Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Writer’s Note: With the dedication of new church buildings and renovations in recent years around the Diocese of Superior, the following content will be presented in two parts to offer parishioners a deeper understanding of the various elements and principles of sacred architecture and how they relate to liturgical theology.

In 2022, the Rice Lake cluster of parishes launched a five-part education and formational series under the title “Sanctuary: Exploring the Church’s Understanding of Holiness in Architecture.”

Presenter Chris Janssens, who recently started a new role for the cluster as Director of Mission and Operations, drew on multiple sources to develop the series’ outline. It offered theological foundations and specific architectural principles as the four clustered churches of St. Joseph and Our Lady of Lourdes in Rice Lake, Holy Trinity in Haugen and St. John’s in Birchwood began the process – still ongoing – of discussing needed restorations and presented opportunities for beautification of the worship spaces.
What is the Mass?

Beginning with “What is the Mass?” a video featuring Chris Stefanick and Fr. John Riley, discussions were prompted around what happens during the Mass. Janssens chose this as the starting point to reflect the connection between what happens during the Mass and where it takes place.

In the video, Fr. Riley, a priest for more than 30 years, clarifies that there is only one Mass, made present thousands of times through each liturgical celebration. Rather than using the word “representation” to describe what happens in the Mass, Fr. Riley prefers the more accurate explanation that each Mass is, “a perpetuation; something that took place in the past and is made present again.

“It’s the same event,” he said. “Each Mass is not another sacrifice, but divine power working outside of space and time,” to bring to the present a reality that exists outside of both of those.

Both priest and popular Catholic speaker acknowledged the challenge of participating in Mass rather than attending as a spectator, like going to a sporting event to be entertained. They added that having an understanding of the basic elements of the sport is crucial to stay engaged, especially in the age of social media when people’s attention span has been considerably reduced.

Fr. Riley commented on the two priesthoods present at each Mass. One, that of the ordained priest acting “in persona Christi;” the second, that of the people who are called on to offer the same sacrifice, “not by watching the priest’s hands,” he then quoted Pope St. Leo the Great, “but, after receiving communion, offering the sacrificial victim, the Son to the Father, from the altar of their heart.

“It’s a responsibility and obligation,” he said. The people have expectations of God and the priest, but there is an expectation of the people as well. Fr. Riley called on the laity not to be passive spectators, but to fulfill their own ministry at the foot of the altar by preparing to attend at Mass with a disposition of receptivity and participation recalling that, “the curtain of time is pulled aside and we are present at Calvary during the Mass.”

Time and Space in the Liturgy

The third presentation reflected deeper on the relationship of the liturgy with time and space. Janssens led a Lectio Divina on the passage from Revelation 21: 9-23, the Apostle John’s vision of the heavenly Jerusalem and how he described what heaven looks like.

Janssens proposed reflections on the reality that during each Mass those participating are literally stepping into heaven, based on the writing of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s on “The Relationship of the Liturgy to Time and Space,” an excerpt from his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy.”

Ratzinger writes, “The Christ-event and the growth of the Church out of all nations, the transition from Temple sacrifice to universal worship ‘in spirit and truth,’ is the first important step across the frontier… toward the fulfillment of the Old Testament. But it is obvious that hope has not yet fully attained its goal.”

In the New Jerusalem, Ratzinger asserts, God the Father and the Lamb “are themselves its Temple. In this City, instead of sun and moon, it is the glory of God and its lamp, the Lamb, that shed their brilliance. But this City is not yet here.

“That is why the Church Fathers described the various stages of fulfillment, not just as a contrast between Old and New Testaments, but as the three steps of shadow, image and reality.”

As such, in the Church of the New Testament, Ratzinger continues “the shadow has been scattered by the image… as St. Gregory the Great puts it, it is still only the time of dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. The sun is rising, but it has still not reached its zenith. Thus, the time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of ‘in-between,’ a mixture of “already and not yet.”

This state in-between shadow and reality “gives liturgical theology its specific form,” Ratzinger writes. On the liturgical level, “the sacrificial actions of the Temple have been replaced by the Eucharistic Prayer…and by the distribution of the consecrated gifts. But this…does not stand on its own. It has meaning only in relation to something that really happens, to a reality that is substantially present…

“Without the Cross and Resurrection, Christian worship is null and void, and a theology of liturgy that omitted any reference to them would really just talking about an empty game.”

It’s looking at the foundation of the Christian liturgy in the historical acts that took place once, in the past, but are more than that. “However,” Ratzinger continues, “the exterior act of being crucified is accompanied an interior act of self-giving (The Body is ‘given for you’)…

“This act of giving is in no way just a spiritual occurrence… The obedience of Jesus’ human will is inserted into the everlasting Yes of the Son to the Father,” Ratzinger asserts and concludes that through his divine giving, all dimensions of reality are embraced. His pain is obedience and so, “time is drawn into what reaches beyond time.

“The real interior act, though it does not exist without the exterior, transcends time, but since it comes from time, time can again and again be brought into it. That is how we can become contemporary with the past events of salvation… What is perpetual takes place in what happens only once…

Ratzinger, further developing the theology, writes, “In the Christian liturgy, we not only receive something from the past but become contemporaries with what lies at the foundation of that liturgy.”

He states how the heart and grandeur of the Eucharist is that it is much more than a meal; in it “we are caught up and made contemporary with the Paschal Mystery of Christ.”

In showing how past and present are interconnected, he logically moves to integrate the future. “Now if past and present penetrate one another in this way, if the essence of the past is not simply a thing of the past but the far-reaching power of what follows in the present, then the future, too, is present in what happens in the liturgy.” He goes on to say it ought then to be called “an anticipation of what is to come.”

In density of thought that requires attentive reading and reflection, Ratzinger draws the parallel between the self-giving of Christ and one’s own self-gift united to the divine and assimilated to God through the liturgy. “The liturgy,” he says, “does indeed have a bearing on everyday life, on me in my personal existence.” He quotes St. Paul in Romans 12, where he states that in our bodies we become a living sacrifice united to that of Christ.

Ratzinger then reasons that “this sacrifice is only complete when the world has become a place of love… is worship perfected and what happened on Golgotha completed.”

The would-be pope asks whether sacred space, sacred time and mediating symbols are still needed even though Christ’s sacrifice, which took place as an historical event, replaced the Temple sacrifice.

He responds, “Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the ‘image,’ through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven… We do indeed participate in the heavenly liturgy, but this participation is mediated to us through earthly signs, which the Redeemer has shown to us as the place where his reality is to be found.”


St. Patrick’s Cathedral is pictured among neighboring skyscrapers in New York City. (iStock, Getty Images Plus)