A Walk to Discover the Symbolism in Blessed Sacrament Church by fellow parishioners Carol Engstrom and Jim McCoy
Etienne Gaboury, renowned Winnipeg architect designed Blessed Sacrament in the early 1960's containing countless symbols. If you notice the exterior outline of the Church, you will see that the building itself seems to be reaching up to the heavens. Just as we strive to be closer to God, the Church, our place of worship, also seems to be straining to reach God.
Although most parishioners use the parking lot entrance to Blessed Sacrament, the main entrance on Roanoke Street was intended to be used most of the time. Come to mass a little early some Sunday and walk in through the main entrance and you will find yourself at the end of a long, tunnel-like room. The darkness and length of the room has a prison-like feel to it. As you go forward, look up. You will notice a grid of steel bars, where we will restore the red stained glass in the sky light. The early Christians were prisoners and martyrs and met in underground cemeteries for worship out of fear of the authorities. This window is meant to emphasize the feeling of being in a prison cell. Whenever we are out of relationship with God, we are walking in darkness and we are in a prison, but one of our own making. Using this entrance reminds us that we are entering into the Community where we can renew our relationship with God.
From this standpoint under the red hue, if you look up and ahead, you see the bright blue window of Baptism which displays symbols of water, oil, Eucharist and life. Through Baptism, we enter into relationship with God with the Blessed Sacrament Community and Church around the world. The baptismal area is set lower than the main area of the Church, symbolising that we are lowered into the death of Christ so as to rise and share his resurrection. The Holy Oils are found in the font area.
From the baptistery, gaze down the main aisle and you will see the tabernacle and the altar and ambo (lectern) stand out. Look up at the roof; you will hardly notice the roofline. Designed at the University of Manitoba, this parabolic shape is supported only by exterior walls; there are no pillars to obstruct our views as worship takes place. What makes a Church a Church? God and God’s people. Nothing should stand in the way of dialogue with the Lord and our fellow parishioners. The fan shape of the pews fosters the feeling of being surrounded by the love of our Church family.
The whole Church is designed to be modest and uncluttered. It symbolises that we need only to focus on our relationship with and the love of God to lead fulfilling lives. All of the frills and extras that we surround ourselves with are not necessary. There are no rich carpets and valuable paintings and expensive statues, because the architect Etienne Gaboury believed, as do we, that a pure and simple faith and belief in God is all that we need.
There is a large stained glass window in the Tabernacle area. It represents the Prairie wheat with our dark local soil as well as the Canadian Shield country of Manitoba. The wheat is not only representative of the staff of our lives, but it can also be seen as the broken bread at mass. As the wheat grows each year, and feeds us and sustains our physical bodies, so the Eucharist feeds our inner spirit and helps us sustain our loving relationship with God. The small red window behind the Tabernacle reminds us of the traditional red lamp that burns in the sanctuary and always indicates the presence of Christ. The light coming from the roof at the highest point in the building evokes a sense of the resurrection.
The Stations of the Cross are built into the walls and they seem to be climbing upwards and their placement indicates a journey. It is a journey of Jesus' faith in God. The colours in the stations are symbolic in themselves. Symbolizing holiness and his death, Jesus slowly becomes whiter as he journeys towards the cross. At the very top of the Stations, Jesus is shown in glory, resurrected. Red is the sign of blood and martyrdom while Gold is the sign of our hope. In all of the Stations but one, we see only one arm on the images of Jesus, indicating that He is in the process of becoming whole, but in the Resurrection Station, Jesus is shown with two arms as his mission has been fulfilled!
Look around our Church the next time you come to mass. The roughness of the walls indicates our own roughness-God is still working on us and through us! Etienne Gaboury designed the Church as a building that would be a simple, yet a loving and accommodating worshipping space, where we are, like the building itself, always striving to reach up to the heavens.
Fr. Kevin Bettens