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Lessons on spirituality from the sacraments of the Middle Ages

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Following are a few key quotes from chapter 6 of Gerald Sittser’s Water from a Deep Well, Windows: The Spirituality of the Sacraments.

The medieval church was a sacramental church; the sacraments were the primary means by which believers came to know and experience God. 143

Sittser opens up his chapter talking about the Gothic buildings, saying that they “depict in material form the spiritual reality of heaven.” 142

Stained glass became the ideal symbol of the Gothic vision of reality because it is the one artistic medium that allows light to shine through it, which creates the conditions for luminosity.  Thus, if harmonious proportions manifested the perfect order of heaven, then luminosity reflected the light of God shining into the dark world of fallen humanity. 142

Gothic cathedrals were constructed to direct attention to the altar, the place where the sacraments . . . were administered to the believing community. 143

The cathedral  . . . provided the place and the sacraments the means by which God blessed his people with grace.   .  . Cathedrals were designed to convey the sacredness and power of the sacraments themselves.  They became like a holy ship that would carry believers to salvation.  143

As a result, “the faith of the Middle Ages became increasingly tangible and concrete, and thus accessible to people whose world teetered on the edge of chaos.” 144

The church used tangible things to lead people to the reality of the gospel . . . 144

Speaking about the two fundamental qualities of the Gothic cathedrals, Sittser applies them to believers today when he writes,

Harmonious proportion has to do with how we order our lives under God’s will and rule.  We put first things first, live according to proper priorities, channel our resources toward worthy ends, and hallow the world as God’s good creation.  Luminosity in turn has to do with how we let God’s light shine through us.  . . . We were created to be like stained glass windows, luminous and resplendent, manifesting the beauty and holiness and love of God. . . God calls us, as people redeemed by Christ, to reveal the divine glory to a fallen, desperate world. 161-2

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