Modern society is focused on satisfying the demands of the self. Too often we don’t look past ourselves and our desires; we refuse to sacrifice for the other because we tend to navel gaze. This is clearly evident in a ‘me first’, self-first culture and the resulting isolation and depression may be clearly seen as we cry for more; more of anything that might satisfy the abyss in our hearts. This crisis can be seen as a parallel in how we view worship of God, even what houses of worship look like.
Recently while travelling I passed by a church just off of the highway which had a large sign advertising their form of worship. Although I don’t recall the exact words on the sign, the visual was a picture of a child, maybe seven or eight years old, with electric hair looking as if he were about to blast off. The idea they were trying to get across was that a successful worship service excites the audience and encourages an emotional high. All that sign conveyed to me was they were a church focused on navel-gazing instead of where the focus should be which is on the Bride of Christ.
Shortly after I was welcomed into the Catholic Church my mother asked me to join her at the Baptist church I had been raised in. There was to be a Christmas sing-along and I’m sure that a part of her wanted to bring me back to my ‘senses’. I reluctantly agreed to take her along with my young boys. It wouldn’t be a Sunday service so I figured it would be harmless to go. Shortly before travelling to meet with my mother I attended a weekday Mass and prayed about the upcoming visit. As a result, I’m glad I went. The contrast of the two churches was incredibly tangible, confirming my decision to convert.
Empty Without the Tabernacle
The first thing I noticed as I sat in the pew of my old childhood church was how empty it felt. Baptists (I would say most Protestant) churches would consider the entire church the ‘sanctuary’. Not so in Catholic churches; only the area (which should be elevated) in which lies the altar, tabernacle, and ambo are defined as the sanctuary. As I sat observing I noticed that behind the elevated pulpit where there had been pews for the choir under a large plain wooden cross facing the congregation there was now…nothing. A praise band had been set up somewhere off to the left. As the band began to sing, it became clear this was not a sing-along at all but solely meant for entertaining. My boys covered their ears asking when it would all be over.
My thoughts were drawn back again and again to the area behind the pulpit. It was just so very empty. I thought back to when I had been at Mass that morning, remembering how beautiful, how prayerful, how full of life it was. That’s when I realized the stunning difference between the two churches. The Catholic Church, every single one of them is perpetually pregnant with Christ in the Tabernacle but the church I had grown up in had no tabernacle, no sanctuary where the Real Presence could reside. it was just an empty womb where a tabernacle should be. In contrast, we can see that every Catholic church, especially if it is constructed properly has at its focal point the womb or the sanctuary of Mother Church, impregnated with the Eucharist in the tabernacle.
Within the human female body, at the moment of conception, science has been able to detect a burst of light. Likewise in the Mass, as the priest calls on the Holy Spirit over the gifts, there is a burst of Light, the Light of the World, conceived in this Holy of Holies. He stays there for us in the tabernacle every moment of every day, save one- the day of His entombment. Then, and only then does the church feel empty.
Be It Done Unto Me
This is what it means to say ‘yes’ to Christ This is what it is to say, ‘Be it done unto me’ instead of ‘give me what I want’. We take our eyes off self and worship God. The Catholic Church is fertile; she does not contracept. She is always life-giving and that life feeds the empty abyss in our souls. She gives us peace as a weaned child on its mother’s lap instead of a child wired and ready for blast-off. She gives us life and in return, we give her ours, for only there, in Her womb, in the Sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, is the beating Heart of Christ. The in-scope of His love in every particle, He is offering Himself, and the Church is like a Good Mother who feeds us and nourishes us freely with her Son.
As we approach Advent, let us look with new eyes, and see the loveliness, the incredible beauty of Mother Church. May we kneel in awe and worship the life, the very heart of the church, beating for us in the womb. Let us empty ourselves of all expectation and allow the Blessed Mother to arrange our empty straw offerings in the little manger of our hearts, to prepare us to receive The Christ Child. May our hearts be a place of warmth and rest for Christ, as He comes to fill the abyss in our souls. He humbly comes to us in every Mass, and He is coming for us.
Are we ready?