“The ‘door of faith’ (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.” Porta Fidei (2011) #1.

The doors of a church signify entering into the life of God by means of the Church he has established for eternal salvation. The Rite of Baptism begins at the doorway, when the celebrant asks the parents what name they have given their child. When the faithful pass through the doors each Sunday, they remember the transition from the ordinary, secular world to the sacred place set aside for the worship of God.

The doors of OLMC are thirteen feet high and each weighs approximately 1,000 pounds. They are made of wood covered with copper. The angel Gabriel is depicted on the outside of the door, with the face of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the background. The handles of the door are in the shape of angel’s wings. Gabriel announced to Mary that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. Mary is sometimes referred to as a door or gate in traditional Catholic prayers. Through her humble yes to the angel, the Word became flesh, and God dwelt among men. We are reminded that Christ wishes to be incarnate in our lives. Will we say “yes” as Mary did?

The Narcissus flowers in Gabriel’s robe tie the image to Mount Carmel, where the flower grows. Mary is the “flower of Carmel,” pure and beautiful. We are called to a purity of heart by which we can see God.

The entrance as a whole resembles the entrance of a cave. A cave is a sanctuary, a place to find refuge. The prophet Elijah took refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb. There came a strong rushing wind, an earthquake, and a fire….but the Lord was not in any of these. He was in the “light, silent sound” (1 Kings 19:11-12). Silence is necessary for us to hear God. When we enter the Church, we quiet ourselves so that we enter into an intimate dialogue with our loving God.

As you walk through the narthex hallway, your eyes are immediately drawn to the imposing baptismal font. The font main body is in the form of a sarcophagus and covered with black granite. In baptism, we share in the death and resurrection of Christ. “We were indeed buried with Christ Jesus through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live to newness of life” (Romans 6:4). The interior of the font and the floor surrounding the font are adorned with fused glass in the shape of a vortex. This signifies our being drawn into Christ Jesus through baptism. When we bless ourselves with the holy water from the font, we are reminded of our baptism into the triune God. We renew our baptismal promises, rejecting evil and professing the Catholic faith.

The pillar with the bowl shares the same water as the main body and forms with it a single font. It is used for the baptism of infants, whereas the main body is used to baptize adults through immersion. The bowl is beautifully crafted and includes an etched dove, representing the Holy Spirit who appeared over Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan River and who comes to dwell within the baptized Christian.

The walls around the font contain large windows and give the space a sense of openness and transcendence. The life of the Christian, even while on earth, participates in the eternal reality of Heaven.

Hanging over the font is a chandelier with twelve bulbs. This calls to mind the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the Twelve Apostles, and the woman in Revelations, chapter 12, who wears a crown of twelve stars. This woman signifies both the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Church.

Next to the font are the Paschal (Easter) candle and the ambry which contains the blessed oils used in the Sacraments. The Paschal Candle is lit during Easter, baptisms, and funerals. It represents Christ as The Light of the World.
An altar is a table on which sacrifice is offered. In the Mass, the sacrifice of Christ is made present when a validly ordained priest prays the Eucharistic Prayer. The altar should be the focal point of a Catholic church’s layout.

The altar at OLMC alludes to an important event in the history of Israel involving the prophet Elijah. Since Elijah is a patron of the Carmelite order, many aspects of the church design evoke Elijah. In the Book of Kings, chapter 18, the story is recounted of Elijah challenging the prophets of the pagan deity Baal to a duel. He and they would each build an altar, offer a sacrifice, and pray to their god to send fire down to consume the sacrifice. When the prophets of Baal prayed, nothing happened. Elijah then built an altar of twelve stones (representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel). He most likely used limestone, and so our altar tabletop is made of Botticino limestone. Before praying to Yahweh, Elijah had water poured over the altar. This is shown by the stream-shaped limestone that comes down each side of the altar. Finally, Elijah asked God to send fire down to consume the sacrifice, and the fire came. This is shown in the flame pattern on the mahogany wood panels.

The “river” of limestone flows from the altar to the baptismal font. Not only does it represent the water that flowed from the altar when Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, it also reminds us of the blood and water that flowed from the side of Jesus on the cross. This stream has been interpreted to signify the grace of the Sacraments.

The table top has a large cross etched across its entire surface, as well as four small crosses on each corner. The IHS monogram is an abbreviation of Jesus’ name in Greek which was used in some ancient Christian catacombs and was popularized by St. Bernardino of Siena in the 15th century.

The beams of the cross extend the entire width and breadths of the reredo and are made of walnut. The Greek letters Alpha and Omega are at the left and right end of the cross beams. These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In the Book of Revelations, Jesus says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (22:13). The Holy Spirit descending as a dove is depicted on the top cross beam.

The corpus (body) of Jesus is nearly thirteen feet tall. His head is slightly tilted and his eyes are open, engaging the members of the assembly as if looking directly at you.

Palms or wrists? Many parishioners have asked why our crucifix depicts Jesus nailed through the wrists and not the palms of the hands as we are accustomed to see in most images of the crucifixion. In the 1950 book A Doctor at Calvary, the French physician Pierre Barbet argued that nails through the palms would not be sufficient to support the weight of a body from the cross. He theorized that nails would have been driven through a hollow spot at the top of the wrists known as Destot’s space. This matches the location of the wounds indicated on the Shroud of Turin, which is most likely a relic of Jesus’ death. What about the Scripture references to the wounds in Jesus’ hands? Remember, the New Testament was written in Greek, not English. The Greek word cheir that is translated as hand can actually refer to the wrist as well.

Feet nailed separately? The oldest depictions of the crucifixion show Jesus’ feet nailed separately. It was not until the 13th century that artists in the West began to represent the feet of Jesus as placed one over the other and pierced with a single nail. Eastern iconography continues to show Jesus’s feet nailed separately.

Arms forward? On our crucifix, Jesus’ arms are not flat against the cross beam; they are forward of the beam, suspended in mid-air. This is an artistic way to show Jesus embracing humanity from the cross.

While we naturally want to know the specifics of what really happened two thousand years ago, it is important to keep in mind that Christian art throughout the centuries has portrayed biblical scenes in many different ways. Art does not concern itself with being an exact historical representation. Consider the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mary is portrayed as an Aztec princess so as to communicate certain truths in a way that the Aztec people could understand. Since God Himself uses artistic license, we should not begrudge human artists doing the same.
A “reredos” (pronounced rir – däs) is a decorative screen behind the altar of a church. Our reredos is composed of the crucifix, tabernacle, wood panels, and stained glass. A previous post explained the crucifix, and a future post will discuss the tabernacle. This post will explain the wood panels and the stained glass.

The central wood panels form a triangular Mount Carmel. This is a coastal mountain range in northern Israel near the Mediterranean Sea. The name “carmel” in Hebrew has many derivations which together mean fertile garden, paradise of God, and Eden. The Bible mentions the beauty and rich vegetation of Carmel. “And I will bring Israel back to their own pasture and they will graze on Carmel….”(Jeremiah 50:19).

The beauty and fecundity of Carmel represent these same traits of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The narcissus (daffodil) flower blooms on Carmel. “Like a narcissus, the land will blossom. It will rejoice and sing with joy. It will have the glory of Lebanon, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon” (Is. 35:2). You can see that the flower petals of the narcissus are painted in white and the bulbs are leafed in gold.

Blossoming grape vines are very prominent throughout the wood panels as well. The moment before a grapevine blossoms to produce grapes, it releases a fragrant scent, which is associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

To the left of the cross you see Creation: the sun and moon, sky, sea, and land, and the creatures that dwell therein. Adam and Eve are depicted embracing and fused together in an intimate union. “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife and they become one body” (Gen. 2:24). By his death and resurrection, Jesus restores Creation and makes all things new.

The blue stained glass circle is a vortex of air and water and light recalling when Jesus said, “I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). The softer blue shades recall how God manifested himself to Elijah in a gentle breeze (1 Kings 19:11-13). The clear and red glass represent the blood and water that flowed from the pierced side of Christ.