Sanctuary Lamp

True signs and symbols of the Liturgy

Enrico Finotti

In my church everything is now electrified, both the perennial lamp near the tabernacle and the votive candles in front of the Madonna. Those of the altar still remain, lit with a lighter, always kept there on the table. Some of us would like to change things, but others prefer it this way and see no difficulty in continuing like this …

–Certain people from the liturgical group

True signs and symbols are one of the most recurrent recommendations in the liturgy. A quality liturgy must be true in everything it uses: symbols, objects, books, clothes, rites, lights and music etc. The commercial world, on the other hand, offers cheap imitation and serial production, and this is the reason for the increasingly widespread search, in today’s culture, for the ‘original’, the ‘authentic’ and the ‘traditional’. An attentive heart and mind desire true human relationships and natural environments of life, without adulteration of any kind. There is a contrast between the taste of tradition and the insistent offer of low-cost purchases. The Church, in her liturgy, wants to be a teacher of beauty and of what is authentic and in this way saves the deepest and most timeless human values. Authenticity, beauty and nobility must inspire everything in the liturgy: the furniture and clothing must be of good quality, but the symbols must also shine for their truth. The flowers must be fresh, the tablecloths of real fabric etc. But also the singing and the music must be real and not reproduced, the real and direct voice, not recorded; authentic symbols, not projected. It is a question of preferring the sobriety of the ‘true’ to the apparently more incisive impact of the reproductions.

While having to admit electric lighting, there must be ‘lights’, which are non-electric, otherwise they would lose their symbolic eloquence. The altar candles, the perennial light of the Blessed Sacrament, the Paschal candle, for example, must be respected in their authenticity, otherwise not only does the beauty and symbolic nobility expire, but their catechetical intent is compromised: the flame that burns and the consuming of the wax warms the living sense of fire with its multiple natural potentials and its biblical references. Of course it is easy to replace even these elementary signs with easy substitutes, for comfort and cleanliness, they say, but in reality because there is no longer time and passion for worship and the liturgy, which require care, taste and constant vigilance.

The functionalist tendency and the commercial offer are a great temptation, it is true, but precisely for this we need a more intense spiritual life, a finer taste for the things of God, a more assiduous dedication to the liturgy and a continuous formation to its needs. This is the urgent commitment of priests, sacrists and all those who closely approach the altar and the sacred precincts of our churches. 

(From La spada e la Parola. Il liturgista risponde, 2018©Chorabooks. Translated by Aurelio Porfiri. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved)