The Sense for the Sacred
Published on April 9-10, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
Whenever we Catholics worship, there is a feast for the senses. There is the smell of incense in the air or perhaps a waft of sweet chrism from the brows of those who had been confirmed. There is joy heard in the hymns of the choir and gladness in the chants of the clergy. There is beauty to be seen and admired: in the images and the colors at the altar, in the lines of the architecture and the hues of the vestments. There is the cold splash of the holy water, the slickness of holy oil on the palms of the sick, the heat from the paschal fire. Finally, there is the feast of the angels in the Eucharist, a nibble and a sip that give us a taste of Heaven. Whenever we worship, such a feast for the senses assures us that God is with us, so close to us that we can smell, hear, see, touch and taste His goodness (cf. Ps. 34:8).
But such a sensory overload also has the danger of making us impervious to the subtle signs of the Sacred. We could get so used to the shouts of jubilation that we become deaf to the whisper of God’s voice. We could get so enamored by the beauty of created things that we become blind to the countenance of the Creator on those whom we consider unsightly. We could come to notice God only when His presence is obvious to our five senses, and be oblivious of Him in the world outside.
The Church, in Her wisdom, does not want us to be dulled by such an unrelenting feast for the senses. Thus, whenever we worship during Lent, there is instead a fast for the senses. The incense is gone, the chrism stock is not opened, and even a whiff from winter blooms is absent. The exultant singing of the Gloria and the Alleluia is silenced in the stretch of this season. The sanctuary is bare: on the fifth week the images of Christ and the saints are shrouded, and on Good Friday even the altar is stripped of its last linen cloth. Having foregone the sweets and meats, we find that the Eucharist is the one feast that sustains us through this fast.
In the midst of this Lenten emptiness, we find ourselves hungry and thirsty for everything that is always there, even during Ordinary Time. But we too are being made aware of the presence of the God of the feast even in the absence of the feasts for our God. Our five senses might no longer perceive it, but our sense for the Sacred is nudging us to see the Gospel truth: even when everything is gone, God is still here.