Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Worshiping in God’s Time

June 3rd, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

It was once easy identifying a Catholic church. The interior was rich in art: paintings, sculpture, and decorative symbolism; lots of imagery. Orthodox churches also had –still have– their distinctive formalized interiors rich in imagery. Protestant churches, especially those descended from Calvinism, were just the opposite: plain, bare, and functional for the most part, not necessarily unattractive but carefully devoid of anything looking “Catholic”. The contrast between Protestantism and Catholicism is often abbreviated by contrasting the plain cross of Protestantism with the crucifix of Catholicism.

It’s not so easy to identify Catholic churches anymore as most newly constructed or renovated Catholic churches have lost what I believe is a most important aspect of Catholic faith and practice –the emphasis on God’s time.

The plain cross and contrasting crucifix do effectively summarize the contrast between Protestantism and Catholicism. To Protestants the plain cross is a proclamation that the crucifixion happened. The debt was paid. The corpus is not upon the cross because the Savior rose from the dead and ascended back to the Father. He is no longer… well, here. All of redemption/salvation is viewed in terms of man’s time: past, present, future. For the most part it’s all past.

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The crucifix brings us to the foot of the cross and places us in God’s eternal present.

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Catholic (and Orthodox) time has always been about God’s time, the eternal ‘present’. Yes, there is historical time but it is celebrated and experienced as present through the sacraments and liturgy of the Church. In God’s time –in the sacraments which Jesus gave us- there is no separation in time and no separation between physical and spiritual. The sacrifice of the cross in Catholic understanding is (eternally ‘present’) “once and for all” which is different from the Protestant understanding of the sacrifice of the cross as “once (was once) and for all”. These are not mutually exclusive theologically interpretations, of course, they overlap but the emphasis in each is not insignificant to the influence on worshipers.

Catholic churches have traditionally and rightfully been filled with imagery that makes eternally ‘present’ the biblical history of redemption and salvation. It has also placed us in the presence of the saints and angels.

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While there has always been didactic value to Christian liturgical art, it has also made eternally ‘present’ to worshipers all of redemption and salvation history: past, present, future.

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God’s time is often suggested in Liturgical art by treating the content with elaborate or decorative trim. The content is often presented outside of man’s time with personages and events from different historical periods appearing simultaneously.

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Here, first century biblical personages from salvation history are depicted wearing contemporary 15th century clothes from Northern Germany. And, there are heavenly gold skies instead of earthly blue ones. Each panel is framed in lacy gold three dimensional trim suggestive of heaven. There is past, present and future rolled into one eternal ‘present’.

Liturgical art is sacramental art. It predisposes us to receive the graces dispensed to us in the sacraments and most especially in the Eucharist. It helps us to be more than mere readers of a legal document issued two thousand years ago. It makes us participants in the reality of our redemption.

Oh, that our Catholic churches would rediscover this most important aspect of our faith and worship. Will we ever return to adorning our churches with great art?


(1) Side altar crucifix in St. Peter am Perlach, Augsburg, Germany

(2) The high altar, also called the Twelve Apostles Altar, in St. Jakob’s Church is considered to be one of the finest in all of Germany. Its construction in 1446 was financed by a grant from Rothenburg’s greatest mayor, Heinrich Toppler, who died in 1408. The paintings on the side panels were done by Friedrich Herlin. St. Jakob’s (James’) is actually a Lutheran church.



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