Once upon a time: Building His Church, living stone by living stone

By Monsignor Xavier Mankel

With the canonizations of Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Louis and Zelie Martin, and many other lesser-known saints, we should have at our disposal a sufficient number of saints from a catalogue of the saints to cultivate devotions for many years to come.

St. Maximilian Kolbe is a journalist par excellence. Granted, that he ministered in pre-cell phone days, there was enough that this 20th-century modern journalist accomplished to prompt some of us to be followers of his. The so-called “modern miracles” have enough saints linked to them to make a new culture of disciples. And our access to the media opens these broad areas. The arts always have served the Church, and today is no exception. Media and the arts have given us as never before the ability to turn sight and sound to our own enjoyment and the honor and glory of God.

Granted, there are those who would use our environment to our utter destruction; still, there are many ways we can encourage our world to grow in the Lord. The appearance of spring is one example of the power of nature to influence for the good. The recent air show at McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville is another example of God’s gift of natural things: sight, sound, color, and the heavens themselves. So, from the macrocosm to the microcosm, all is well.

Some have taken advantage of the construction of our new cathedral. Granted, this is a temple that most regard for public worship but other public lessons can be learned. New materials are in use that may help today’s worshiper pray in new ways as the arch was inspiring to generations past. The pipe organ, with its almost infinite array of sounds, is an example that is always new whose basic construction seems the same: passing wind over a reed. It is a simple gift from God yet composed of simple and complicated sound.

Stained-glass windows can be a delight for those attending Mass, but there are many other church uses, too: to control and reflect light, and to teach faith. The position of a building on the property is of note, too. Poor parishes could not afford to move much dirt, and it was expensive. Now that Catholics are a bit more affluent than they used to be, adequate site preparation to build the Church is being carried out. It is another gift from God that this diocese in just a century has grown from two or three parishes to the nearly 50 we have now. Remodeling and modification of facilities have occurred over time. The use of spaces changes as the liturgy serves the people better and better. As an example, the vestibule used to be sort of an afterthought. Now, it’s an important room in churches. Even the size of the wafer used in Holy Communion has increased in most places to make receiving Communion in the hand easier.

A good way to tell if the changes made have been improvements is to compare vestments of 75 years ago to the 2000 catalogues. Fabrics and other materials keep changing over the years. Also, it might be to our advantage to point out basic needs for a church: the ambo, from which God’s word is presented, and the altar are the most important items, though the presider’s chair and the tabernacle are, in part, art, too. Other appointments are secondary, such as pews, windows, colors, books, materials, etc.

Please remember, too, that it is not brick and mortar that make a church. It is the baptized people of God, led by their bishop, who make the Church. To the degree that we are living stones, remember other things that have had an accurate and influential effect on the Church.

The mystical Body is alive and well. Our study and prayer about it can go a long way to give God glory and honor, and benefit His people, too.

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