Reflecting Heaven Part 22: Color and Light

09-22-2021Reflecting HeavenFr. Don Kline, V.F.

As the preparation to move back into our newly renovated church begin, I thought it would be appropriate to thank all our parishioners who have donated so generously to this project and encourage those who may still want to share their blessings through a financial gift, please prayerfully consider doing so. There is a spiritual and emotional satisfaction knowing that you are part of something that will impact others for generations in a such a meaningful way.

Thanks be to God for the generosity of the people of St. Bernadette and the artistry and hard work of all those dozens and dozens of people who have had a role in the renovation. The feedback we’ve received so far from parishioners has been overwhelmingly positive. I will consider that a small miracle and an answer from God to our prayers. If there are any naysayers among us, they have been very good about keeping there thoughts personal. My prayer is that God will be praised and the people of our parish and all visitors will moved a bit closer to understanding the glory of God and the Kingdom prepared for those who love Him.

The final touches are being done and this project is nearing final completion. Most notably, a bit of work remains to be done on the apse sanctuary, refining and adjusting lighting and sound, and re-coloring the lighting fixtures in the choir loft to blend in with the new organ. Sadly, the painting of Holy Family and 4 of the bottom stained glass windows may not be completed by the reopening but there will be plenty to enjoy as we move back into our church. We are working on a date in December when Bishop Olmsted will be able preside at our 10:00am Mass to officially bless our renovation and our new organ. Stay tuned!

Of the many things to see in our church, much of it has to do with color and light. So perhaps this is a good time to review these aspects of the renovation. One of the Catholic liturgical architects we consulted on this project had a memorable first impression of our church as being “very white.” There is something to be said about the simplicity of colors in our church. However, the beautiful details of the white columns with the Corinthian capitals, the amazing tile work, the stunning crown molding, the marble statues of Mary and Joseph, all incredible work but all very similar in color. The new colors serve to emphasize the architecture and the space even more.

Now we have far more interplay of color! Most obvious, of course, are the brilliant stained glass windows. Our goals with the windows were several. First of all, we wanted them to invite and inspire prayer, to entice worshipers to spend some time before them in reflection, being drawn into a relationship with Christ and his Church. Second, we wanted them to let in enough light to brighten the nave but eliminate the sometimes too bright (and blinding) effects of the sun.

Finally, we wanted glowing colors, set off even more by the newly-painted, perimeter walls. You will undoubtedly notice the contrast in colors, in particular, the colorful murals depicting the life of Our Blessed Mother on the ceiling and in the apse located above and behind the altar. Other colors are meant to reinforce and emphasize the in the Stations of the Cross and the amazing columns that frame them.

But the color is not simply for color’s sake, but rather as a suggestion of the jeweled foundations and walls of the heavenly Jerusalem. At the Easter Vigil, we hear a reading from the Book of Isaiah in which God describes the new Jerusalem: “I lay your pavements in carnelians, and your foundations in sapphires; I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of carbuncles, and all your walls of precious stones.” (Isaiah 54:11-12)

The Book of Revelation carries this description of the heavenly jewels even further: jasper, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, hyacinth, and amethyst are added to the mix (Rev 21:19-20). Colored stained glass is meant to invoke this richness and variety of color of the heavenly kingdom.

The same could be said of every aspect of the renovation, of course. The ongoing title of this series is, after all, “Reflecting Heaven.” The Catholic tradition is that the church building, nave, and sanctuary should witness to the heavenly Kingdom by their very structure, appearance, and action.

In the Book of Revelation’s famous description in chapter 21, we get a few more hints of what heaven is like: “The city was pure gold, clear as glass,” and “the street of the city was of pure gold, transparent as glass” (Rev 21:19, 21). This is where the color and shimmer of the sanctuary and center aisle come from. Okay, so we didn’t actually pave them in pure gold – we’ll save that for the ultimate Heaven. But the shining tiles of aisle and sanctuary are at least suggestive of the gleaming streets of gold and glass described in Revelation. This effect will be even more evident when our gold leaf atop the baldachinno, and throughout the church as well as the thousands of facets of glass reflecting the light!

And that brings us to light. The LED lighting system in the church illuminates all the colors and effects with subtleties and flexibility not possible with our old lighting, and all at a fraction of the operating cost! If you’re not sold on the lighting just yet, we urge you to wait just a little longer, until the large paintings are in and much of the lighting is re-adjusted and reconfigured to highlight them perfectly.

That brings us, finally, to the sanctuary and the ceiling. The bright white of the floor, altar, ambo, the brilliant golden decor on the wall of the sanctuary, and ceiling all, once again, are meant to reflect the Heavenly Jerusalem: “The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb” (Rev 21:23). Our hope is that, when all is said and done, that effect of radiant light will shine forth, particularly in the location of the Tabernacle, so that the effect will be that the light emanates from the “lamp that is the Lamb” in the Tabernacle and on the Altar.

In sum, we have white and gold for the heavenly city, blue for Our Lady of Lourdes, a lot of color in the windows and Stations for Mary’s mantle, a bit of red in the windows, the columns and Stations for the Precious Blood of our Lord, and jewels of color all over the walls, both in the windows and in the Stations. May this interplay of light and color help draw us closer to our Lord and risen Savior, Jesus Christ!

If you would like to contribute to this memorial project for Fr. Pete, please go to the online giving at Your gifts enable us to continue the mission of the Church of making more disciples. Thank you for all who have helped to keep our parish focus on Christ, Our Eucharistic King!