One of the most joyful songs for entering a church building is Psalm 122: “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” And there is no more transportingly beautiful setting for it than that composed by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. Whatever may be the quality of a church’s architecture, it is made beautiful by the Presence of the Lord, accompanied by the silent witness of the angels and saints. Many years ago, a liturgical expert said that if you want to beautify a church, fill it with people. I am grateful that there seems to be an increasing number of worshipers coming to the churches for which I am responsible, and I am especially thankful for the care that so many show for them.
Recently, a group of volunteers formed to help clean the heavily trafficked Church of the Holy Innocents. I would say that not only does it make the church more suitable for worship, but that the very acts of sweeping and scrubbing and polishing can themselves be forms of prayer, quite as St. Teresa of Avila said that she prayed while scrubbing pots and pans. As the Jews, including our Lord, sang as they climbed the steps to the Temple, so may we sing “Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.” Whether the people enter St. Michael’s from 34th Street or Holy Innocents from 37th Street, they really do find themselves in touch with the Heavenly Jerusalem, of which the earthly city is a cipher and sign.
In preparation for the great days of All Saints and All Souls, the faithful should keep constantly in mind the witnesses who have gone before us. On Monday, October 28, Mass will be offered in the Church of the Holy Innocents in honor of Blessed Karl of Austria who, although the last emperor of Austria and the last king of Hungary, is a quite modern saint, whose family are still around and known to some of us. Blessed Karl’s life reminds a culture deprived of great leaders that spiritual greatness can still be achieved through, and not in spite of, positions of political authority. He was a model of the true peacemaker, not content with the sort of tenuous peace fabricated by compromise with evil, but insistent on the true peace “which passes all understanding” and that only humble obedience to Christ can give.
Lighting a candle, sweeping a church floor, kneeling as Christ comes to the altar, are various acts in the holy house of the same God of those who gladly climb the steps of his house to kneel before him, and of those who unthinkingly walk past, absorbed in matters that seem important only for the passing moment. Whatever may be lacking in our song, the saints and angels supply: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.”
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Filed under: Fr. George W. Rutler |