Friday, November 3, 2017

Saints About The Altar

Homily for All Saints Day, but also a reflection on why there were saint statues imbedded in high altars. Hint: it's not just to make them pretty. 
All Saints 2017

Where are the Saints at Mass?

Today is All Saints Day

How do the saints play into what we do at Mass?

A month ago I was talking at the grade school Mass

I think it was the feast of the Guardian Angels 

Where are your Angels at Mass?

In the pew, with you, obviously. 

But also very attentive to what going on up here 

This is what they live for 

Other angels—non-guardian angels—around altar

If you need more help paying attention you can recruit an extra angel from up here 

So we focused on: Help you you focus and pay attention

Angels' real job = worship 

All gathered here to worship 

Where are the Saints? 

They're here too 

Definition of a saint is "One who we know is in heaven"

What is heaven? 

Heaven is to be with Jesus

So when Jesus is present in church, saints present too. 

Like angels, the saints worship 

Multiple times in book of Revelation, like we just heard in the first reading, we're told that the elders—who represent the saints of the old and new testaments—and the martyrs, the ones we just heard about with white robes and palm branches, fall down before the throne of God and worship. 

That's part of why we have statues of saints in the sanctuary. 

Notice the connection of the words: Saint in the French version of sanctus or sancta which is the Latin for a holy person, a person in heaven, a "saint". 

So the sancti, the saints, belong in the sanctuary 

Sanctuary = the holy place

But, even as statues, they belong there not just as decoration

A month ago we started praying all facing the same direction

And each week in the bulletin I've had a little blurb reflecting more than I could in the homily

This last Sunday, in the bulletin, I talked about in some churches the old high altar can become just a pretty backdrop (see #4)

Part of that has to do with our posture of worship

But the other thing is that people now, and maybe even even 50 years ago, didn't understand what the old high altar and the big altarpiece with saints in it, were about. 

The towering altarpiece, or reredos, with its niches, wasn't about a way to show off your statues or make a pretty backdrop. 

The vertical wall of the altarpiece was meant to represent heaven itself

That's why it went up so high, and pointed upwards. 

That's why saints were built into it 

They are the Saints *in heaven*

Often you had your patrons

Look at our old pictures

Our St. Wenceslaus was top center, looking down on his parish 

Our reredos used to have five 

Weston, still has theirs. Three. 

Saints in heaven looking down. 

Vertical was image of heaven. 

Horizontal, leading up to it, was the earthly

So as the earthly approached the heavenly, the steps started to climb up 

Hence the sanctuary, "the holy place" is where earth climbs toward heaven. 

Image: God the Father, up top

Saints and angels, in a sense, up in the air, surrounding

And then where heaven and earth meet: you would have a large crucifix, dead center

and then right in front of that, on the horizontal altar top, you had the sacrifice of the Mass presented,

The bread and wine changed into Jesus' body and blood offered up for us, 

and all of us worshipping in that direction. 

So it pulled together this great image: 

we all know the Mass is where heaven meets earth

We all know that that is supposed to be moment we enter into heavenly worship,

And that's what it did: it brought that together. 

So that visually, with your own eyes, you saw it all click together. 

Mass is not just us on earth saying: "God please do stuff for us"

No, we proclaim that God himself has come down to earth. 

And Jesus, God made man, is pulling us up to heaven,

So where he is, all the angels are gathered, 

Where he is all the saints are gathered,

And all together they are worshiping 

and we're like: We get to be a part of this. 
We get to come in to that.

And when we approach the sanctuary then to receive communion, we get to receive that gift of "Heaven kissing earth"

We're receiving that gift of God who has come down to us and says "I want to give you my very self"

He's brought us up to the edge of heaven,

And brought heaven down to our very lips

It's this incredible image

So this is what we get to celebrate every day of the year

All Saints day emphasizes it:

"Yeah, don't forget you have this cloud of witnesses" 

But every single day of the year we have that available to us. 

We always say in the "Confiteor" that we want "all the angels and saints to pray for me to the lord our god" for our sins to be forgiven 

And we pray throughout the EP that we may be made part of the family of saints and angels to get to be with them in heaven

...And yet also, here we are on earth, already foretasting that. 

So let's not let this be the one day out of the year we think about this. 

Spend the 364 days recognizing that the saints and angels are always worshipping and they are wanting to share their daily, constant, eternal worship with us—and when we come to Mass we get to dive into it too. 

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