In November I gave four 1-hour presentations at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish here in Greenville, S.C. I’m the architect for their new church, and Fr. Longenecker asked me to speak after each Sunday Mass about how and why Catholic churches differ from other Christian churches. The overall subject was not Catholic church architecture per se. That is, I didn’t cover Early Christian, Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque styles; nor the typical features of a Catholic church, such as narthex, nave, crypt, and apse. Instead I focused on the Bible sources of Liturgy; how those sources influence the Mass; and how the Mass influences what a Catholic church is.
To some extent it’s all boilerplate Catholicism. It’s derived from my 6th-grade Catechism class content, and repackaged for an adult audience. But the organization is similar to 6th grade, and follows a model. For any given subject I want to begin with its earliest antecedents in the Old Testament, and follow its development through the whole Bible; then show how it flourishes today in the life of the Church. For example, teaching the Eucharist begins with Manna; runs through many events in both Testaments to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in Revelation; and extends to the Eucharist we receive at Mass.
Each of the four lectures followed a liturgically-significant thread from its earliest mention in the Old Testament clear through its last mention in the New. Then we learned how each thread is drawn into the Mass, and into the architecture that supports the Mass.
The four threads:
1. The Biblical concept of overshadowing. I traced different aspects of overshadowing, starting with the Shekinah cloud in Exodus 24, followed by the Meeting Tent’s overshadowing; the Cherubim’s overshadowing; the analogous horizontal “overshadowing” of the temple veils; a bride’s veil; some overshadowing bits in the Psalms; overshadowing themes continued in the Temple; Boaz overshadowing Ruth, and its covenantal implications; Elijah overshadowing Elisha; the role overshadowing plays even today in a Jewish wedding; Mary’s overshadowing in Luke 1; Peter overshadowing the sick and lame in Acts; and God pitching his tent among his people in Revelation. Then overshadowing/ shading oneself/ shading another was linked to the Tabernacle, and the Epiclesis during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I also explained the symbolic overshadowing function of a baldacchino.
2. The Bible history of food miracles. I began with Manna and Quail in the desert. We followed that with a raven bringing Elijah bread and flesh in the desert; Elijah’s miracle at Zarephath; Elisha’s multiplication of loaves of bread; Jesus at Cana; Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes; the John 6 discourse; and the Last Supper, emphasizing its Passover context. Then we looked at the Liturgy of the Eucharist as a living participation in this miracle stream. Finally we discuss that liturgy means the public work, the people’s work, and connect the people-work we do in making bread and wine to the people-work in John 6, when the crowd provided Jesus with the loaves and fish.
3. The Bible history of Arks and Tabernacles. We began with Noah’s Ark; followed by Moses’ Ark; an explanation of the Latin word tabernaculum, meaning tent, hut, little house, etc.; the Meeting Tent; the Ark of the Covenant; a slight digression on the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple; Mary; and the Tabernacle in a Catholic church, which is called a Tabernacle instead of an Ark for a very sensible reason. Then we discussed what it means that we are a pilgrim church; and saw a connection between Solomon’s Holy of Holies and our future dwelling in the New Jerusalem per the Book of Revelation.
4. The Bible history of offering sacrifice. We started by figuring out why in Eden there was no sacrificing. We followed that with Abel’s lamb; Abraham’s early offerings; Melchizedek’s offering; Abraham’s offering of Isaac first, then the ram; and Passover. Then we shifted to the Levitical system of sacrifice, and how the liturgical hierarchy of People (the royal priesthood), Levites-Elders, and High Priest was expressed physically at Mt. Sinai. Then we saw how the liturgy of the Meeting Tent functioned, and maintained the Mt. Sinai triple-hierarchy; and how that system carried through until Jesus’ day. We digressed a bit about Manoah’s thanksgiving sacrifice in the Book of Judges. We noted that Jesus transformed the Passover sacrifice at the Last Supper. Then we jumped ahead to Acts and learned how the now-fired-up Apostles were driven away from Temple and Synagogue; and that the Church developed its own New Testament analogue to the Temple-Synagogue mode of worship. Thus the Mass is comprised of the Liturgy of the Word (like a synagogue), and the sacrificial Liturgy of the Eucharist (like the Tent and the Temple); and that a church, like its O.T. antecedents, is based on the pattern in heaven. We looked at the plans of Tent, Temple and Church, and learned how the church plan functions liturgically on Earth in union with our great high priest in Heaven, as described in the Book of Hebrews. Then we jump ahead to relevant bits of the Book of Revelation, and how they apply to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We discuss how Jesus unites all of the Biblical history of sacrifice into the Mass, and see how that’s explicitly stated in the Eucharistic Prayer. Finally we saw how Heaven and Earth are connected at Mass; and why a New Testament Meeting Tent should be as extraordinary a structure as was the first one built by Moses over 3,000 years ago.
The Powerpoint-free four hours included some Hebrew , Greek, and Latin; audience participation; frequent and welcomed interruptions; a bit of singing; sacred art handouts; a floor plan handout; props; lots of drawing; lots of Bible; lots of learning; and based on the comments, lots of fun.
To recap, this article isn’t particularly about these four concepts, these threads. It’s about a method of teaching Catholics, adults or kids, not just what the faith is; but also teaching them that the Church is the fullest expression of the most ancient connections between God and Man. As St. Augustine wrote: For the New (Testament) is hidden in the Old and the Old is fulfilled in the New. Catechists should say that; and then show how it’s true.
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