Sacred Heart Cathedral

From the Rector, Second Sunday of Lent, 2/25/2024

Reading the Cathedral, Part 6: In the Shape of the Cross

Many large churches are designed to be “cruciform,” that is, in the shape of the cross. Our cathedral is built this way, though you can only tell from the inside. This shape and symbol is so important to our faith, for obvious reasons, that even the very structure of the church edifice is meant to remind us of Christ’s Passion and His saving work on the Cross. 

The shape of the church, then, has important implications for our liturgical prayer. The Church teaches us that, to use the phrase of Saint Augustine, the Totus Christus, the “Whole Christ,” celebrates the liturgy. This means that Christ the Head of the Church leads His Body in worship of the Father. The two—Head and Members of the Body—are inseparably united, and we always have both realities in the liturgy. 

How does this relate to the shape of the church? Consider this. When you are in the pews, the priest, standing in the place of Christ in the sanctuary, leads the assembled congregation in prayer. Here we see Christ the Head is in the sanctuary, and His Body—the members of the Church—are in the nave of the church. This means that, during Mass or some other sacramental celebration, you are on the Cross with Christ. You are dying and rising with Him at that moment.  

There is still more. When you are present at Mass, you are there not only as yourself, but as a portion of the entire Church. Though only some members of the Church at large are ever present at a particular Mass in a particular place, the whole Church is mystically present because of the workings of grace in Christ. This encompasses those in heaven, in purgatory, and on earth. 

Rather than reducing us to a cog in the machine, this is meant to help us see our true role in the Body of Christ—God has chosen to make us all necessary, all needed in some way for the glory of God, sanctification of souls, and edification of the Church. He would not have created or called us were it otherwise. Your participation in Mass, then, is a reminder of your dignity, your worth, and of your baptismal responsibility to love God and neighbor, strengthened by the power of God given to us in the liturgy and the sacraments. Remember this next time you sit down in your pew—or rather when you mount the wood of the Cross in this church. There you will be with Jesus Christ in His suffering and death, all so that you might one day reign with Him in glory forever. 

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For the season of Lent, I will be offering short, daily reflections on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. To receive these in your email, please sign-up at desertfather.substack.com

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