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   /   Ministry & Liturgy - Volume 38 -2011   /   March Issue   /   Sacred Space



Mary Patricia Storms

  Spiritual elements: Making us and our world holy

My siblings and I knew what to expect at the start of meals at my grandparents’ table. My grandfather would begin the prayer, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” while we chimed in with Grandma’s “Holy Spirit.” As the Grace prayer ended and dishes began to be passed, she would gently scold him, “Things are changing.” While Grandpa spooned vegetables onto his plate, he’d nod at her, wink at us, and the next time we gathered for a meal, the routine would replay.

Other than an occasional singing of “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” I rarely hear the phrase “Holy Ghost,” but by whatever name, the Paraclete continues the work of sanctifying the world and the church.

Though the Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove hovering over the earth, your environment and art team might consider depicting the Spirit’s movement using earthly elements. The ancient Greeks surmised that all things are made from four basic elements: earth, wind, fire, and water. The relationship of the Holy Spirit with the world through these primary elements offers interesting options for infusing your liturgical space with evidence and images of the Spirit. From the first strains of Genesis, the Spirit is manifest in the world: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters” (Gn 1:1–2). Stories of the Spirit’s work continue throughout the Scriptures and in the Tradition of the church. Just as the Spirit awakened the earth, we too are stirred: “the Holy Spirit is the first to awaken faith in us and to communicate to us the new life, which is to “know the Father and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ (Jn 17:3)” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 684).

Beginning in the Easter season and continuing through Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, create a tableau rooted in the four elements to nudge the assembly’s attention toward the Spirit. With the blessing of the waters of the baptismal font prayed during the Easter Vigil, the Spirit gives life to all who claim kinship with Jesus and clearly connects the life-saving aspects of water with the spiritual aspect of human nature. Blessing ourselves with holy water as we enter the nave, we recall the saving grace of our own baptisms, giving us the right of entrance into the sacred mystery of Eucharist. Throughout the Easter season, link the water with the earth by festively marking the font with flowering plants or arrangements of fresh blooms and using fresh fronds of boxwood or other greenery for the sprinkling rite.

Hildegard of Bingen used the earth as a metaphor for the human person, saying, “The earth has a scaffold of trees and stones. A person is formed in the same way. Flesh is the earth. Bones are trees and stones.” The earth, created by God in love, sustains humans in life, providing all that we need to grow as the people God intends us to be. Sharing in the work of creation, the Spirit’s love is evident in blooming plants and fragrant and luxurious grasses, but it is perhaps best recognized in trees whose branches reach the sky and whose leaves quiver in the breeze. Bring tall, green, unfolding expanses of branches into your sanctuary, choosing slender limbs that will reach skyward, as close to your ceiling as possible. Anchor the boughs to the walls with fishing line running through discreetly placed eyehooks. Place the branches in water so that they remain limber and green, weighting the basins with stones to keep them from toppling. If life-sized branches seem unwieldy, prepare low-profile floral arrangements in which proportionately large branches may be placed.

Open windows and doors during liturgy to allow breezes to gently move the leaves and branches in your space. If the architecture of your building does not permit open windows, turn on your ceiling fans or other ventilation system to create a gentle breeze. If leaves and branches are just not feasible, hang ribbon streamers near air vents — the important thing is that the movement of the wind is observable. Wind chimes or bell trees used within the nave during processions evoke a sense of the mighty wind of the Holy Spirit moving through the assembly. Larger, louder wind chimes could be suspended in trees around the perimeter of the church; as the faithful gather, the sound serves as a cue to Spirit-filled prayer.

Reserve the final element — fire — for Pentecost. Magnify the symbol with larger-than-usual candles, hurricane glass placed over an increased number of candles, and mirrors placed under the candles to amplify the flames. Use flaming reds liberally in flower arrangements, fabric draping, ribbon streamers, and banners.

Using elements common to all moves the faithful toward personal and communal holiness. Hearing and seeing the Spirit working in the everyday facets of our world, our hope for holiness is renewed. As the Spirit moves in and through us, we grow aware that we, ordinary people, may become holy ourselves. ML

Mary Patricia Storms is chair of the theology department at Archbishop O'Hara School and confirmation coordinator for the parishes of St. John Francis Regis, Our Lady of Lourdes, and St. Bernadette's in Kansas City, Mo.

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