In the upper side windows (two above the Reconciliation room and the Sacred Heart shrine, and two on the opposite wall) we see the symbols of the four Evangelists (Gospel Writers). These images are related to accounts contained in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (1:1-21), the Book of Revelation (4:6-8) and the writings of Saint Irenaeus.
Matthew, shown as a winged man, begins his Gospel with Jesus’ family tree, His Incarnation and Birth (Mt:1&2).
Mark, depicted as a winged lion, begins his Gospel, quoting the Prophet Isaiah and telling of the last of the Prophets, Saint John the Baptist, ‘…the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord…’.
Luke is represented by a winged ox. Animals featured prominently in Old Testament Sacrifices, but would be superseded in the New Testament by the Once-for-All Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Luke’s Gospel begins with an Angel telling the aged and childless Zechariah of the forthcoming birth of his son, Saint John the Baptist (Lk:1).
John appears as an eagle. His Gospel begins at the Source of all things: the one God in Three Divine persons.
For further explanation of the symbolism, see HERE, and also, for a far more detailed insight, see the article by Father William Saunders in Catholic Exchange.
This eight-part ‘tour’, has, of course, merely ‘scratched the surface’ of the treasury of knowledge. How much of this treasury do we know? Visual symbols provide a simple, yet vital, resource in leading our children and indeed ourselves to a deeper understanding and practice of the Faith, and in keeping young ones focussed on the Mass until they can use Mass books. We are all, even the ‘not so young’, prone to distractions and may sometimes, forget why we have come into church. There is much here that can draw us back into contemplation of our Faith. Literate as we are, there is much to be said for the simpler, more visual, aids to contemplation, which, independent of language, can be understood by all, according to their ability. They graphically demonstrate our equality before our Creator.
Of course, whatever the Evangelists recorded for their widely differing Converts, there is one figure who, chosen by God, is a pivotal figure in all accounts of our Salvation, namely our Blessed Lady, whose, “…Let it be done to me according to your word…” (her “Yes!” to God; in Latin, her “fiat”), opened the way for the Incarnation. Although we can certainly pray directly to Our Lord, we may be familiar with the expression, “To Jesus through Mary”. As far as we know, at every one of her appearances on earth, Mary has called on her hearers to, “Pray the Rosary”.
With our Catholic Faith under constant threat, we are reassured by Christ’s words to St Peter, “...on this rock I shall build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.”. (Mt16: 18-19). However, we must not be complacent. Jesus gave us the paradigm of prayer throughout His life, including His great gift to us of the Our Father, an integral part of that powerful prayer, the Holy Rosary, given to us via St Dominic.
To the right of the side-door is Saint Francis of Assisi, (‘il Poverello’ or ‘the Little Poor Man’), another Saint marked with the Stigmata, who renounced wealth and privilege for a simple life totally centred on and reliant upon God, thereby founding the Franciscan Order, in Italy. At the back of the church, to the left, is Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a French Carmelite Nun, often called ‘The Little Flower’ (Although not a timid Soul!!). Through her ‘Little Way’ she shows us how every life, however ‘insignificant’ anyone may consider it, can be lived for and offered to God; not one of us, unless we choose, can fail to get to Heaven; each of us, as Saint Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, also taught, is called by God to be holy, doing what we can whenever and wherever God calls us to be. This Universal Call to Holiness was later, again, proclaimed by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
Across the church, near to the Confessional, is Saint Anthony of Padua, a monk born in Portugal who died in Italy, often referred to as ‘the Wonder-worker’ and often prayed to when things go missing.
When you go to Confession you will see, in the Reconciliation Room, statues of Saint Anne with her little Daughter, Our Lady and The Infant Jesus of Prague (from the Czech Republic). Prior to the re-ordering of our church, this area was, as some may remember, the site of the Baptistery, hence the stained glass window, seen to one’s right as one enters the room, depicting the Baptism of the Lord by Saint John the Baptist, a very appropriate image when we consider that, through Confession, Grace first received in Baptism is increased or even restored. Why not research a Saint or a particular devotion to Our Lord or Our Lady originating in the Country in which you may have Roots! Our Parish is truly blessed through the many Races and Cultures which contribute to our thriving Community! “Catholic”, after all, means “Universal”, i.e. for all People / Races / Nations!
Before arriving at the Blessed-Sacrament Altar we may light a ‘candle’ at the Sacred Heart Shrine (a candle was first lit for us at our Baptism), a sign of the Light of Christ in our Souls); this statue, revealed by Our Lord to Saint Margaret-Mary Alacoque, shows His Heart pierced by the spear and Crowned with Thorns, recalling the intense Love for us which drove Him to Suffer and Die on the Cross. He asked Saint Margaret-Mary to spread devotion to His Heart, so saving the souls of many who had once doubted or even rejected his Love. At Christmas we see displayed here, for our veneration, the Nativity scene while, over the side-door opposite, the Three Kings journey towards Bethlehem for the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, when Christ was revealed as Saviour of the World’s Peoples.
The pair of doors with a Cross and light above them next to the Sacred Heart Shrine are entrances to another small private room where, if there are several priests available, confessions may also be heard.
Near to the Blessed Sacrament Altar is Saint Patrick, Missionary to and Patron Saint of Ireland, ever listening for prayers for that Land where so many of us have our Roots. Also, spaced round the wall of the church you will see 12 candles and 12 crosses. These signify the Twelve Apostles who Jesus called to be the first Priests and Bishops of the Catholic Church. These crosses mark the places anointed by the Archbishop with Chrism (Holy oil) when he consecrated (specially dedicated or gave) our church to God’s Service. We, too, were anointed with this Holy Oil at our Baptism and, later, at our Confirmation. These candles will be lighted on certain occasions such as the Anniversary of the dedication (naming) of the Church by our Archbishop, at the Easter Vigil, representing the Risen Christ, and at Midnight and Christmas Day Masses, representing Christ, the Light of the World who helps us ‘see’ the way to Heaven. Looking away from the High-Altar, up towards the choir-gallery, we see the circular (rose) window, depicting Christ the King (part of this image is also on our Parish Website), Whose Feast brings to a close each Liturgical Year.
Close to the Font is the Paschal (Easter) Candle which represents the Risen Christ, the Beginning and End of all things, denoted by the Greek letters alpha (A) and omega (Ω), with five grains of incense standing for His Five Glorious Wounds in His Hands, Feet and Side, and from which our Baptismal Candle is lit as our Parents, with the support of our Godparents, promise to “…keep the Light of Christ burning…”, i.e. to bring us up, through word and example, as Practising Catholics. Just as it is lighted as we begin our Faith Journey, it will shine out on the day of our Requiem Mass, as our Brothers and Sisters in Christ pray that we are now sharing in His Resurrection in Heaven.
Over the rear door is Saint Joseph, the ‘Spouse most Chaste’ of Our Blessed Mother and Foster-Father of our Redeemer and in the opposite corner, Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr, Patron Saint of our Parish. In this Chapel are three stained glass windows: they depict the Gospel, spread by Saint Bartholomew, Our Lord, the Sacrificial Lamb and St. Joseph, Jesus' Foster-Father, represented by woodworking tools.
In the larger part of the church, to the right of the High-Altar, is Our Lady’s Altar, reminding us that, by her ‘Yes’ to the Archangel Gabriel, Mary made possible God’s Plan for our Salvation by conceiving and carrying in her Womb the Child who was to grow to adulthood, found the Church, offer His Life for us 33 years later and come to us personally every time we receive Holy Communion.
In the wall of the Lady Chapel, above the benches, are more Stained glass windows: The three main windows depict the Nativity of Our Lord. Above them are images of Mary, our Mother’s Queenship, a Crown and a letter M. Saint Pope John Paul II incorporated the M into his coat of arms, together with the motto, “Totus Tuus”, (“All Yours!”)
Votive lights and flowers, nearby, are signs for others of our love for and devotion to our Mother, into whose Protection Jesus placed us as He suffered and died on the Cross. To the left and right of Our Lady’s Shrine are pictures, marking special devotions to Mary; Our Lady of perpetual Succour (Help), an icon (or holy picture) from the Eastern Church and, from Poland, Our Lady of Częstochowa, sometimes known as the Black Madonna.
Moving clockwise round the church we next see Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, generally known as Padre (Father) Pio, an Italian Capuchin Priest who bore on his body the Wounds (Stigmata) of Christ’s Passion and, during many hours spent hearing Confessions, reconciled countless souls to God; we do well to pray for his intercession for Priests hearing Confessions and for ourselves, in need of God's Mercy and seeking it through this wonderful Sacrament.
In the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, the Sanctuary lamp and Tabernacle veil (cover) remind us that Jesus is really here in church among us, waiting for our loving greeting. The two small windows immediately to the left of this Altar show the Lamb of Sacrifice and a pelican, a bird which will feed its young on its own blood if their survival is in question; both of these are reminders that Christ, the Lamb of God, Shed His Blood for us.
The Mosaic framing the Tabernacle represents the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, which prefigured how, at every Mass, Christ who, that day, fed thousands in a hungry crowd with earthly food would, one day, feed our souls with Himself in Holy Communion, the Food of Life which will help us be made stronger and avoid doing bad things on our way to Heaven. In this mosaic are also the Paschal Lamb, some grapes and a Chalice, recalling the Sacrificial Death of Christ once-for-all on Calvary.
In the Chapel’s main side window, above the benches, we see portrayed the Last Supper, at which Jesus gave His Apostles, our first Priests, their First Holy Communion and to whom he gave His Power to change bread and Wine into his Living Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity to give to us at Mass. In the round window above this scene is an image of the letters X and P, from the beginning of the Name of Christ in Greek (‘Chi’ and ‘Rho’), a language in which the Faith was first preached. The same image is to be found on the Altar Rail in front of the votive candle stand, and on the Blessed Sacrament Altar itself, reminding us that, as well as being Priest and Victim, Christ is the Altar of Sacrifice. On Maundy (Holy) Thursday, after the Commemoration of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, the High (main) Altar is stripped bare, looking towards the bleakness of Calvary following Christ’s Death on Good Friday and, until midnight, the Blessed Sacrament reposes in the Tabernacle for our Adoration, as Christ’s Body rested in the Tomb.
Above the High Altar is the Crucifix (i.e. the Cross with the figure of Christ on it), because, on the Altar, at every Mass, the once-for-all Sacrifice of the Cross is, through the hands and words of the Priest, made present for our participation. If we are privileged to have one of our Priests come and offer Mass for us in our home, he will place a Crucifix on whatever serves as an Altar of Sacrifice. It also reminds us that we pray in the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. On the reverse of this particular Crucifix is depicted Christ Rising from the Dead and reaching for His Crown.
Lower down on the wall, progressing round our church, beginning near the entrance to the Sacristy (where Father and the Altar Servers get ready before Mass) and ending near the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, we have 14 Stations of the Cross (also called the Way of the Cross), pictures which trace the Journey of Love made by Jesus from His trial in the Roman Governor’s court to His Burial in the Tomb. These Stations are a link with the actual way of the Cross, still walked by Pilgrims in Jerusalem, making it possible for us to be ‘in spirit’ on that holy ground which we may not necessarily ever be able to visit in person.
Inside the main porch of the church, in windows on either side of the main doors are scenes from the life of our Patron, St. Bartholomew. Above the notice board near the side door is a small round window, bearing the Latin inscription, “In Memoriam” (remembering). This window remembers babies and young children who have died, with those children being represented by a small purple butterfly. Twice a year, at Croydon University Hospital, a special service is held in the chapel there for all those who died so early in their lives.
A stone tablet, engraved with the names of former Parish Priests, is positioned near to the Repository, a room in which we may buy items which can help us to learn more about our Faith. A separate frame contains a record of all former curates or assistant priests. These remind us to pray for the souls of the Priests who have cared for the souls of members of our Parish since 1908 and, indeed, of our Christian duty to pray for the Souls of all who have died. One day, please God, people will pray for our souls, too. We thank God for their lives, given in serving our Parish, and ask Him that they may now be with Him in Heaven, rewarded for their faithful service. Of course we must never forget to pray for Priests living and serving here and around the world. Satan knows full well that he will be defeated through their priestly power and does not, for an instant, cease to try and undermine their Ministry. In the porch there is also a list of all those men who serve us in Southwark Archdiocese, each allotted a day of the week. The notice also reminds us of all those who have died following the completion of their work in the vineyard of vocations.
Our first action, on entering the main body of the church must, surely, be to greet Our Blessed Lord, Whose House we are invited into. Our Children will learn from the adults they see round them. While it is the Parents' privilege and duty to bring up their children in the Faith, we all need to consider just what an effect our own example can have on young (and even on not so young) minds.
Before entering our bench for Mass we (if we are able) genuflect towards the Tabernacle, situated on the Blessed Sacrament Altar where Jesus is waiting for our greeting, wishing to pour His Grace into our Souls, calling us to open our hearts and love Him. Those unable to genuflect may well bow. While these outward gestures are, of course, very important it is His Grace in our Souls, our Love for and Faith in Him which truly pleases God. As well as reminding us of our reason for coming to church, we can also teach others through example. Who knows whether someone, not a Catholic perhaps, seeing our demeanour, will themselves be drawn to know more of the Church to which we accord such love and respect.
We and our Children are fortunate to be highly literate and able to access vast sources of knowledge but, centuries ago, without the ability to read Bibles and Missals (if they actually had one) and before liturgical calendars existed how did people know what was being celebrated / commemorated at Masses during the year? The answer lay in the colour of the Priest's vestments: Green, colour of new life, worn most of the year, recalled the life of Grace making souls 'grow' just as sunlight causes new shoots to appear; White recalled the Grace and Purity of God and the Angels and Saints, Purity to which all are called; Red denoted the Blood shed by Christ and by Martyrs. It also called to mind the Power of the Holy Spirit, the Fire of Pentecost and the Kingship of Christ; Purple, especially during Lent and Advent, pointed to the need for Penance (Father wears a Purple stole when hearing Confessions). Purple can be replaced, (on the 3rd Sunday of Advent and the 4th Sunday of Lent) by Rose, symbolic of future rejoicing; Black, now largely replaced by Purple, stood for mourning and to remind us of the solemn duty to pray for the dead who, unless perfect, will have sinned in this life and are counting on our help to reach Heaven. We are helping them get to Heaven by our Masses, Prayers and Sacrifices. Black was, once, generally worn for Requiem Masses - an exception to this was a Requiem for a baby who had, of course, died before reaching the age of reason and could not have chosen to offend God - for them Father wore White. Through colour everyone, literate or not, could recall Father’s teaching and follow the Liturgical Year.
The Sacred dignity of the Sanctuary, and the Mass offered there, is further emphasised by the garments worn by the Altar Servers, which are either an alb together with a red cord, or a cassock (black most of the year, changing to red for Easter, Pentecost and Christmas) and white cotta (surplice). Most of our Altar Servers are Members of the Guild of St Stephen, and wear a Guild Medal.
The entire building is a teaching aid, so let’s start outside: The building itself, bricks and mortar, is a reminder to us that we are members of the Church making up that which is also called Christ’s Mystical Body on Earth. As the mortar holds the bricks together, so we Catholics are linked, very closely, by our common Baptism, God’s Grace and our Faith in the One True God. When anybody receives Communion, they receive the very same Christ as each of their brothers and sisters Worldwide. Have we considered just how close we are to one another in Christ? The term Mystical Body of Christ, of course, refers to a living organisation with each and every member of the Universal (or Catholic) Church, described by Saint Paul as 'living stones'.
The shape of the building, pointing Heavenwards, reminds us of its purpose – to help us raise our minds and hearts in Prayer to God. If we could fly over the church, we would see that it is built in the shape of a cross. There are many striking churches and cathedrals in Britain and around the world which very clearly have been designed to move us to contemplate our Creator, to raise our minds and hearts to God. The spires of the great Gothic cathedrals are a vivid sign of this. Back at Saint Bart’s we see, at the apex of the roof, a Cross, reminding us of Christ's Sacrifice, daily re-enacted on the Altar within. How prayerfully do we mark ourselves with this sacred symbol?
Over the main door is an image, in mosaic, of our Patron, Saint Bartholomew, shown holding the knife with which he was flayed (skinned) alive. St Bartholomew is the patron saint of butchers, leather workers and tanners. Over the side doors are mosaics of his Martyr’s Crown and Palm of Victory, recalling the fact that, whatever the challenges, a wonderful Eternity waits in Heaven for those who do their best to follow God’s Laws while on Earth.
On entering the church porch we need to consider where we are and why we have come to church, sometimes referred to as a Sacred Space. Who is our first priority? We make the Sign of the Cross with Holy Water. This is a reminder of our Baptism, '...in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...' when Original Sin was washed away, we became a child of God and our Soul was flooded with Sanctifying Grace. We do this for ourselves and for any of our Children who are too small to do this for themselves; in this way we are teaching them a holy and beautiful custom. There are Holy Water stoups (bowls) at each entrance to the church. At the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Masses we are invited to renew for ourselves the Promises made on our behalf at our own Baptism. At times during the Liturgical Year, Father will process round the church and bless us with Holy Water. On the day that a man and woman take their solemn vows to remain lovingly faithful for the rest of their lives, Wedding Rings are blessed with Holy Water. When a person dies, their coffin is sprinkled with Holy Water, recalling that, “In Baptism s/he died (to sin) in Christ…” and asking that they may now share in His Risen Life in Heaven.
Just as a church building is an inanimate object without its parishioners, so Faith, a Gift of God, is not merely something we ‘do’ on Sundays and Holy Days. Faith is not just a set of facts to be learned from the Catechism or in lessons, but it is something which must be accepted and practised, i.e. ‘taken on board’ and have a definite effect on our day-to-day life if it is to live and grow in us and spread to those among whom we live. Faith, in a ‘compartment’ of the mind that means little or nothing to one is rather like a plant which, once in the soil, is then neglected and, in time, attacked by frost, insects and the sun, will either be stunted in growth or even shrivel and die, whereas plants which are watered, fertilised, pruned and carefully nurtured flourish, producing flowers, fruit, seeds and further growth round the garden. Cuttings can spread this bounty far and wide. Who knows how many ‘seeds of Faith’ God will plant and how many ‘cuttings’ He will transplant through our efforts?
In very early times the Christian message was, of course, spread by word of mouth and, of course, through example! Throughout the ages, until literacy became more widespread and before written and printed matter were more readily available and understandable, other ways were essential to teach and recall the Truths of the Faith. The Rosary, for example, was originally developed from the prayers of the Psalter (book of psalms), having 150 beads corresponding to the 150 psalms; in this way even the uneducated could, through prayers, counted on their beads, join in the Prayer of the Church, truly a demonstration of one’s equality before God which transcends all buildings and borders, and which does not depend on one’s academic qualifications!
A building - yet so much more!!
Following the Inaugural Mass for each year’s First Holy Communicants, they are given what one might call a ‘guided tour’ of the church, taking a closer and more detailed look around the building to which Parents and Guardians have lovingly and faithfully brought them to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation and, hopefully, when possible, also to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and weekday Masses in holiday time. Please God, over time, they (and we) will develop a greater understanding of, Love for, and familiarity with a place which is infinitely more than the materials of which it is constructed. The more we know and love Our Lord, the more effective we will be as Apostles, able to ‘…Go and Teach…’ How many, perhaps of no faith even, living and working with us, might be stimulated to find out about this great Love of our life?! Will they notice, ‘…how these Christians love one another’? If they happen to accompany us to a Catholic Church one day, will our demeanour while there demonstrate the depth of our Faith, the ‘Pearl beyond Price’?
In addition to this mini journey round the church building, children and parents will continue to ‘journey’ together towards that Great Day when the children receive Our Blessed Lord for the very first time; hopefully, the first of many Loving Holy Communions!
In our church, there are many visual aids to help us all (Adults as well as Children) to learn and understand more of the Truths which help bring us closer to God. Indeed the building itself is there to teach us! In fact, in the days before education was widely available and people were not able to read and write as can we, many aspects of the Faith were taught through and recalled by the symbolism all around us in church. These visual aids form a valuable resource in our vital and ongoing responsibility for personal formation in our own Faith and in forming our precious children (future Catholic adults, parents, priests, religious) in the Faith. Children learn much from what they see and hear us do (or not do). Their response to God’s Call (Vocation) may well be determined by the foundations we have laid in their early years. In addition to this, they will understand, appreciate and so make more use of the aids to Sanctity which, as news media clearly demonstrate daily, is actively opposed. Of course, however hard we try, in the end it is down to the children’s use of their free will but we can be certain that, as the Scriptures remind us God will repay our efforts in ways beyond our understanding.
Over the next few weeks we will be ‘thinking’ our way round our Parish Church, stopping along the way to consider the significance of what we see and how this can ‘point us’ in the right direction, helping to make clearer what we, please God, already know from our own upbringing in the Faith.
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church