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The church building is a privileged place to house the people of God. While the building itself is a church, all that the building contains makes up the actual living church on earth.
The church of OLA is built in a gothic style, incorporating traditional architecture while keeping with the teachings of Vatican II.
The highest point on the church's exterior is the cupola. While outside the church, going about our daily affairs, a momentary glance at the cupola can be a beautiful reminder that, directly beneath its tower is the altar, the most sacred place for the liturgical community gathered within. "A church with a roof or a tower higher than any other structure in the vicinity becomes a defining point for the community, with houses nestling in the shadow of their highest building" (Kieckhefer, 106).
The Garden of Memories was part of the exterior of the original church (the original garden was dedicated in 1991). It is designed to be a space for outside meditation and prayer. Engraved bricks cover the ground and memorialize loved ones, living and deceased and special occasions in the lives of parishioners. Trees and other plants also serve as memorials.
When you enter a Catholic church, you are not just entering a physical structure, but a spiritual process. The different elements making up the church's interior are not simply furnishings, but places of encounter with God and one another. The church liturgy involves movement, highlighting the journey aspect of the spiritual life. By moving from one space to another the idea of being "brought along" by God, of being called to further intimacy, becomes apparent.
In this church, the People of God gather together as a community to proclaim their faith. The inscription placed above the exterior portal: "My soul magnifies the Lord", recalls Mary's hymn of praise when she visited her cousin Elizabeth.
The entrance doors hold great symbolism for worshippers. They are a portal, a "secure, steady, symbol of Christ, 'the Good Shepherd' and 'the door through which those who follow Him enter and are safe (as they) go in and out.'" (Built of Living Stones #97)
Immediately within the front doors of the church, is the narthex. This lobby-like area is a place to gather, to welcome newcomers and to greet one another. The narthex allows church-goers to make the transition from the hectic world outside into the sacred space of the church.
A central position in the narthex is the gift table. The gifts of bread and wine are placed here until they are presented during the liturgy.
Turning back to face the portal door you will see two reliefs. Both of these marble reliefs, with gold-leaf mosaic, were a part of the original church built in the 1957. The relief to the left is of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To the right is a relief of our patroness, Our Lady of the Assumption. The narthex contains two other sacred objects that were in the original church. On the wall is the beautiful marble crucifix, which hung over the altar for decades. The other is the former altar, now being used as the catafalque.
Located directly beneath the crucifix, the catafalque holds a special place in funeral liturgies. The narthex can accommodate over 200 mourners and is therefore a suitable place to celebrate a wake service. The casket of a loved one may be placed on the catafalque during the visitation and wake preceding a funeral. The placement of the catafalque in the narthex exemplifies the belief regarding the relationship between the communities of the living and the dead.
The wooden book on the wall to the right of the catafalque contains the names of those parishioners and friends whose time, talent and treasure built this church.
The massive doors of life are flanked by sets of smaller doors through which parishioners enter the church. The ceremonial doors are only opened for the celebration of the sacraments (funerals, weddings, first Eucharist, etc.), on high Holy Days or during Holy Years. The bronze panels from the great doors are reproductions of the doors of the Basilica of St. Zeno Major, in Verona Italy. One of the most glorious masterpieces of Romanesque architecture, St. Zeno's was built in about 1120, but as a reconstruction of previous churches whose origins date back to the 4th or 5th centuries AD. Indeed, it was in the 3rd and 4th centuries that the town was converted to Christianity, enlightened by the teaching of the great Bishop, St. Zeno, to whom the Basilica was subsequently dedicated.
Decorating the OLA doors are caste bronze relief's illustrating stories from the Hebrew (OT) and Christian (NT) Scriptures, marking events in salvation history. The scenes on the side of the doors facing the narthex are The Expulsion from Eden, The First Works and Death of Abel, Noah's Dove, Abraham's Hospitality, The Sacrifice of Isaac, The Bronze Serpent, Jesse's Generations and Nebuchadnezzar. On the side of the door facing the interior of the church are The Annunciation, The Nativity with Shepherds and Three Kings, The Flight into Egypt, The Anointing, The Last Supper, The Crucifixion of Christ, The Descent into Limbo and the Glory of God.
After passing through the narthex you gain entrance into the baptistery. This sacred place serves as a metaphor for the baptismal identity of each of the believers.
The baptistery area has an octagonal form. The eight-sided design follows an ancient tradition dating back to the early Christian church in which the Resurrection was thought of as a new day of creation, an eighth day following the earlier seven days described in the Hebrew Testament.
The baptistery is placed at the main entrance of the church, and cannot be avoided by those who enter, reminding the faithful that baptism is frequently called the "first sacrament," the "door of the sacraments," and the "door of the church."
The font is located in the center of the baptistery. Its location and size is meant to illustrate the importance of baptism in the spiritual journey. "Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments" (CCC, #1213).
The ambry, the cupboard on the east wall, holds three holy oils. These oils represent the ministries of the church, which flow from our baptismal vocation. There are three different oils housed in the ambry: The Oil of the Infirm, the Oil of the Catechumens, and the Oil of Sacred Chrism. The sacred oils are blessed by the Bishop during the Holy Week Chrism Mass.
One other point on axis with the baptistery is the reconciliation room, located on the western side of the church and directly across from the ambry. When we fail to live up to our baptismal promises, we are separated from God through sin, and so the reconciliation room is in close proximity to the baptismal font as a reminder that though we are redeemed by baptism, we are in need of ongoing conversion and reconciliation.
The serpent door handles on the reconciliation room represent the roots of sin (Gen 3). The serpent is broken apart as we enter the place of reconciliation with God.
Leaving the Baptistery, you enter the nave, the main body of the church. The word "nave" comes from the Latin word "navis" which means, "ship."
A ship is a symbol for the Catholic Church. In a traditional Gothic church, the interior resembles the hull of a ship, the pilgrim church moving around the world. The ceiling, made of heavy beams and timbers, represents the hull.
Standing in the nave, it becomes apparent that the church is cruciform in shape, meaning that the floor plan is in the shape of a cross. This form symbolizes the Body of Christ. As you stand in the nave, you are on axis with the altar. The altar area can be seen as the head of the body. To either side of the altar are rows of pews that would be the "cross-beam" of the cross form. These areas are the transepts. Symbolically, they are the arms of Christ. The nave, which holds the assembly of believers, is the body of Christ joined to the head. The baptistery, on axis with the altar, graphs us to the body of Christ.
Leaving the Baptistery, you enter the nave, the main body of the church. The word "nave" comes from the Latin word "navis" which means, "ship."
The sanctuary area is located at the crossing of the nave and the transept. "The sanctuary is the space where the altar and ambo stand, and where the priest, deacon and other ministers exercise their offices" (Built of Living Stones, 22 and GIRM, #295). The predella, the raised platform placed in the sanctuary area, elevates the altar, ambo and chair of the priest celebrant, illustrating some of the ways in which the presence of Jesus is represented in liturgy. Other representations of Jesus during liturgy are the Eucharist itself and the assembly, the people of God.
The altar is the primary symbol of Jesus in the Eucharist. The word Eucharist is taken from the Greek word for thanksgiving. The Mass celebrated at the altar, then, is the highest act of thanksgiving for the gift of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection.
Masses offered by early Christians were celebrated in the follower's homes and would have likely used the free-standing wooden tables found in those common homes. During the Roman persecution of Christians, the church went underground, celebrating Mass in the catacombs. Altars were erected over the tombs of martyrs and loved ones. Most of these altars were fixed and made of stone.
Our altar uses both wood and stone, emphasizing the vast and dramatic history of the Mass. The tabletop, or mensa, is made of stone, indicating Christ as the living stone (1 Pt 2:4). The base of the altar contains a reliquary with a relic of Saint Peter Chanel (patron saint of the Marist order). The reliquary also contains the altar stone from the original church's altar. Keeping the relic of a martyr or saint under the altar is reminiscent of the early church's practice of erecting altars over tombs in the catacombs.
The Catholic Church teaches that the altar is Christ (Built of Living Stones, #56). The faithful exhibit reverence for the altar by bowing toward it when entering and leaving the church for liturgy or whenever they pass in front of it. The priest and deacon kiss the altar at the beginning and end of Mass. The community has erected but one altar, signifying to the faithful the one Christ and the one Eucharist of the church (GIRM, #303). "Since Christ, Head and Teacher, is the true altar, his members and disciples are also spiritual altars on which the sacrifice of a holy life is offered to God" (Rite of Dedication).
The hand-built ambo is designed to be both an object and a place. Like the altar, the ambo is a place of encounter with God. With the altar, the ambo is a central symbol in the liturgical act of worship. The ambo has a "tabletop" design to illustrate the close relationship between it and the Eucharistic alter. At Liturgy, the community is fed at the table of the Word and at the table of the Eucharist. "The General Introduction to the Lectionary recommends that the design of altar and ambo bear a 'harmonious and close relationship' to one another in order to emphasize the close relationship between word and Eucharist" (Built of Living Stones, #61).
The ambo is the place where the story of salvation is revealed to the community. When the assembly takes the Word of God to heart, the ambo becomes a catalyst for ongoing conversion.
From this place, the Word of God is proclaimed by lectors, cantors, deacons and priests. The Scriptures are interpreted here through homilies crafted on the Scripture readings. The ambo is two-sided, allowing for two readers or cantors and to display of the book of the Gospels.
The Scriptures proclaimed during Mass are arranged in a cycle of readings, found in a book called the Lectionary.
The lectionary collects the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures, arranging them in one volume to be used during the liturgy. Vatican II revised the collection of readings used during liturgy according to a three-year cycle. At Sunday Masses, a selection from the Hebrew Scriptures is proclaimed, a Psalm is read or sung, and a selection is proclaimed from one of the epistles. The Gospel is proclaimed from its own book (The Book of the Gospels). "Like the Torah in synagogue service, The Book of the Gospels is treated with respect. It is held aloft in procession and, like the altar, is kissed by the deacon or priest who reads from it" (Symbols and Images in Church, 19).
The chair for the priest celebrant is located on the predella and is given prominence because of the priest's role in liturgy. He presides over the assembly and directs prayer (GIRM, #310). When the priest presides at liturgy, he represents to the community the person of Christ and so his chair is distinguished from all others. The seat for the deacon is placed near that of the celebrant.
The tabernacle is located in the sanctuary on the western side of the predella. Tabernacle comes from the Latin word for tent. In the Hebrew Testament, the tabernacle was used as a portable shrine, accompanying the Israelites on their journey into the desert. In it, the Ark of the Covenant was placed. The Ark of the Covenant was a wooden chest containing the tablets of the laws of the ancient Israelites. While the exterior of the tabernacle is made of cherry wood, the interior of the tabernacle is lined with cedar wood, representing the Ark of the Covenant.
The Christian tabernacle and the Hebrew tabernacle both symbolize the presence of God among the people. When the Eucharist is housed in the tabernacle, we are reminded that we too are a wandering people, placing our trust in God as we journey through life.
The hand-forged iron spire mounted on the tabernacle parallels the spire placed on the top of the church. As the rooftop spire marks the sacred place of the altar, the tabernacle spire marks the sacred place of the reserved Eucharist.
The candle near the tabernacle, called the sanctuary lamp, burns continuously as a symbol of the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, housed in the tabernacle.
The crucifix is a central image of Christian belief, suggesting the Christian journey of passion, death and resurrection. There is a distinction to be made between the symbol of a cross and that of a crucifix. The crucifix is a cross with the corpus (the body of Jesus) affixed to it.
Our crucifix is suspended directly over the altar and is 12 feet tall. The base of the crucifix is shaped like an anchor, which is an early Christian symbol of hope. The figures at the base of the crucifix are Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John, the beloved disciple.
Above the crucifix is the spire or cupola, the marker, both interiorly and exteriorly, of the sacred place of the altar.
The four major corners of the sanctuary crossing are marked with anointing stones. Made of Imperial Red granite, these stones were anointed by the bishop during the dedication to signify the blessing of the entire building.
The four lamps near the anointing stones were lit as part of the dedication liturgy, helping to identify the sacred space of the sanctuary area. They are lit only on the anniversary date of the church's dedication.
In the nave are the festival lamps, candles lit during festal days throughout the church's seasons.
Several devotional places can be found in the ambulatory, the open corridor bordering the nave and transepts.
There are two side chapels, or shrines, defined by hand-forged iron grills. These chapels provide a place for private prayer and reflection.
The Chapel of St. Joseph, Protector of the Holy Family is off the east ambulatory. The elegant, hand-carved wood statue of Joseph holding the House of Nazareth (with the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus inside) is carved in the French Gothic style.
The Chapel of Mary, Seat of Wisdom is off the west ambulatory. She is depicted holding the Christ child. Each chapel contains two gothic votive candle trees. Votive candles, also referred to as vigil lights, are used by the faithful as a prayer offering. The word "votive" is derived from the Latin word "votum," which means "vow."
The fourteen marble and gold-leaf mosaic Stations of the Cross adorning the walls of the ambulatory hold special significance for the people of Our Lady of the Assumption. Since the 1950's, parishioners used these same stations to pray the "way of the cross."
In the early years of the Church, the faithful began to follow the footsteps that Christ walked from Pilate's house in Jerusalem to Calvary. This devotion began on the streets of the Holy Land, but 14th century pilgrims carried the practice home with them and it spread throughout the world.
The first station is located near the reconciliation room. They continue around the perimeter of the church. The final station, the fourteenth, is near the ambry.
STAINED GLASS WINDOWS
While the Stations of the Cross serve as a reminder of the passion and death of Jesus, the stained glass windows found along the walls of the nave and transepts call to mind the Mysteries of the Rosary. These twenty mysteries are significant events in the life of Jesus and Mary. They are a source of catechesis and devotion.
In the transepts, the windows depict the Joyful Mysteries and the Luminous Mysteries.
The east transept contains the Joyful Mysteries: The Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary, The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, The Nativity of Christ, The Presentation in the Temple and Finding Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem.
The Luminous Mysteries are in the west transept. Pope John Paul II gave them to the church. The mysteries depicted are The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, the Wedding at Cana, The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, The Transfiguration of Jesus and The Last Supper.
Found among the west transept windows are the coat of arms for Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Another window has the coat of arms for Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta, who dedicated the church on November 4, 2005. The symbol for the Year of the Eucharist (2004-2005) is included to commemorate the ecclesial year the church was dedicated.
Windows in the nave depict the Sorrowful Mysteries and the Glorious Mysteries.
The Sorrowful Mysteries include the following events: The Agony of Jesus in the Garden, Jesus Scourged at the Pillar, Jesus Crowned with Thorns, Jesus Carrying His Cross and the Crucifixion of Jesus.
The Glorious Mysteries are The Resurrection of Jesus, The Ascension of Jesus, The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, The Assumption of Mary into Heaven and The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.
There are three large, rose windows placed high on the walls at the end of the transepts and behind the sanctuary. They depict all of creation worshipping God, the Creator, using the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures as inspiration.
In the west transept The Song of Praise of the Cosmos depicts all nature praising and worshiping God - "Works of the Lord, Bless the Lord." All manner of creation - including animals, flowers, storms, a galaxy, a DNA strand and amoeba - surround a half moon/half sun.
In the east transept The Song of Praise of All the Peoples on Earth shows men, women and children of all races and nations singing their praise - "All You Nations Bless the Lord." They surround a circle with a chalice, grapes, bread and wheat - a symbol for us as we gather around the Eucharistic table.
In the window behind the altar, The Song of the Angels Around God's Throne, angels joyfully play instruments while singing in the heavenly liturgy "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts." They surround an eye encased in a triangle that is surrounded by rays of light, a symbol of the All-Seeing God.
Directly behind the predella, is the choir space. The space is defined by a rood screen made of wood and forged iron . The location of the choir is intended to express that the music ministers are not separate from the worshippers, but an important part of the assembly.
Sacristies are places where the special objects used to facilitate liturgical prayer are stored, prepared and maintained. Our church has two sacristy areas; a working sacristy and a vesting sacristy.
Adjacent to the choir is the working sacristy where ministers called sacristans assist the clergy in preparing for the Mass. This is the room where the books, vessels, linens, candles and other liturgical appointments are stored. The close proximity to the altar contributes to the smooth function of the liturgy.
There is a sacrarium, located in each sacristy. A sacrarium is "the special sink used for the reverent disposal of sacred substances. The sink has a cover, a basin and a special pipe that drains directly into the earth, rather than into the sewer system. After Mass, when the vessels are rinsed and cleansed, the water is poured into the sacrarium so that any remaining particles will.go directly into the earth..The sacrarium can also be used to discard the old baptismal water, leftover ashes, and the previous year's oils, if they are not burned" (Built of Living Stones, #236). This is done so that sacred and holy substances are returned to the earth, and not disposed of without care.
The vesting sacristy is located off the narthex of the church, near the main entrance to the building. The liturgical vestments are stored in this room. The processional cross and candles are also stored in the vesting sacristy.
The vesting sacristy is located near the main entrance so that the "entrance procession can proceed directly from the sacristy to the gathering space and down the aisle to the altar" (Built of Living Stones, #234).
The Daily Chapel, located off the west side of the ambulatory, creates an intimate and sacred place where individuals or small groups can gather for weekday Mass, special celebrations and private prayer.
The solid oak seating is arranged in a monastic choir style, placing the altar in the center of the space.
The book of intentions is kept in the daily chapel. In the book, people may write prayer requests