We still live near the chapel in which my wife accepted my proposal for marriage. The Blessed Sacrament is kept in a tabernacle that is enthroned on an older side altar in the local monastery. The main Church is a fairly typical basilica structure with three “aisles” in which the central “lane” has the tallest roof and the sides have lower roofs with many side altars that are no longer used for Mass, but remain devotional stations within the Church. The monks have made the head altar at the end of one of the side aisles a Eucharist Chapel with the tabernacle, a statue of Mary, and several chairs and kneelers arranged for private prayers behind the choir stalls.
I coordinated with the monks to propose to my wife shortly before midday prayer started that day.
We were seated in front of the Blessed Sacrament for pre-prayers of adoration. After she accepted, the monks joined us in singing a Marian hymn, and we left flowers at the statue of Mary. I had hidden a few other presents for my wife at the feet of Mary’s statue, so we collected those and then went to our pew for Midday Prayer with the community. That was many years ago now, but whenever we go to that Church, all of those memories are vividly present, as is the sacramental reality which came to be when we were married.
In that same chapel there is a kneeler which I helped to make from lumber milled from trees that were cut down on the Abbey property. I sometimes stop in to pray there myself, and I remember my time and labor in making that kneeler. I also remember my father, who taught me nearly all of the carpentry skills I have and gave me many of the tools I used. I think about the monks who cut the tree and milled it. I also think of all the other people who have stopped to pray before the Blessed Sacrament and used that kneeler.
It’s hard to avoid pride in that kind of prayer, but most days I’m overcome by my small role in the life of a community.
We are also fortunate to have many young people who love to pray in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I have played guitar and sang with some of them in that same side chapel. I have been part of ministry teams that led praise and worship, adoration, and Exposition at that place. I have prayed in silence. I have given devotional talks. I have wept in that chapel for the loss of children. We have, of course, been to Mass in that Church and offered true worship to the One True God there. Much of my life is wrapped up in that place.
There are layers of meaning in that place. This is often what we mean when we speak of “sacramentality,” there are layers of meaning kept between the body and soul.
What is more, the Altar of the Lord does not simply hold my personal memories, but the memory of the Church. It’s not simply the layers of meaning of my life that can be found there, but the life of the Church. That life extends all the way back to Christ. A visit to a Catholic Church is a visit to place with layers of meaning that run as deep as the blood of Christ. That meaning runs through all the funerals and baptisms, all the blessings and celebrations, all the struggles and joys of parish life back to the fount of Catholic Life. We can learn to listen to those walls speak to us not simply of the few decades of life we have added to the Churches which have formed our lives; we can learn to listen to them speak to us of the lives of all who have gone before us resting in the saving death and life of Christ.