Written by: Cynthia Stewart
At other times the daily world gives way as the Catholic believer seeks out sacred space on a pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is a concept that has played a large role in Catholic history. Believers have traversed vast distances to kneel at the feet of Marian statues, place their hands into miraculous waters, walk the streets that Jesus once walked, or gaze toward the heavens inside those gorgeous cathedrals - all places, Catholics believe, where the divine has broken through the veil of everyday experience. People have gone on pilgrimage as penance for sin, to fulfill promises to God and for the joy of seeing the sacred spaces. Their reasons for going may differ but the result each believer desires is the same: that he or she will experience the presence of God and the blessings that flow from it more fully than is possible in the normal spaces of their everyday lives.
In the Catholic worldview, the desire to make space holy gives way theologically to the understanding that all of space is already holy. Made by God in the beginning of time, the earth was also the scene of God's incarnation in the person of Christ, and of his death that redeemed humanity. The cosmic drama that unfolded before the creation of the world is set in a mythic space, and while the actual cosmos does not figure into the Christian drama - no sacred narrative is set on Venus or Mars, for example - Catholics uphold the belief that God created the entire universe and everything existing within it. What is more, we are told in the beginning of Genesis that as God was creating this particular earth, "he saw that it was good." The creation that surrounds humans was created by God, appraised good by God, and further sacralized by God's physical presence as a human. For Catholics there is no nook or corner that one can find in all of creation that is not holy.
1. How is Catholic sacred space created through sensory perception?
2. Describe the relationship between cathedrals and parishes.
3. What is the role of relics in creating sacred space?
4. In what sense is all of space sacred?