Dear Friends in Christ,
Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
The unusual, even extraordinary, account of the Lord’s cleansing of the Temple gives us much to ponder with regard to respect for sacred spaces, and the manner in which we pray and worship the all-holy God. Following in the tradition of the prophets of Israel, Jesus was appalled at the disrespect shown his Father’s house, which had become something resembling a market place. His sense of outrage was expressed in driving out the traders and overturning the tables of the money-changers. “Stop turning my Father’s house into a market,” were his words. The Jerusalem Temple was believed to be God’s dwelling place, and in a particular way that area known as “the Holy of Holies.” There the pious believer encountered God through regular worship, prayer and sacrifice.
Fundamental to worship is the awareness that we are God’s creation, the “work of his hands”, as the psalm says, and we come into the presence of the Lord to do him homage and acknowledge our total dependence on him. Worship, therefore, is a sacred act offered to the One who is wholly Other from ourselves, far beyond our imagination or power of understanding.
This explains why the High Priest alone could enter the Holy of Holies, and that once a year, on the Day of Atonement. As we gather as a community to pray and offer Mass, or for other occasions, it is salutary to recall in whose presence we are, and the word ‘recollection’ comes to mind here. During an act of worship in the Temple the young Isaiah was totally overwhelmed by his vision of the thrice all-holy God, a phrase which occurs in the Sanctus of every Mass.
We are understandably very attached to churches which hold significance for us, be it the place where we have been baptised, made our first Sacraments, got married, or for other reasons personal to us. The explanation for this attachment is our awareness at some level of having encountered Jesus Christ, an encounter which has made a difference to our life.
While we should feel at home, as it were, in our churches we do well to recall that we are standing on holy ground. Moses was commanded to take the shoes of his feet at the burning bush on Sinai because he was told the ground on which he stood was holy. We humans must never take God for granted.
In another psalm the worshipper declares, “Lord, I have loved the beauty of your house, and the place where you dwell.” Any effort we make to enhance the décor and beauty of our churches is ultimately an act of worship paid to almighty God, our creator. The beauty and cleanliness of our places of worship ought to be a reflection of that interior dignity and beauty we have been given at the moment of our baptism, qualities which we acknowledge and celebrate at each Mass.
The final eight great chapters of the prophet Ezekiel contain a detailed description of the ideal future Temple. How impressive is the love of the prophet for God’s house! The precision and the detail of measurement of this Temple, with at its centre the altar and the life-giving waters flowing from beneath the altar, present a magnificent vision to us. Our altars and sanctuaries continue to pour out those divine life-giving waters from the sacramental side of the crucified Christ, and will do until he finally returns in glory.
With that splendid religious heritage of both the Old and New Testaments behind us, whenever we are in church we need always to remember that we are treading on holy ground.
Until next week – May God bless you all,
As ever in Christ,
+Michael Campbell OSA
Diocese of Lancaster