The art and architecture of a Catholic church can help us to know more about our Faith and to provide us with many opportunities for prayer and contemplation of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Family and Saints and especially the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal and other church documents provide architects and visual artists with guidelines on how the interior of a church should be designed and decorated, but each church building is unique to the community it serves and reflects the personal touches of its pastor and parishioners.
Before there was a Building, the Community was served.
Masses have been offered at Folly Beach since 1937–at the Elks Lodge on E. Atlantic Avenue until a hurricane in 1940 destroyed the building. Between 1940 and 1950 Mass was offered on Folly Beach in a number of places including the famed Folly Pavilion, the old Community Center and even at the Coast Guard Radar Station. Construction of this church began in 1949 and the First Mass was celebrated in the present Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel on Christmas Day in 1950. You can read about the history of our parish here. Entrance to Our Lady of Good Counsel Church,Folly Beach showing the cornerstone.
Look around Our Lady of Good Counsel church and see what it has to teach us about our Faith and our community.
Parts of our church
There are three main parts of our church building. 1) The Nave 2) The Sanctuary 3) The Sacristy (including the Confessional)
The Nave is the area reserved for worshippers, and includes the central aisle. The name is derived from the Latin ‘navis’, meaning a ship, possibly with some reference to the “ship of St. Peter” or the Ark of Noah. Many of the technical names of things you find in a church come from Greek or Latin words because those were the languages Christians spoke when these objects were named.
The first thing you see when you enter the door of our church is a pool of water—it represents the water in which we were baptized—because Baptism is the door to the Church. As we enter the church door, each person dips their right hand in the water, makes the sign of the cross and renews the promises that our parents and Godparents made for us at our Baptism. There is also a reservoir of Holy Water available for parishioners to use. Many people use a Holy Water font at home.
Our parish baptismal font is located near the entrance of the church, but is moved to the sanctuary area when the sacrament is conferred. The postures that we use in church; standing, kneeling, sitting, etc., have a history of their own. Long ago people stood up for most of the Mass, and there were no pews or fixed seating. Pews enabled the congregation to sit and listen to the sermon, which often lasted several hours. In the 13th century, when Christians did not receive Holy Communion frequently and the high point of the Mass was looking at the host rather than consuming it, the congregation knelt in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament just as they were accustomed to kneel before an earthly king. As the practice of kneeling in church became more frequent, small kneeling benches were added. Standing is a posture of adult respect and attention, which is something we do when we hear the Gospel proclaimed.
The walls of the nave are decorated with colored glass windows. “Stained glass” is a term for how some glass is colored, but not all colored glass windows are technically “stained glass”. The windows in our church (on the left side) represent the Joyful and (on the right side) Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. Each window tells the story of an event in the life of Mary and Jesus. From the Annunciation to the Crowning of Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth. There are three other colored glass windows in the church, and two in the sacristy.
Also on the walls are 14 plaques representing the Stations of the Cross. From early times Christians have wanted to visit the Holy Land and follow the way that Jesus walked to Calvary, remembering the important parts of that story. In Europe during the Middle Ages the devotion of the Way of the Cross was made popular by Franciscans. This prayer enabled people who could not afford the expense of the long and dangerous journey to Jerusalem to be able to follow the Way of the Cross in their own town, remembering what Jesus did for them. Our attention moves from one station to the next, praying over these incidents in the life of Jesus. We do this especially during Lent.
The Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary
Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple
The Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary
The Decent of the Holy Spirit
Coronation of Mary
The word sanctuary means a holy place. While the entire church is a holy place, special reverence is given to the area of the church where the priest and other ministers conduct the liturgy. Always raised up higher than the rest of the church, the sanctuary is the place where Catholics believe Jesus is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine of Holy Communion.
The presider’s chair and seating for the other ministers are in the sanctuary. The presider’s chair is not a throne for someone set apart, but is arranged so that the priest is seen to be a member of the worshiping community even though he has a special office to perform.
The Ambo, reading stand, or lectern, holds the readings from Sacred Scripture. The church teaches that “The dignity of the Word of God requires the Church to have a suitable place for announcing His message so that the attention of the people may be easily directed to that place during the Liturgy of the Word.”
The altar is the holy table upon which we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It functions as both banquet table and altar of sacrifice; the Mass is both Holy Thursday (meal) and Good Friday (sacrifice). When the Eucharist is celebrated the table is covered with an altar cloth. The different colors represent the different liturgical seasons or feasts. The top of the table is always covered in white.
A Crucifix is a cross that has the image of Christ crucified on it. The Catholic Church directs that there should always be a crucifix on the altar, with a candle on either side. To better fulfill this requirement, the crucifix is also hung on the wall behind the altar, so that when the priest is facing the congregation the crucifix is not obstructed. The antipendium (the part of the altar below the table, facing the people) has the image of the Paschal Lamb which symbolizes Christ, “the Lamb of God”, who redeemed the world by the shedding of His blood. A sanctuary lamp burning before the tabernacle has traditionally told Catholics of the presence of the consecrated Bread. Our sanctuary lamp hangs from the rafters, and if you look up near it, you will see the image of a dove, representing the Holy Spirit — a gift from one of our parishioners.
From the time of the apostles, when members of the assembly could not be present for Sunday Mass because they were sick or in prison, some of the bread and wine was saved after communion and carried to the absent members. The Eucharist began to be reserved so that it could be received as viaticum at the moment of death. The place for reserving this bread for the sick and dying came to be called the tabernacle.
The candles which we find in church were once primarily functional and gave light for reading the Scriptures and celebrating the sacred action. Now that churches have electrical lights, the candles play a more symbolic function. Before every Mass, the candles on either side of the altar are lit, and on special occasions, the more elaborate candelabras beside the tabernacle are lit.
The Paschal Candle is large wax candle, set in a great candlestick and featured in the service on Holy Saturday. The five grains of incense set cross-wise in the candle recall the sacred wounds retained in Christ’s glorified body. (John 20:25-27) This candle is also used in Baptismal celebrations to symbolize the transfer of the “light of Christ” to parents and Godparents who have the responsibility of passing the Faith onto their children. Baptismal candles are lit from the paschal candle and given to the parents of the baptized.
There is another colored glass window in the Sanctuary, it depicts Jesus breaking bread and blessing wine. It evokes Jesus both at the Last Supper, instituting the Holy Eucharist and Jesus revealing himself to the disciples he met on the road to Emmaus, after His resurrection. Recall how the two disciples “Recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:30)
Another distinguishing feature of Catholic churches are statues and other devotional images. Long ago, when the Mass and readings from the Bible were in Latin and not always understood by the faithful, statues, pictures and stained-glass windows often became the people’s catechism, teaching and explaining the mysteries of our faith and honoring the heroes who lived it. That is how the expression, a Catechism in Stone and Glass came to be.
In this image Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is wearing a blue mantle, symbolizing heavenly grace. The statue shows her crushing a serpent. It is a reference to Gen. 3:14-15 “Then the LORD God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you shall be banned from all the animals and from all the wild creatures; On your belly shall you crawl, and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”This reading from the first book of the Bible is understood as the first promise of a Redeemer for fallen mankind. The woman’s offspring is Jesus Christ.
People often ask for special help from the saints who are represented by the statues. Lighting a candle in front of a statue expresses the desire that their prayers continue even after they leave the church.
The St. Joseph Statue includes the symbol of a budding lily on a staff. Pious legend tells us that when the Virgin Mary was only fourteen years old each of her potential suitors left his staff in the temple through the night with the hope that God would indicate which suitor He preferred for her. When the suitors checked the next morning Joseph’s staff was budding into leaf. Another reason for the symbol of the lily on St. Joseph’s staff is because the lily symbolizes chastity and virtue. St. Joseph is the chaste spouse of Mary. He is also the Patron Saint of a Happy Death and the lily represents the resurrection of the body after death.
Our Parish Patron, Our Lady of Good Counsel is depicted in the large round colored glass windows. This title for Mary, Our Lady of Good Counsel dates back to an ancient fresco icon that is currently in Rome. Mary, The Blessed Mother of Jesus, under the title Our Lady of Good Counsel, was proclaimed the Patron of Albania in the year 1895. There is a very interesting story about how the original fresco image of Mary and Jesus made a miraculous journey from Albania to Rome. The image of Mary and Jesus in the circular glass window above the altar (shown below) of our church is similar to the icon of Our Lady of Good Counsel now in Rome. In the colored glass image above the entrance door of our church (shown left) Mary wears a crown, perhaps to recognize that she is Queen of Heaven and Earth.
A Catholic historian once analyzed the icon in this way:
Everything in Our Lady’s face gives the impression of her great satisfaction in having her Child in her arms. She is thinking only of Him. But she is not looking at Him directly, she is looking at the one who is praying to her. But her face touches His forehead. It is a moment of maternal love and tenderness.
He holds her like a person who desires nothing else in this world but her. He feels the joy of being protected by her. It seems that she is trying to guess what is going on in His soul, paying attention to realize if He will say something. She is not asking anything in her prayers; she is contemplating His person. He has this great intimacy with her, but His eyes do not look straight at her, they are turned upward. While her eyes look downward, His eyes are raised, up toward God the Father. We look to her; she looks to Him; and He looks to the two other Persons of the Most Holy Trinity.
She receives our prayers and transmits them to God. He receives them as God and also transmits our prayers to the other Persons of the Holy Trinity. So, you have the Catholic doctrine of the mediation of graces delicately expressed in this picture, perhaps without having noticed it at first glance.
Perhaps when you draw nearer to the picture to contemplate the relationship between her and Him, you may feel yourself invited to enter into their intimacy. You may feel yourself being understood, loved, and helped by her, and by Him. You may feel yourself adopted by her as a son or daughter and, therefore like a brother of the Child Jesus.
This is the area of the church where the priest’s vestments and the vessels and books used in liturgical celebrations are kept. It is also where the priest and altar servers “vest” for Mass. The particulars of the items held in the sacristy will be discussed in another article. The sacristy bell is another gift from a parishioner. It is a long held Catholic tradition to ring a bell to signify that the priest was leaving the sacristy and entering the church. This bell is decorated with symbols of St. Peter–the fish symbolizes Christ’s call to “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Also, the fish was an early symbol of Christianity, because the initial letters of each word in the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” form the word ICHTHUS, which means “fish.” The sacristy bell also has a key which recalls Christ’s words:
“I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matt. 16:19
Many of the fixtures and furnishings of our parish church were made possible by special gifts presented in memory of loved ones. Small brass memorial plaques, such as those beneath each of the colored glass windows, recall the names. Praying for the souls of the people inscribed on those plaques is another way to serve our Faith Community.
Coming into the church for Mass, we may miss some of the details around us, but when we take the time to look, we can see that our parish church invites adoration and contemplation even when there are no liturgical celebrations. It is a “beautiful house of the Lord where the faithful are free to recollect themselves. It is a place where, in a restless world, one can meet the Lord in peace.”
Sources: Catechism of Catholic Church, the Catholic Encyclopedia, Catholicliturgy.com, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Our Lady of Good Counsel of Genazzano, Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. Inside a Catholic Church What’s There and Why American Catholic.org, Compiled by Liz McCafferty