PART 3 - THE CHOIR OF THE CHURCH
SANCTUARY LAMP OR ETERNAL LAMP
Grandpa: Tell me kids, do you see this candle lit inside a red globe very high above the choir?
Delphine: Yes grandpa.
Grandpa: And what does this candle represent?
Delphine: I believe that the light of a candle represents the light of God, which lights up humanity. I also believe that the flame suggests prayers that go up to God?
Grandpa: You're right Delphine, but this lamp also tells us something else. This lamp burns at all time this is why it is called the sanctuary lamp or eternal lamp, and when it is lit it indicates the presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated hosts contained in the tabernacle. The use of an eternal lamp is a borrowing from Judaism. This Christian tradition of placing such a lamp in a church began in the sixth century.
Guillaume: So this lamp is really always lit?
Grandpa: Guillaume, you are sneaky. It is true that during Holy Week and more precisely from Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion of Christ to Easter Sunday, the day of his resurrection, the lamp is extinguished, indicating that there are no consecrated hosts in the tabernacle.
Grandpa: Earlier I told you that during the funeral, the coffin was incensed. I’d like to talk to you about this incense product and how the church uses it. For starters, have you ever noticed that generally it smells good when you enter a church?
Guillaume: Yes, it smells like candles and incense.
Grandpa: Well let's talk about incense. Frankincense is a resin, an aromatic gum from trees found in the Middle East. The trunks of those trees are notched in order to let escape the resin, which will harden on contact with air. Frankincense has always had an importance in religions. The Egyptians made great use of incense to perfume. The ancient Greeks and Romans also used incense in their religious cults. For Judaism incense is sacred and is reserved for the Lord, therefore for God. To read about it one would think that the Gods very much loved and still love the smell of incense. It is not surprising to discover that the use of incense was associated, from the very beginning, with different rites of the Catholic Church. So what does incense represent? Well when you burn incense, it gives off smoke. This smoke represents prayer, purification and the ascent to heaven. This is why the incense is used during the mass to purify various elements used but also during funeral ceremonies to incense the coffin or the urn containing the ashes in order to represent by this odorous and pleasant smoke the prayer, but also the rise of the soul of the deceased to heaven, to a better world. I brought some pictures of a thurible used to incense and of an incense boat, which is a small urn in which incense is kept.
Grandpa: Kids, you have certainly seen priests dressed in their vestments to celebrate Mass, have you not?
Delphine: Yes grandpa and I noticed that the jacket they wear is not always the same color.
Grandpa: This is exactly where I wanted to go. Well, a priest to prepare to celebrate Mass wears what is called vestments. He usually wears an alb, which is a long white tunic with sleeves. During the celebration of Mass, he also wears a chasuble, which is a two-sided garment that can be put on by passing the head through a slit in the center of the garment. The priest then lets it hang in front and behind. The priest then puts on a stole which is a wide band of material worn around the neck and hanging in front of the body. I brought some pictures so you can see them all.
Grandpa: So much for clothes worn during mass. But what of the colours?
Guillaume: I have already seen priests dressed in purple.
Grandpa: It's true Guillaume, you're right. There have been over time several vestment colors including green, white, red, black, gold, blue, gray, purple, brown, pink, yellow and purple and each of these colors has inherited a specific meaning and a specific time for wearing a chasuble of these colors. Over time many colors have fallen into oblivion. This is the case of black which was worn for funeral offices and for Good Friday. In past time, yellow could replace all colors except black. Blue was worn in Spain and Latin America for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Finally, gray was worn in France on Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, which marks the start of Lent. Today, the Catholic Church has adopted the following colors: green, white, red, pink and purple. Throughout the year, the color of the vestment worn by the priest changes according to a precise liturgical calendar called the liturgical year. As an example, green is worn most of the year, you could say in ordinary time. White is worn during special celebrations such as Christmas or Easter. Red is worn during Palm Sunday and Pentecost, pink is worn on the 3rd Sunday of Advent and the 4th Sunday of Lent and finally, purple is worn during moments of penance that is to say during preparations in anticipation of the Christmas feast called Advent time. Purple is also worn during the moment of penance before Easter, that is to say the time of Lent. Look at the image I have on my phone, you will be able to see precisely what color the priest would be wearing.