Sanctuary Virtual TourSt. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church • Grapevine, TX
As part of phase one of the Our Faith, Our Family, Our Future Capital Campaign, St. Francis of Assisi revealed a newly renovated sanctuary, complete with a newly dedicated altar, on September 1, 2019.
We believe that everything in a church is designed to put us into contact with God and draw us deeper into prayer and worship. With that in mind, our staff at St. Francis of Assisi have put together a virtual tour of the sanctuary, which goes deeper into the theology and meaning behind a number of changes to the space.
INTRO TO CHURCH ARCHITECTURE
“I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” – Psalm 122:1
What makes a Church different than other kinds of buildings? Why do sacred buildings – regardless of faith tradition, but particularly within the Catholic tradition – look different than secular buildings?
There’s a saying in the Catholic Church – lex orandi, lex credendi – the law of prayer is the law of belief. In other words, the Church believes what it prays and prays what it believes. Our prayer, from the words to the actions and even the external trappings and ornamentations, all express our belief. Everything in a Church is designed to put us into contact with God and draw us deeper into prayer and worship. When we step into a Church, we are stepping into the house of God and experiencing a foretaste of life in Heaven. Everything in a Catholic Church is meant to direct our hearts and minds towards that reality. Churches look and feel different than secular buildings because of the sacredness of what happens within them.
Church architecture is meant to inform our worship – the design of the visible, physical building helps us to understand the invisible, spiritual realities going on around us. If you know how to “read the signs” of Sacred Architecture, it can vastly deepen our understanding of what is being prayed, and thus what is believed.
NARTHEX VS. NAVE
The first you’ll notice when you walk into just about any Catholic Church is that you don’t walk into the room where the Mass happens, called the Nave, first; you walk first into the Narthex. The word “narthex” comes from a Greek word meaning “giant funnel”. Our main Narthex (on the southeast side of the Church, facing DFW airport) is even shaped like a funnel, with the wide “mouth” at the southeast glass doors tapering down to the “spout” at the doors to the Nave at the back of the Church. It is meant to be a place where the faithful gather and prepare to enter the Nave for mass. The Narthex, meant to be a more social gathering space, also serves as a physical connection between the outside world and the sacred worship space, called the Nave. Our Narthex now features a beautiful shrine with statues of St. Francis, St. Clare, and St. Padre Pio, and the sculpture of the Resurrected Jesus, which was behind the altar of our sanctuary before the renovation.
When we enter the Narthex from outside, we should begin preparing our hearts and minds to enter the most sacred part of our week and the holiest place on the planet, where Heaven and Earth meet in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, called the Nave. The word “nave” comes from a Latin word meaning “ship”, calling to mind, among other things, the Ark of Noah being a refuge from the floods and storms of the world around them, and the inner hold of the fishing boat where Peter found Jesus asleep during the storm at sea. The Nave, for us, represents the Church, our spiritual Mother and the vessel which safely guides us to our true home, the Kingdom of Heaven. The Nave should be treated as a place of quiet, prayerful reverence; out of respect and reverence to this prayerful space, and to give your brothers and sisters in Christ a place to pray and encounter Jesus in peace, conversations should be held outside of the Nave.
DESIGN & ART
In the earthly Liturgy, the Church participates, by a foretaste, in that heavenly Liturgy… By venerating the memory of the Saints, she hopes one day to have some part and fellowship with them. Thus, images of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Saints, in accordance with the Church’s most ancient tradition, should be displayed for veneration by the faithful in sacred buildings and should be arranged so as to usher the faithful toward the mysteries of faith celebrated there. – General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 318
In the Franciscan tradition, members of the Franciscan community – friars, nuns, and lay people – strive to imitate Jesus the way that St. Francis of Assisi did, taking a note from St. Paul who said “be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1st Corinthians 11:1). In our renovations here at St. Francis, we wanted to lean into that Franciscan tradition. That’s why our sanctuary features events from the life of St. Francis so prominently; meditating on the life of St. Francis is meant to help us be better disciples of Jesus.
The new paintings are by Fr. Peter W. Gray of the Sulpician Order in Maryland.
Francis with Dominic
The image on the left depicts St. Francis meeting St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, otherwise known as the Dominicans. Francis and Dominic were contemporaries and encouraged each other in their ministries. Above this mural, the Latin transcription “Pax et Bonum” translates to “peace and all goodness”, a traditional Franciscan greeting dating back to the time of St. Francis himself.
Francis with Christ Crucified
The middle image in the sanctuary depicts St. Francis embracing the Crucified Christ, which is central to Francis’s spirituality of continual conversion, penance, and closeness to Jesus. The Latin inscription above the altar, “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis” translates to “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us”, which, originally said by St. John the Baptist, is what is also said by the priest when he elevates the Eucharist during the Mass (please note, this inscription is yet to be installed).
Francis with Clare
The image on the right depicts St. Francis receiving St. Clare into the Franciscan community and thus the beginning of the first women’s community of Franciscan Sisters, the Poor Clares, a cloistered community dedicated to prayer and penance. Above this mural, the Latin transcription “Amare et Serve” translates to “to love and to serve”, which was the motto of the Poor Clares.
Wood carvings were created by the Albl family from Oberramergau, Germany who come from a long line of wood carvers spanning the last 400 years.
Floor Mosaic & Altar Sculptures
Sanctuaries throughout the history of the Church were typically adorned in rich color. Red, as in our sanctuary, is a symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit, charity, and spiritual renewal. The seal of the Franciscan Order, also in our parish logo, is found in the floor in the front of the main aisle symbolizes the unity of Christ and his people, exemplified in St. Francis of Assisi.
The Sculpture above the Tabernacle depicts God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.
OLD MEETS NEW
Stations of the Cross
The Stations, from the original church building of St. Francis in Grapevine, have been reintroduced to the Nave of the Church with a new red background that brings the red of the Sanctuary out into the rest of the room. Images of the Passion of Jesus remind us that every time we come to Mass, we are not only mystically present at the Last Supper, but also we are Mystically present at the foot of the Cross on Calvary where our salvation was won for us.
The baptismal font, which remains just to the right of the altar, is a sacred space where original sin is washed away and we become adopted back into the family of God. Every time we walk by a baptismal font, or any holy water font for that matter, we should bless ourselves and be reminded of our own baptism, the source of the Divine Life within us.
Stained glass windows can be seen at the back of the Church and in the Chapel. in addition to beautifying the church, they serve a deeper purpose. Their gem-like radiance reminds us that when we step into a Church we step into the Holy of Holies, the throne room of Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, illuminated by Christ himself, the Light of the World. Stained glass windows from the original mission church are in the Parish Hall to bring forward our past.
As part of the renovation, two confessionals were added in the Chapel at the back of the Church. This is the first time since we moved to our new Church building in the 1980s that we have had proper confessionals at St. Francis of Assisi. They feature beautiful screens so that penitents can choose to go face-to-face or privately, and their presence in the Chapel allows for those in line to spend time in prayer and examining their consciences before confessing.
There seems to be a connection throughout human history between elevated places and encounters with God. Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, David and Solomon build the Temple on the mountain in Jerusalem, and both the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion of Jesus happen on a mountain. When we come to worship at Mass, the altar is typically in an elevated place, meant to symbolize humanity drawing near to God, and God drawing near to humanity. In our newly renovated sanctuary, we replaced the steps so that they would be not only safer to walk up and down, but also so that the altar has its own elevated platform, further emphasizing the sacredness of the encounter which happens there. The ambo is on a step below the altar to emphasize the primacy and centrality of the Eucharistic celebration.
The Altar is where Heaven meets Earth every time the Mass is offered. Upon this sacred table mere bread and wine, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the words of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper said by the priest, are literally changed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, whose “flesh is true food and blood is true drink” (John 6:55). St. John Chrysostom, in the year 391 AD, proclaims that we must “reverence now, oh reverence, this table of which we are all partakers!”
In keeping with the Franciscan tradition, the new altar was modeled after the altar at the Upper Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, as was the Ambo, where the priest or deacon reads the Gospel and proclaims the homily. The mosaics on the altar and ambo are traditional 12th and 13th century liturgical design.
In honor of the ancient tradition of the Mass being celebrated in the roman catacombs over the tombs of the martyrs and as is customary in Catholic altars, our altar contains a 1st class relic of St. Justin Martyr from the 2nd Century. The altar also contains a relic of Pope St. Pius X (1835 – 1914) and St. Anthony of Padua (1195 – 1231), who was received into the Franciscan Order during the lifetime of St. Francis of Assisi.
The additional step elevates the altar and the Eucharist as the height of the liturgy.
The word “tabernacle” comes from the Latin word meaning “tent” or “dwelling”, because within this golden vessel Jesus Christ, really and truly fully present in the Eucharist, “makes his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The red sanctuary candle reminds us of Jesus’ presence within the tabernacle.
In the renovations of our sanctuary here at St. Francis, our tabernacle was moved to a central place in the sanctuary to remind us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith (Lumen Gentium 11) and our spiritual lives and deserves a central place in our worship. Our new tabernacle was originally commissioned by Cardinal Krol, the Archbishop of Philidelphia, in the 1950’s.
RECOMMENDED READING, ETC.
The Sacred that Surrounds Us: How Everything in a Catholic Church Points to Heaven by Andrea Zachman (Ascension Press)
Heaven in Stone and Glass: Experiencing the Spirituality of the Great Cathedrals by Bishop Robert Barron (The Crossroads Publishing Company)