What’s on Your Altar?

Oh, it’s so good to be home!

I’m just back from a wonderful, multi-state trip that involved going to Sunday Mass (Ordinary Form) in a little parish church in western North Carolina. Modern (built recently in the 2000s) on the outside, and modern in many ways on the inside, there were yet many statues and holy images prominently placed around the sanctuary in the traditional way. Extremely pleased to see them, my husband and I were further surprised and delighted by the Communion Rail (!!!) that was used, and the vestments and solemn demeanor of the priest. (Not surprisingly, this is a parish that offers the Extraordinary Form of the Mass once a week on Sundays.)

Not expecting these wonderful details, from the hazy assumptions we had come up with from the few images on the website,we were very happy to have attended Mass here. I don’t know about you, but when I go into a holy place, I like to be reminded that it is holy. Beauty is integrally related to a sense of holiness, that important sense of the sacred. More and more I am understanding that when they take beauty out of the Catholic Mass, they also take the worship and adoration out of it. The quiet solemnity and peace we experience at prayer, that rapt stillness that comes only when we have attitudes of reverence and respect, is a fruit of our awareness that we are in the Presence of something special, something sacred.

In understanding the dignity of a place or of a person, other people’s behavior is a great tip-off–the tone of voice they use, their demeanor, their words…or their silence. When there is loud laughter and talking in the holy places, it becomes almost impossible to believe or to remember that they are holy places. This is yet another dimension in the discussion of the importance of having statues and holy images. They can, in a way, indicate to us signals of proper attitudes and deportment in a church. In our visit to the little North Carolina parish, I saw the humble, joyful, loving expression carved on the figure of St. Therese of Lisieux on the left side of the sanctuary. It instantly reminded me of the kind of people surrounding God in Heaven—the kind of people we all must be in order to be with Him one day.

What's on Your Altar?

(A beautiful old carving of the Pious Pelican, a traditional Eucharistic image, on the front of an altar in a chapel in southern Indiana.)

Art teaches. We need to see the carvings, we need to pray in front of the statues, and we need to stand in the light of the breathtakingly intricate stained glass windows. So much that we cannot see or sense is present with us, especially at Mass, when Our Lord Himself is so near to us–His Holy Mother, the saints, and the angels who are always present before Him are there also. In the old days, everything in a Catholic church spoke about the Trinity, the holy ones, the attributes of God, and the Christian life. Why? Because everything we Christians do should point to God, but especially our prayer and worship. Remember to use lots of beautiful images in your devotional life, and particularly on your home altar. They will remind you of the invisible things that are yet very real and very present in our lives, and they will help keep you focused on the Ultimate Goal Himself.



2 thoughts on “What’s on Your Altar?

  1. I agree with what you’re saying! Something that really bugs me, though, is naked staues and pictures. I mean, we are supposed to guard our eyes, dress modestly, etc but we can look at naked pictures and staues of Our Lord and Lady, people who were the epitome of modesty. Does anyone actually believe Our Lord and Our Lady are ok with it? And grossly overweight, like they could possibly enertain even the thought of gluttony?? I don’t understand how even the Vatican is ok with it, and that is maybe the only thing I disagree with them about.

    • When I see statues/paintings of Old Testament figures and saints made after the Age of Faith, I can tell a difference too! One of the poisonous fruits of the so-called “Renaissance” was the return of the pagan propensity for depicting nude figures–which is not truly a Christian thing to do. Images from the true Christian tradition in the Gothic styles of the Middle Ages will never disappoint you! They are beautiful, and completely clothed!

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