Yesterday I had the privilege and joy of helping to officiate the wedding ceremony of a former student and her bridegroom. This was the most unique ceremony I have ever participated in because it was held in a Catholic Church and primarily led by the priest. I read the Gospel reading and gave a short five-minute homily/blessing. How ironic that a Protestant, Reformed pastor got to preach a five-minute blessing in a Catholic Church! If that wasn’t a picture of unity and ecumenism, I don’t know what is. Several reflections come to mind from this experience.
1. Architecture can convey the sacred. There was something about the beauty of this church that was so sacred. I remarked to several guests how evangelical, non-denominational churches have lost something in their architecture. Our contemporary, office-like architecture seems to have forgotten something about how important the space is. I’m beginning to see why God was so meticulous with the building plans of the Tabernacle or the Temple even. I imagine that the craftsmanship that went into building these sacred spaces inspired the worship as much as it reminded the people whom they were worshiping. When you walked into this sanctuary (even the word is quite appropriate), you knew you were in the presence of the divine and the sacred. The high cathedral ceilings, the natural light, even the arrangement of the altar were so inspiring. One would assume that such a sacred space would be archaic, even gothic feeling. However, it was a very beautiful blend of modernity and the sacred. I thought to myself that if only we could blend the “come as you are” architecture of most non-denominational churches with the majestic, sacred space of many “high church” buildings – that would be a unique space. At the same time, I am awestruck that the Bible calls us the new temple of God. As beautiful and inspiring as that building was, the power lies in the people of God gathering together under Jesus Christ as our head. The new temple far outshines and outlasts the physical one, yet there is something important about being reminded of God’s presence beyond just the audible. The visual space does make a difference.
2. Religiosity is detestable to the Lord. As I was admiring the beauty of the physical building, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of the rituals inherent with the building itself. Although I went to Catholic school for two years, I forgot how many liturgical actions were part of attending a service or a wedding for that matter. Whenever a person passed the altar, he/she had to bow in respect to the altar or priest. There were several set responses to prayers and liturgies that all of the Catholic guests knew. However, I found it ironic that as soon as some of the folks (mostly the young adults/college-aged) left the building, their language and actions were indistinguishable from those who are unchurched. At the risk of judging these folks, it was pretty obvious that most of them did a good job of compartmentalizing their acts of worship/sacrifice in the church from the rest of their lives. They knew all of the responses and the right behavior in the church service, but outside of it, they were the lord of their own empires. Their ethics, values, and thought processes did not appear to be informed by the will of the God they had just come before. It reminded me so much of the empty worship, the religiosity, of pre-exilic Israel. They knew all the rites, sacrifices, and liturgies, yet God indicts them for having their hearts far from them. What an abomination such worship must have been – going through the motions, knowing all the right things to say, but keeping it confined to the walls of a building or a space. God wants all of our lives, not just the right liturgical responses. More than condemning these folks, it was a stark reminder to me to worship in spirit and in truth, and to call my people to do the same.
3. That said, there is still a great deal of beauty to be found in the Catholic rites and liturgies. Some of the prayers, Scripture readings, and songs were so beautiful. The liturgy inspired me to worship the majesty and splendor of Christ. The prayers reminded me of my need for divine grace every hour. The exhortations of the priest made me want to come closer to God. I can understand now the recent resurgence in the use of liturgy and ancient practices even in churches that are not historically rooted that way. There’s something so powerful to these liturgies passed down. I want to spend some concentrated time getting in touch with the rich treasures these practices could be for our faith.
I don’t mean to make an analysis out of what was a beautiful wedding. It was my first time participating in a Catholic wedding, and I am so grateful for the charity and hospitality of Father Rich in leading me through the ceremony. More than that, I am overjoyed at the beautiful display of sanctity and joy as two friends obeyed God’s plan for marriage. This covenant before God is indeed a beautiful and powerful mystery. The fact that it took place in a community of witnesses and in such a beautiful and sacred building only added to its significance.