Rev José Mario O Mandía
Why do we need special places for praying? Can we not just prayer anywhere?
Yes, one not only can but must pray wherever he finds himself. The CCCC (no 244) explains: “The worship ‘in spirit and truth’ (John 4:24) of the New Covenant is not tied exclusively to any place because Christ is the true temple of God. Through him Christians and the whole Church become temples of the living God by the action of the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, the people of God in their earthly condition need places in which the community can gather to celebrate the liturgy.”
The need for places of worship stems from the fact that we worship not only with our soul but also with our body. The body requires an appropriate place to pray. This is why the Church needs to set aside sacred places, sacred buildings. The CCCC (245) says: “They are the houses of God, a symbol of the Church that lives in that place as well as of the heavenly Jerusalem. Above all they are places of prayer in which the Church celebrates the Eucharist and worships Christ who is truly present in the tabernacle.”
These places of worship need to include certain fixtures for carrying out the liturgy (cf CCCC 246): namely,
(1) the altar, where the Eucharist is offered;
(2) the tabernacle, where the Holy Eucharist is kept;
(3) the lectern or ambo, where the Word of God is proclaimed and explained (it is not the place for the commentator or for the choirmaster);
(4) the chair of the bishop (called the ‘cathedra,’ found only in the cathedral) or the chair of the priest;
(5) the place where the Sacred Chrism and other holy oils are kept;
(6) the baptismal font;
(7) the confessional.
The church is a sacred place, a place set apart for the worship of God. Hence, it is necessary that the way it is designed and built should remind the faithful that it is a place for praying. The construction of the church and everything that is in it should help the faithful focus their attention on the One whom they come to worship.
The church is a sacred place, and materials used for its construction should be noble, not cheap, materials worthy of the Lord of heaven and earth. Note the amount of detail that God specified in the instructions He gave Moses for the construction of the tabernacle in Exodus 25:1-9.
The church is a sacred place, and everything that is in it should be kept clean and tidy. Altar linen, vessels, books, vestments, church walls and floors should be a visible sign to all the faithful that exquisite care has been taken to show the deepest respect and the highest honour to God. Note again the book of Exodus (28:2-39, 42-43), where God specifies how the priests should be dressed when they are carrying out the sacred function “lest they bring guilt upon themselves and die” (v 43).
Why do we use sacred images? “Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words” (CCC 1160).
Human beings need the senses in order to know. Images help us learn and understand our faith better. Images help us to pray because they are representations of our Lord, our Lady and the saints. We do not worship them but we make use of them to focus our attention on the truths of our faith. Images “proclaim the same Gospel message that Sacred Scripture communicates by the word and they help to awaken and nourish the faith of believers” (CCCC 240).
The CCC reminds us that “already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim” (CCC 2130).
Saint John Damascene explained: “The beauty of the images moves me to contemplation, as a meadow delights the eyes and subtly infuses the soul with the glory of God” (De imag. 1,27; CCC 1162).
(Photo: La Sagrada Familia by Antonio Gaudí, in Barcelona, Spain)