A Tiny Whispering Sound
Following the dismissal at the memorial Mass of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major on Wednesday, August 5, there was a sudden eruption of voices of happy worshipers as they make their exit from the historical church. I have noticed similar occurrences at Sunday masses at the main parish church. Movement and sound in the church have always engaged my attention. As a trained actor, I think of the stage in terms of proper movement of actors and props; the effective utilization of stage space is dependent on the appropriate movement and actions of actors. I bring this imagination to bear upon the sacred space of the church from time to time. I feel like doing so this week. What is the proper mode of behavior in the church space? Maybe the right place to begin is to seek an understanding of what the church space is all about.
The church is a dwelling place for the Lord, a sacred place filled with his presence, a holy place where his words are proclaimed and the sacraments are celebrated. It is true, God dwells in all places and people, yet the Sacred Scriptures show times without number that there are places dedicated especially to God's service and designed for his worship (see the preface of Dedication of a Church). The Lord says in 2 Chronicles 7: 16 concerning the mystery of God's temple: "I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever." Hence, the church is a consecrated house where God's name is exalted. It is where his divine presence subsists for all time, a place of prayer, an image on earth of new Jerusalem, his heavenly city, its "Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Hebrews 12:22-24).
If, therefore, the church is a sacred place where God's people gather to celebrate the holy mysteries of salvation and the sacraments, if indeed it is where the Gospel of peace is proclaimed, what sorts of movement and voice are proper to it? My answer comes in the following related attributive words: silence, reverence, awe, joy, solemnity, grace, dignity, and beauty. As "members of the household of God” ( Eph. 2: 20), are we conscious of what and who we approach when we enter the church? Do we carry ourselves properly and present ourselves accordingly when we enter the sacred space, the church? Elijah heard the voice of God and felt his presence on the mountain of God in Horeb in "a tiny whispering sound (1 Kg. 19:12).
How do we present ourselves in the church to hear better God's "tiny whispering sound"? The Psalmist says, "I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for his word" (130: 5). As we enter his dwelling place, our church, to wait for his saving word, can we all strive to do so by following the decorum and modesty of the sacred space?
In the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Fr. Bernard Oniwe, OP
Congratulations to Elizabeth Gober and Chad Shank who received the Sacraments of Initiation and Jessica Schwanger who is received into full communion with the Catholic Church this Sunday. May they continue to grow in the knowledge of Christ.