The statues of the saints seemed to come to life, lit only by candles. It was our first Rorate Mass, held last Advent, and the church was adorned with candles (no electric light) in honor of Our Lady. The interplay of light and darkness echoed the anticipation of Advent as we awaited the Light of the World to dispel the darkness of sin.
It is moments like these that remind me of the many ways technology reshapes not just our physical surroundings, but our psychological experience as well. My 6-year-old son was haunted by the predawn Rorate Mass. The normally staid facial expressions on the statues seemed to change with each flicker of the candlelight. It was a healthy fear, I think, one borne of encountering something ancient and mysterious.
How many times can we say that we have this experience in our everyday lives? Or in the liturgy for that matter? I would venture to say that those occasions are rare, but precious. And some of that has to do with our tendency to examine everything strictly under the light of reason.
I could have told my son not to worry, that the shifting statues were just an illusion. His eyes were just unable to focus properly under such low light. And this would have been absolutely true, in the rational sense.
But wasn’t there another truth at work in the church that day? One that transcended the light of reason and yet did not violate it. It was true that the Light of the World was mere days away from entering the world through Mary, and that the candlelit ritual was a sign of his imminent arrival.
The interplay of light and darkness in the church that day provided a cosmic commentary on the primordial tension between good and evil. The fact that the statues seemed to come to life under those primitive conditions illuminated the reality that Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, is the one who gives light and life to otherwise dark and lifeless creatures.
Now I could teach my son these ideas by reading him the Gospel or telling him the story of salvation. But I couldn’t create the conditions that brought that stunning reality to life on my own. Only the church can do that. In her tradition, her wisdom and her liturgical patrimony lies an experience that transcends our rational and technological efforts to illuminate reality.
Next time you are on a screen (like right now perhaps), consider the source of light, both physical and spiritual. Screens shine on us from without, delivering all sorts of information and knowledge. As Catholics, our baptism ignites a light from within that brings us to a glow when we are living in accord with God’s will. That is the light that the world needs to see, the one that the darkness cannot comprehend.
Robinson is director of communications and Catholic media studies at the University of Notre Dame McGrath Institute for Church Life.
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