Dear Community of St. Bernard,
Have you noticed the restoration in the floor of the sanctuary and the main aisle? It stands out, doesn’t it? And we hope to do the other aisles too. The expression ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ is not literally in the Bible. Among the Israelites, being ‘unclean’ described someone or something apart from the holiness and purity which is of God. In 1605, Sir Francis Bacon refers to ‘cleanness of body’ as a fruit or result of ‘reverence to God’. Two centuries later, the spiritual revivalist John Wesley stated in a sermon “cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness” to make the point that being sloppy or untidy isn’t very religious.
All that said, it wasn’t about ‘cleanliness’ that led St. Bernard pastor, Fr. John Broun (1834-1915), and his parishioners in 1905 to install in this church a gleaming marble floor that one could eat off of!!
Why not a wood floor, or carpeting, or a rug throughout the church? Well, I think they wanted to tell us something; and to make a Biblical statement!
In your Bible you find people encountering God. On Mount Sinai Moses sees God, eats and drinks. Prophets, like Ezekiel, describe their visions of God’s dwelling in Heaven in metaphorical language. St. John the Apostle, in the Book of Revelation, reveals similar visions of Heaven. And what do they all talk about: the FLOOR! Yes, the sparkling condition of Heaven’s floor. Here’s what they say: (bold emphasis is mine)
MOSES – “…and they beheld the God of Israel. Under his feet there appeared to be sapphire tile work, as clear as the sky itself…after gazing on God, they could still eat and drink.” (Exodus 24:9,10)
EZEKIEL – “the heavens opened, and I saw divine visions”. Ezekiel speaks of the firmament, a firm vast expanse, “seeming like glittering crystal“ and above the firmament was a sapphire-like throne on which sat “one who had the appearance of a man” (Jesus?). (Ezekiel 1:22, 26)
- JOHN – In Chapter 4 of the Book of Revelation (the last book in the Bible), St. John tells of seeing the door of heaven open. Similar to Ezekiel’s vision, there is ‘One seated on a throne’ and “the floor around the throne was like a sea of glass that was crystal clear” (v.6)
Also, in Revelation 15:1-3 – St. John writes, “I saw in heaven… something like a sea of glass mingled with fire. On the sea of glass were standing those who had won the victory over the beast and its image…they were holding the harps used in worship of God, and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb”.
After all these decades it’s good to have a clean floor in our church (thanks to the Knights of Columbus, so far). And, more so, it’s great to have the sanctuary floor and aisle(s) of the church restored to their original metaphor: Heaven’s floor!
At Easter a number of people noticed something different about the floors and marveled at how they are like “a sheet of glass”. Some walked slowly down the aisle wondering if the floor was wet with water, as like – ‘a sea’, perhaps?
What we do in this consecrated building are the things of Heaven. We come from the outside world and enter a spiritual one. That’s the purpose of gleaming floors; metaphorically speaking – to imagine that Day when you and I will “stand before [God], Saints among the Saints in the halls of heaven” and before the Lamb on His throne, victorious over the beast and his image, death! Imagine that Day! Hope for it! Pray for it! That, I believe, is what the St. Bernard Catholics of 1905 wanted us to hope for in 2015. May they see God!
And may I add…? Decades ago there was a greater awareness that we aren’t in Heaven yet. The gleaming aisles of a church, where people stood and prayed, were a symbol that we share in the vision of Heaven. We can peer into it and see Jesus on His throne in the Eucharist, but we aren’t totally there. Back then, a church sanctuary was completely off limits to traffic. People just didn’t presume to enter the sanctuary unless absolutely necessary; it is sacred space where sacred mysteries occur (such as, the Consecration of bread and wine). Sadly, we’ve lost in our culture somewhat an awe and sensitivity for what is to be held sacred today.
With time and effort, I hope we can restore, more than the floor – restore a respect for sacred areas; and the sanctuary is one. We’re not going to rope it off or put back rails. In churches with an open sanctuary like ours, they post signs in clear view on the sanctuary steps after Mass – “Do Not Enter” – to show reverence and prevent damage. We won’t do that unless it becomes necessary.
So, please take all the pictures you like, but kindly do so from the lower steps. Come to the priest sacristy whenever, but enter through the alcove door by St. Mary altar (it’ll be open). Remember: Heaven has no shortcuts! I welcome your comments. Blessings, Fr. Dan