Last night at about a quarter to one the fire alarm went off in the monastery. When I heard the fire trucks on the way, I got up and decided to go outside. Usually these alarms amount to nothing. But you never know, so I went out through the church just in case there was any real danger and the Blessed Sacrament needed to be rescued.
The church was particularly dark in the middle of the night, and the lights from the fire trucks flickered through the Capuchin saints that adorn the windows of the church doors. Not seeing any reason to be alarmed, I stopped for a moment in the completely darkened and empty space. There are deep spiritual senses of the church building or liturgical space that suggest themselves most strongly in the middle of the night when the lights are off.
A church is the dark tomb of our Lord, the place where he rests on the sabbath from the work of redemption before rising again to re-create the world on the first day. Like Mary Magdalene, we gather in vigil at this tomb, lamenting our own part in his death and then rejoicing in that moment when the Lord calls us by name and we suddenly recognize his Presence.
A church is also the darkness of Mary's womb, the secret and inner cavern where the Word of God will be spoken and conceived--with our consent--in human flesh. At Mass we consent, like Mary, to have the humanity of Christ conceived in our lives, and we become the Body of Christ we receive. As Mary gave birth to the Word made flesh in her son Jesus Christ, so we become the Body of Christ we receive in the Eucharist and are born into the world as his Presence when we are sent forth at the end of Mass. The church, as the womb of Mary, is the dark and secret place where the Word of God becomes flesh, and from which His saving presence is sent into the world.