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Inside Our Church

The next Saturday, Maria and Riley were really looking forward to their First Communion class. What clues, they wondered, would be uncovered to help them solve the Mystery of the Eucharist?

"Good morning children," began Father Hugo with a twinkle in his eye. "Before Ms. Kelly joins us for your lesson, we have some unfinished business. I want to hear your questions about the Church and see if I can help you solve the Mystery of the Eucharist. Who wants to be first?"

All the hands shot up in a flash. "Good," said Father Hugo. "Maria, since you and Riley started all this business about solving the mystery, let's start with you."

"Father," Maria began, "last Sunday before Mass I heard a lot of people talking in church. My dad said they were praying the rosary. In the afternoon I asked my Aunt Isabella about it. She said that the rosary is a set of prayers said on beads and when we pray it we ask Mary to pray to God to help us.

"Aunt Isabella says the rosary is divided into mysteries; joyful, sorrowful, glorious, and luminous mysteries. She said the mysteries of the rosary relate to special times in Jesus' and Mary's lives that we wouldn't know about unless God revealed them to us."

"Very good, Maria. That is an excellent explanation of the 'mysteries' of the rosary."

As Father continued talking, Maria tried to make a connection between the mysteries of the rosary and the Mystery of the Eucharist, and how God reveals things to us. She thought hard and long, but was too shy to ask another question.

"Riley, what is your question about the church?" asked Father Hugo.

"Father Hugo, why is there holy water near all church doors and why do we cross ourselves when we enter and leave the church?" asked Riley.

"Excellent question! Remember, Riley, last year when your baby sister Delaney was baptized. I poured water over her forehead and said, 'I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit'. I told you then that baptism made her a member of our Church and of Christ and gave her special protection from evil. Well, each time you dip your fingers into the holy water and make the Sign of the Cross, you are remembering your own baptism,"explained Father Hugo.

"Whoa!" said Riley. "That's pretty special." He wasn't absolutely sure, but Riley thought that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had something to do with the Mystery of the Eucharist.

"Now, who else has a question about the church?" asked Father Hugo.

"What are all the pictures on the walls around the church about, Father?" asked T.J. (short for Timothy Joseph).

"Ah-umm. Why do churches have colored windows?" asked Jesusspeakstome.

"Why is there a table up there?" questioned Ryan pointing to the sanctuary.

"What's inside that big gold box?" asked Matthew pointing to the tabernacle.

"What's behind that door?" asked Andrew pointing to the door to the reconciliation room at the back of the church.

"What's behind those doors up there?" asked Mary Carol pointing to the doors on each side of the altar that lead to the sacristy.

"How come there is an 'eye' on that window? It's looking right at me!" exclaimed Giancarlo pointing to a stained glass window.

"I want to know why you use candles in church instead of light bulbs? Light bulbs are safer," advised Nadine.

"Father, why do you burn that smelly stuff in the little pot on a chain in church sometimes?" questioned Yasmine holding her nose ever so politely.

"Why do we have to be quiet in church?" asked Bridget.

"And how come people sing out loud?" questioned her twin sister Erin. "Some people sing really loud and squeaky!" she complained. The class laughed.

"How come that place where you baptize the babies is so big?" Danny wanted to know.

"What's in that cabinet over there on the wall?" asked Anthony.

"Romano and I went up there last week," said Enrico pointing to the choir loft. "Our dad showed us the big organ pipes; some of them are bigger than us!"

"My ,my. You certainly are a curious bunch of children, aren't you? You have some very, very good questions. I mean clues!" commented Father Hugo.

"If you look in the back of your books, children, you will find A MAP OF OUR CHURCH that shows the names, places, and an explanation of the things you just asked about."

"You know," he said, "one very nice thing about the Catholic Church is that you will find these very same items in each and every church throughout the world. They may be in slightly different arrangement, and sometimes you may have to look to find them, but they will be there."

"Let us take a walk around the church, and I will answer some of your questions as we go. You know, Maria and Riley, these questions provide excellent clues to the Mystery of the Eucharist," said Father Hugo with a mischievous grin on his face.

The children clamored out of the pews, and hurried to follow Father Hugo. Down the aisle they scrambled, running to keep up with him.

"Stand here and just look around you," said Father Hugo mid-way down the aisle. "Look at our beautiful church." The children's eyes widened as they whirled around taking in the sights.

"See the altar,that's the table that Ryan asked about," said Father. "It's elevated to emphasize the absolute importance of everything that takes place on the altar. That's where God changes bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharistic sacrifice!"

Maria and Riley's ears prickled and the skin on their arms got goose bumps hearing the words 'Eucharistic sacrifice'.

"Look right behind the altar. See the big gold box that Matthew asked about? It's called the 'tabernacle'. It's the place where we place the consecrated bread after Communion. The consecrated bread is the Eucharist, the Body of Christ. It waits there until it can be given in Communion at a later service or until either Deacon Paul or a lay minister or I can take it to parish members who are in nursing homes, hospitals, or who cannot come to Mass because they are sick."

"There is a candle burning beside the tabernacle. That candle is always lit when the Eucharist is in the tabernacle. The candle lets us know that Christ is present and reminds us to show reverence by being quiet and bowing or genuflecting before Him."

"Nadine, you wanted to know why we use candles instead of light bulbs. Well, you know God sent jesus into the world to set the world on fire for us! To light up our lives with His love! To show us the way to the truth," said Father with passion in his voice. "You just cannot do that with a light bulb, now can you, Nadine?"

"No, Father Hugo, you sure can't," said Nadine in her shy voice.

As they walked further down the aisle, Father called their attention to the stained glass windows. "Look at these beautiful windows," exclaimed Father Hugo.

"The stained glass windows in churches often tell stories about our faith. See those three over the altar. They tell the stories of Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection. The first one is of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph at the birth of Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem. You all know that story I hope! It was Christmas day; God became man and dwelt among us!

"The middle window shows Jesus dying on the cross. Beneath Him are His mother, Mary, and friends John and Mary of Magdala.

"The third window shows Jesus raised from the dead. That's our mystery of faith right there," stated Father Hugo. "Jesus, God-became-man, died for our sins so that we might be forgiven. Then He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father. Out of love He sent the Holy Spirit, the Third person in the Trinity, to guide us. Oh my! "

Father seemed as if he were in deep prayer as he gazed at the windows. Maria and Riley, hearing the word 'mystery' again, looked at each other and wondered.

"Look at all the stained glass windows along the sides of the church," directed Father Hugo. "Notice that they are all similar, except each one has a different symbol near the top. Each symbol reminds us of a different aspect of our faith.

"That 'eye in the triangle' that Giancarlo asked about is the 'all-seeing eye of God'. Remember last week in class Ms. Kelly taught you that God is everywhere and sees everything. Well, that 'eye' reminds us of this. The triangle around the eye reminds us of the three persons in God. Who are the three persons of God?" Father asked the class.

"The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," recited the class in unison.

"Correct!" said Father. "This has to be the smartest First Communion class ever," he stated with pride.

"Look at these three windows, children. The lamb, the wheat, and the grapes. Now these are real clues to the Mystery of the Eucharist!" declared Father Hugo.

"You see the lamb. That represents the Lamb of God. Jesus, the Son of God, given to us in the Eucharist, is the Lamb of God."

"Let me tell you a story," said Father Hugo. "Throughout history, people have always wanted to make sacrifices to God in order to gain His favor or forgiveness, and to glorify Him. The lamb was one of the most frequently sacrificed animals in ancient, Jewish rituals. In biblical times people would bring their animals to the Temple in Jerusalem where the priest would perform the sacrifice as an offering to God. There were lots of rules regarding how the animals would be killed and what would be done with their blood and meat. The animal's blood was thought to be the life force. The Jews believed the animal's blood given in sacrifice could help them get rid of sins and weaknesses that separated them from God. However, the animal blood had no life power and, despite the sacrifices, the people typically continued in their sinful ways.

"We know from the Bible that one day John the Baptist saw Jesus walking toward him and he said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God'(John 1:29, 36) .John recognized jesus as the Messiah and knew that He was the one who had come to save the world. As you will learn more about later, in the end Jesus shed His blood on the cross as a sacrifice and in atonement for the sins of humankind. That is so that our sins could be forgiven and we could be united with God in heaven. Jesus became the Sacrificial Lamb, the Lamb of God."

"But Father, that lamb in the window doesn't look dead," observed Danny.

"That's right! " said Father Hugo. "That is because Jesus, The Lamb of God, rose from the dead."

"Wow! That's a great story. What about the wheat and grapes? " asked Riley.

"The wheat," continued Father Hugo, "begins as a tiny grain or seed that is put in the soil, and through a miracle it germinates and grows to a mature plant using the earth, sun, and rain. When the wheat is fully grown the grain is harvested, milled, and made into bread. We all know that bread is a basic food that we must have to nourish our earthly bodies. In a very special way, in the celebration of the Eucharist at Mass, Jesus becomes the bread for our spiritual body, our soul, promising us eternal life if we follow Him."

"Grapes, like wheat, are fruits of the earth, and grow on vines. Grapes are used to produce wine. Throughout the Bible, Jesus uses vines and grapes and wine to describe our relationship with God. At the Last Supper, Jesus gave the Apostles His own blood under the form of wine and promised them that drinking His blood would bring them forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This too is part of the Eucharistic celebration. "

"Whew!" exclaimed Maria. "They drank His blood? That sounds perfectly disgusting!"

"Oh, no, Maria. It is really the most beautiful thing in the entire world. You see, the wine becomes the blood of Jesus through the action of the Holy Spirit when the priest prays over it. The blood of Jesus still looks and tastes like wine. However, our faith tells us that it is no longer just wine, but rather the blood of the Eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. You will learn more about all this in a few weeks when we study the Mass."

As they began to walk back toward the front of the Church, Father Hugo pointed out the pictures that line the walls that T.J. had asked about called the Stations of the Cross.

"The Stations of the Cross tell the story of how Jesus was put to death. How He was sacrificed. There are fourteen stations in all. You will learn more about the Stations and what they represent when you are a little older. But let's today walk through them because they are so very important.

"They begin with Jesus being condemned to die. Next he is sent to Pontius Pilate who had Jesus scourged—which is a very cruel form of punishment. Then the Roman soldiers mocked Him. They put a crown of thorns on his head and called Him 'King of the Jews'.

"Jesus was made to carry the cross on which He would be nailed. He carried it through the streets of Jerusalem to Calvary, the place outside the walled city of Jerusalem where Roman soldiers put criminals to death. Along the way He fell three times under the weight of the cross. A woman stepped out of the crowd to wipe the sweat and blood from His face. Then a man helped Him to carry the cross for a while. When Jesus got to Calvary, tired and bleeding, they nailed Him to that cross. After hanging on the cross for three long hours, Jesus gave up His spirit to God the Father; He died. Later His friends took His body down from the cross and laid it in a new tomb. That is how they buried people back then."

"Do you know what happened next, children? " asked Father Hugo in a whisper of suspense. The children were leaning forward to hear the ending of the best story ever told.

"He rose from the dead on Easter Morning! Alleluia!" shouted Father Hugo as he swung his arms up into a big 'V', making the children gasp and laugh in relief.

"Do you know what good news this is!?" Father continued. "It means that Jesus had won the victory over death—not only His death but the death of everybody who believes in Him. It also means that, in the end, good always triumphs over evil!

"That's all the stories we have time for now, children," said Father Hugo. "We will talk about the other things in the church on another day. But do look in the back of your books to see a diagram of the church and read the descriptions of the things found in our church."

As Maria and Riley walked back toward the front of the church, they seemed bewildered. Surely they had received a lot of clues about the Mystery of the Eucharist. But were they any closer to solving it?