. So the procession before Mass represents the procession of all of our lives. Our procession toward holiness, our procession toward God.


Sign of the Cross

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We begin the Mass and every prayer with the Sign of the Cross.

The Sign of the Cross is uniquely Catholic. If you have ever prayed with another Christian, you may have noticed that they do not begin or end with the signing themselves. So, if you see someone make the sign of the cross, they are almost always Catholic.

With any outward action, there is something being expressed, and something being internalized. When we make the Sign of the Cross, we are not only expressing that we are Catholic, but also what we believe. We express our belief in the Triune God, that God is a Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have been saved by Christ and his cross.

What is being internalized when we make the Sign of the Cross are many things, but I want to focus on the three which reflect the action we do. When we make the Sign of the Cross we begin by touching our forehead, a reminder to us that we are called to know God, we then touch our chest which contains the heart, we are called to love God, finally we touch our shoulders, we are called to serve God as we carry the Gospel upon us.

You can see why this is a perfect way to begin Mass and every prayer. For every prayer helps us to know God more, love him more, and be inspired to serve him more.

Romano Guardini, who was a priest, had this to say about the sing of the cross:

“It is the holiest of all signs. Make a large cross, taking time, thinking what you do. Let it take in your whole being—body, soul, mind, will, thought, feelings, your doing and not-doing—and, by signing it with the cross, strengthen and consecrate your whole self in the strength of Christ, in the name of the triune God.”