Terribilis: This House of God

Rev. Jonathon Steele

In the book of Genesis, Jacob is fleeing from his brother Esau and has a wonderful dream of a ladder stretching from the earth up into heaven with angels climbing up and down. Upon waking, he utters these profound words:

Indeed the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. How terrible [terrifying] is this place? This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven. (Gen 28:17)

These are words that might fall from our lips upon entering a majestic church, as we gaze in awe at the towering columns, exquisite stained glass windows, and countless other priceless treasures reserved for the service of almighty God. They are the words that Holy Mother Church chooses to pray at the Introit of the dedication of a church, to remind her faithful of the dignity of the church building.

The church is not an earthly dwelling. It is truly the house of God. This is why we consecrate churches when we can — they are set aside as something sacred, to be used only by God as His dwelling place for as long as the human edifice may stand. We are constantly reminded of heaven when we are in a church, whether by the height of the ceiling, the grandeur of the sights, the splendour of the sounds, the sweet odour of heavenly incense, or even the taste of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. All of our senses, however weakened or oppressed by sins and bad habits, are elevated and nourished, encouraged and refreshed, prepared and fortified to return to the exterior darkness of the world and to bring to it some little bit of that heavenly Presence and Light.

How much more true should this be of the altar server, who not only stands gazing in awe at human accomplishments of stone and glass but also steps into the very antechamber of heaven, the sanctuary! How privileged we are to enter at the very gates of heaven, to bring to the altar the water and wine which will become Our Lord's most Precious Blood, to assist the priest closely at every sacrifice of the Mass, to enjoy such proximity to God Himself, present upon the altar. The words of Jacob are perfect for the altar server in preparing to serve at Mass: Indeed the Lord is in this place. Let us never forget this profound truth; let us always treat the church and, more particularly, the sanctuary with the greatest reverence and respect. We have the privilege of entering into heaven while still on earth. We must never permit that scathing reproach of Our Lord to be applied to us:

My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves. (Mt 21:13)

Yet this respect and reverence for the house of God is impossible if we do not have the same attitude toward another of His dwelling places, namely our own soul. Since the Holy Trinity lives in us by grace, we can say that we are the temples of God, that we have the same sacred Presence within us as the holiest of churches. Thanks to the state of sanctifying grace, our soul shares in the most intimate life of God himself. Acknowledging that fact and living accordingly is of paramount importance if we are to grow in holiness and, consequently, be more worthy with each passing day to serve at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We consecrate churches to set them aside for the use of God, so why not consecrate all of our actions, thought, words, desires to Him as well? Why not render our soul a sacred dwelling place for the Blessed Trinity? The best preparation for serving is living a holy life, a life that reflects the reality of our soul in the state of grace. As such, it is our duty to make those words of Jacob our meditation each time we prepare to serve:

This is no other than the house of God and the gate of heaven. How terrible is this place!

St. Pius X, pray for us!