Sunday 5 August 2018 —Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — four open houses in town today

There are always lots of houses for sale on Cape Cod. The local newspapers list several pages of them, often with an accompanying photograph. I recently saw a photo of one house for sale in Falmouth. The asking price was $13 million. We are talking big bucks here. Any good real estate agent will use all the tricks of the trade to “move” the house as quickly as possible.

And now, dear readers, I will let you in on a little-known secret of the real estate business: these houses are staged. The agent often hires a professionally certified “house stager” before the showing.

The house needs to look attractive from the street. This is called “curb appeal.” The entryway should be inviting. There can be no clutter anywhere (not even stashed in the closets and cupboards). In fact, “accidentally” leave a closet door open to show how much extra room there is. The stager will put into storage any items you (hopefully) won’t be needing before you move out. 

Any walls covered with something other than bland neutral paint will have to be redone. All family photographs, personal items, and keepsakes go away. Pets are banished. The house will need a “deep cleaning” so it looks like nobody actually lives there. 

Make sure any household items like towels, bed linens, etc. are brand-new. Set an elaborate dining room tablescape (just for show). Remove any added table extenders to make the dining room appear bigger. Turn on all the lights, even in the daytime. Order fresh flower arrangements (nothing artificial). Pull aside all shades and blinds to let in more sunlight. Rearrange the furniture to look cozy, not to meet your own personal needs. If your furniture is outdated, get rid of it. Rent something stylish. Use heaps of pointless throw pillows on couches and beds. 

The place must be absolutely immaculate, perfect in every way. Beware: children can destroy a staged room in the blink of an eye.

How different it is in the House of the Lord. Every church building reflects the people who gather to worship there. The church building is a home for the Church, the People of God, the parish family. No parish family is exactly the same as another. No church building is exactly the same as another. The building reflects the history, character, interests, values and, most importantly, the faith of a particular assembly. Our worship spaces are not sterile showplaces. They are marked with our human fingerprints. Let’s take a tour.

Ideally, the first thing you would see when you enter the church is the Baptism font or pool (or at least a Holy Water bowl). Baptism is the way we become certified members of the People of God. We arrive at the altar table through the waters of Baptism. Baptized? Welcome! Come on in!

Near the Baptism font you see a large candle. This is the Paschal Candle, blessed at the Easter Vigil. It was, in turn, used to bless the water of Baptism. 

Also near the Baptism font, notice the ambry. It’s that niche or cabinet containing the three Holy Oils of Sacred Chrism, Oil of the Catechumens, and Oil of the Sick. The Chrism is used in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordinations, and the consecration of churches. The Oil of the Sick is used in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. The Oil of the Catechumens is used in praying over those who are preparing for Baptism. 

From the entry area (narthex), we step into the main room. This is called the “nave” (from the Latin navis, meaning “ship”). Americans expect to find benches or pews in the nave. Many of our ancient churches have never had seats installed. People stand. People need space to move around in the various processions that are part of Holy Mass. Also, a standing congregation will teeter and glower and otherwise discourage long-winded preachers. Historically, standing is the principal posture for Christian prayer. Kneelers were not introduced until the 1400s when people began kneeling at Mass for extended periods of time. 

On the walls, you will see 14 numbered crosses, often adorned with pictures. These commemorate the last journey of Jesus from the house of Pilate to the garden tomb. For an extra charge, some churches add a 15th station representing the Resurrection. Stations of the Cross became popular during the Late Middle Ages as a meditation aid for those individuals unable to travel to the original sites in Jerusalem. 

The main focus in the room is what we usually call the “sanctuary.” (Actually, the whole church is a sanctuary). Of the three essential sanctuary furnishings (altar, pulpit, and chair), the altar is most important. The first thing to draw your attention as you enter the nave should be the altar. The celebration of Holy Mass is the pivotal act of the community’s worship, ministry, and outreach. 

Our tour of a Catholic church is proving to be quite different from an artificially staged open house, no? (To be continued.)

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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