Reflecting Heaven: Notes on the St. Bernadette Sanctuary Renovation

05-02-2021Reflecting HeavenFr. Don Kline, V.F.

What’s happening? And why?

Spring time each year brings new beginnings – this is a perfect time to reflect upon and celebrate the great mysteries of our life in Christ. This year at St. Bernadette, Spring brings with it signs of physical change, as well. You may have heard about the murals, the windows, the organ, and the grotto. Over the next several weeks, through this series of reflections, you will learn the what and the why this is incredible blessing is happening in our parish.

Much of this project has been in the works for years, and for which many have waited with hope and anticipation: renovation of our sanctuary space, stained glass windows, and an organ. It is my hope that these reflections will help you to walk us through the “whats” and “whys” of these projects.

For some people, “why” is the first question? Didn’t we complete the building project four years ago? Yes, we did... sort of. Given the financial constraints, our parish was able to complete the important work of building an impressive church building but was not able to complete the interior. For nearly 20 years, this parish utilized the hall as a place to have Holy Mass. That space was never meant to be the final worship space. So the decision was made to build a noble and worthy place to pray.

Upon completion of the new building, immediate blessings included the expanding of meeting space for parishioners by opening up rooms in the hall, a lunch room for the school and youth room. The new church added more pews, much needed sacristy space and one of the largest choir lofts in the diocese. Since a proper church space was our greatest need, items such as stain glass windows, murals, and the organ to a back seat.

Over the subsequent years, other priorities have continued to take precedence over completing the church space. These priorities include: purchasing bells for the bell tower which calls us to worship, promoting vocations through purchasing a rectory adequate for our priests and seminarians, providing a sound loop that enables sound to be heard through wireless devices for those who might need assistance hearing, and ongoing support for other charities, in which God’s love and mercy are in action day in and day out in service to the poor and the marginalized. Now it is time to return to the unfinished beautification of the worship space, not in lieu of other works of the church, but rather to inspire us to experience Christ’s love through beauty.

The sanctuary, in particular, has an “unfinished” feel to it after the building project. For example, the back wall behind the altar was done in the same look as is in the narthex and church. The new look will be setting the sanctuary off as the “heaven on earth” that the it is meant to represent.

The current windows were built with a place to insert stained glass windows. Each image will allow the light to shine through the particular Saint or Archangel reminding us of Christ’s light shining through His people. Each window represents a particular Saint or Archangel or a particular representation of Our Blessed Mother. The new windows will bring a deeper sense of the transcendent beauty of God.

Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

An ancient tradition of the Catholic Church holds that the church building itself should be a representation of the “Truth, Goodness, and Beauty” (the “Three Trancendentals”) of God. The architecture, the furnishings, the art, and the very ambiance should both represent the Kingdom of God and draw us into the great meeting of Heaven and earth that is at the heart of the Mass.

For this reason, Catholic churches over the centuries have been rich in symbols of the things of heaven: rich floral patterns carved in stone, jeweled stained glass windows, noble materials, marble altars, symbols of the Saints and Evangelists, and more.

In a nutshell, then, the goal of this 2021 renovation is to provide a worship space that speaks of God’s glory and inspires a person to a sense of holiness and reverence from the moment one walks in. Why? Ultimately, to lead to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. That relationship, then, leads to a greater commitment to Christian service and being a disciple, day in and day out.

Vertical and Horizontal

At the time St. Bernadette was established (in the mid 1970s), the trend in Catholic Church architecture was an emphasis on the “community” nature of the church. Lower roofs, a fan-shaped nave that brought the faithful closer to the altar and face-to-face with each other, a more casual feel, and the like.

Most older Catholic churches throughout history, by contrast, were more “vertically” oriented. Think of Gothic spires and windows, flying buttresses, and high ceilings soaring toward heaven. Interestingly, most new Catholic churches being built today are now returning to the more vertical mode, while still seeing to community needs.

In a classic Catholic way, “vertical” vs “horizontal” worship is not an either/or proposition; it is rather both…and! We give glory to God AND strive for the holiness of the community. What’s the proper model of this relationship between the vertical and the horizontal? How about the Cross?

In the present project, the St. Bernadette renovation committee knew it was important to embrace and accept the building we have. It isn’t enough to just “put lots of nice stuff in.” The renovation strives to draw our minds and hearts to God a little more vertically, while in no way losing that marvelous sense of community that is so important to us as Catholics.

Stay tuned in coming weeks for more specifics, and pray for the successful completion of these projects.

Saint Bernadette Teach Us to Serve and to Pray

In Lourdes You experienced the joys and trials of family life
You saw Mary eighteen times at the rock
You called the sinners to penance
The priests to edify the Church of God
The pilgrims to come in procession
You reported the name of Mary, the Immaculate Conception
You desired ardently to receive the Body of the Lord, and to live of it.
You knew shame and suspicion, mockery and humiliation
You bore witness to what you saw and believed with such determination
You answered the call of the Lord.

With you Bernadette, WE go to the Grotto, to contemplate Mary, full of grace, to hear her say ‘Do whatever he tells you’.
With you Bernadette, WE reply I promise, I will.
Saint Bernadette teach us to receive the good news.
With you Bernadette, WE wish to hear the call of penance, to walk in the path of conversion, to live in humility
With you Bernadette, WE take up our Cross, we say ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners
With you Bernadette, WE go and wash at the springs of mercy
With you Bernadette, WE say Yes to the will of God, by becoming servants of the little ones, the poor and the sick
With you Bernadette, WE look on the other as a person, Saint Bernadette, teach us to love and to serve
With you Bernadette, WE go to meet the Lord in the Eucharist.
WE go to drink at the Spring of the Living Water of the Word of God. WE go in procession, together as a Church in the footsteps of Christ.

With you Bernadette, WE shall go and repeat the Name of the Lady to the World, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’.

Saint Bernadette, teach us to pray to Mary each day, Mother of God and our Mother: ‘Hail Mary, full of Grace’.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.
Our Lady of Lourdes, Pray for us.
Saint Bernadette Pray for us. Amen