Last week while giving a retreat to middle school students, I had them bring a notepad and pencil into the chapel. After some quiet and prayer, I asked them to notice everything in the chapel and to draw it, be it candles, stained glass, air conditioning vent, pews, etc.
They LOVED it!
Such a simple exercise was an effective way of teaching them the Sacramental View of Reality. Every single object, image, and design in a chapel or church is meant to awaken our senses and to get us in touch with the eternal. St. John Paul knew that matter mattered, particularly the BODY. These children were making sense of their sensing the senses; in other words, what we see, taste, hear, feel, and smell at Mass is to “pluck us by the sleeve” (Thomas Howard) to awaken in us the sense for the supernatural… through the natural.
That then ought to lead us to reverence. The “smells and bells” of our liturgy are meant to guide our senses to something beyond ourselves, to a transcendent reality, which can only be encountered rightly through a disposition of reverence.
In The Body Matters, two of our books—The BODY and Holy Mass (Level 2, Book 2), and The BODY and Reverence (Level 3, Book 2) —focus on helping children to be in touch with this fundamental sacramental reality. In The BODY and Holy Mass, we help them to realize what each thing they see in church is meant to convey.
In The BODY and Reverence, we speak of reverence as wonder + awe. Wonder—quickened by our senses—draws us closer to God, while at the same time, awe—also quickened by our senses—keeps us at a respectful distance.
One of my Lenten resolutions is to become more aware of my senses, especially at Mass, and to allow myself proper reverence… which then ought to lead me to reverence those around me, especially by practicing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
May you, too, be attuned to your senses this Lent, and in a special way, thereby be drawn to our Heavenly Father.
Monica Ashour, MTS; MHum is President, Author, International Speaker, and Content Creation Director at Theology of the Body Evangelization Team, Inc. (TOBET)