I noticed on the news today that the Vatican has given permission to the Diocese of Orange in California to purchase the Crystal Cathedral. I am sure that a lot of people who helped to build the church and fund the many ministries out of there, including the Hour of Power, are cringing at the prospect of "those Catholics" moving into their sacred space.
After all, for so many years, their devotions were linked with the famous landmark.
What makes a church?
Is it bricks and mortar?
In this case, we can certainly say "no" since it looks to be made entirely of glass.
Actually, what makes a church is not the building, but the people.
We have always taught our children the correct spelling of church. Church with a capital "C" always means the people of God whereas church with a small "c" means the structure in which the people of God worship.
Any place can be a church.
Yet, once consecrated for sacred use, that building takes on a certain character of its own. It is a sacred space. It is a space where nothing but the sacred should take place. It is not a secular building, it is a building devoted to the worship of God.
And, it is also devoted to the worship of God as pertains to the people therein.
A Catholic church is Catholic because it is filled with Catholics who celebrate the Catholic Mass and other Catholic liturgies.
A Protestant church is Protestant because it is filled with Protestants who celebrate their own devotions in the building.
And rarely the twain shall meet.
As a matter of fact, when a Catholic church, for one reason or another, is sold to another group, there is a special process that must take place.
The bishop presents the potential closing of a parish church to his consulting body. Those present must propose that the church be closed.
That is step one.
Once the first step is completed, the second step is immediately introduced to the consultative body for vote: that the building be relegated to "profane use".
When we hear the word profane, we often think about someone swearing.
But there is an older definition to the word profane.
It meant something that took place away from or outside the temple.
When a Catholic church is relegated to profane use, all of the sacred articles are removed from the building (most especially, the Eucharist) and the building is considered "deconsecrated."
There is a special ceremony that consecrates a building as a church. The proclamation of relegating a church to profane does away with the consecrated status of the church, thus allowing it to be used for any other function.
It might be interesting to note that when a diocese sells an old church building, it often does so with stipulations attached. They usually include that the new buyer promise not to allow certain functions to take place within the confines of that building, such as not offering a service that purports to be a Catholic Mass.
Selling a church building can be a very painful process for those who worshiped there on a regular basis.
Hence, I pray for those who were brought to the point of having to sell the Crystal Cathedral. I know that they must be hurting not only to lose their building, but to know that religious services other than their own will take place inside its walls.
I hope that, once the community can relocate to something they can afford, they find the wherewithal to become a tight-knit community once again.
I also hope that the Diocese of Orange benefits for having this magnificent structure and that the services held therein be beautiful and help their people to worship our God.