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Liturgical Environment Committee

Introduction on the Liturgical Environment
Outside Setting and a Welcoming Atmosphere
The Entrance, Baptistery, and the Light of the World
The Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist
The Priesthood and the Heavenly Host

, the Tabernacle, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Chapels
Liturgical Music and Art
The Sacristy and Behind the Scenes


The axiom that a picture tells a thousand words best explains our liturgical environment. Please take a look at the pictures of St. Bernardine of Siena Catholic Church. See first hand both the work of the Holy Spirit and also the workmanship of "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." For as St. Paul humbly said, "Not I, but Christ within me." Please click on the text links to learn more about the liturgical setting so that you can enhance your spiritual experience, that is, your active and conscious participation. For an in depth look on the liturgy, check out the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Also, click on any picture to see a larger image and a brief explanation in order to better appreciate our liturgical environment. (After the bigger image appears, it will be possible to see all the pictures on this page and more via a slideshow; or you may return to this page by clicking the up arrow or the browser back button. Thank you and enjoy the FREE tour.)

Certainly, the church is foremost thought as a community of Christian disciples, both those living on earth and in heaven rather than a structure. And the mystical body of Christ, and the people of God and a sacramental sign, and so many other biblical and traditional truisms embody the model of the church. Furthermore, the church, the actual physical structure, derives special significance from all these encapsulations. In fact, our parish mission statement  declares "As member of the body of Christ ...We are called to worship.....We come together to celebrate.....Ē All our liturgical actions which are based upon these notions of church revolve around a central physical edifice and all that is contained within it and in near proximity to it. This church is a fantastic reminder of the Almighty's presence on earth and forever calls to mind the mystery of the incarnation celebrated during the liturgical season of Christmas. Our church building which has served us since 1962 and was later rebuilt in 2000 (as is now photographed here) depicts the liturgical environment chosen by the parish family of St. Bernardine of Siena. 

Of course, no church is alike, simply because of such circumstances as time, place, and a host of other factors as well. We at St. Bernardine of Siena, in the 21st century and in Woodland Hills California have constructed an environment tailored to us. In fact, each specific church is built to engineering specifications, from surrounding materials, with architectural tastes, at a target budget, following general rules and ecclesiastical laws, hopefully with congregational feedback and so on. We also incorporate all sorts of meaningful and traditional signs and symbols, including those from the natural world such as water, ashes, incense, and light, together with man made ingredients of bread wine, words, actions, and music, A gem of a motion picture (Los Angeles Times) "Lilies of the Field" tells the ecumenical story of non practicing Catholics and Protestants who for diverse reasons help these missionary nuns to build a chapel. In fact, the Mexican short order cook helps out for insurance reasons, i.e., in case there really is a God. Our parish family with its unique character and gifts has formulated its own ecclesial environment that shapes our liturgical exercises as you can well see. top of page

Outside Setting and a Welcoming Atmosphere:

Even before one views the sanctuary of our church, a worthy setting and mood is created on the outside with a noble and simplistic design.  The bell tower constructed of brick indicates that we are to stand tall and strong because we are not to be like a lamp under a bushel. We are the salt of the earth. The bell echoes the call to worship and rings constantly throughout the day to remind us of God's presence in our lives. It is also an audible reminder that the call to holiness is a universal call, and all should pray for the salvation of the world and their very own souls. Jesus Christ the messiah came to save all people. A beautiful landscape shows the vitality of the Holy Spirit while a desert like setting reminds us of the Lenten period of fast and abstinence. The lovely external scenery depicts the story in Genesis where God created the heavens and the earth and all was GOOD. Roses reflect the handiwork of the invisible God. The greenery and colorful flowers around this house of worship should enliven our praise to God.

Typically, we arrive to celebrate our faith in our Catholic cars for which we need plenty of vehicle spaces. Did you not know that there is a special blessing for these modern day chariots? Yes, the liturgical books are full of prayers for a variety of occasions like baptisms, funerals, sicknesses weddings, and for a multitude of objects such as churches, homes, animals, and cars. But not all drove, soon to be saint, the Blessed Junipero Serra whose statue is besides the parking lot recollects the pioneering Franciscan missionaries. They originally settled our San Fernando Valley a couple hundred years before us. (Incidentally, the San Fernando Mission is 20 miles away. It is the 17th California mission founded in 1797, and it is also the home for the local bishop.) Statues of Saints adorn most churches and remind us of our Catholic heroes. That is, those wonderful people who have been solemnly recognized by the Vatican and gone before us marked with the sign of faith. Whose statues we select as adornments have a special significance for a Christ centered community. In fact, it is similar to our teens choosing a patron saint for their confirmation name. Our patron Saint Bernardine of Siena for whom this church is named is replicated in tile in an alcove to the right of the main door of the Church. The entrance to our wonderful Church is open to all, as is the universal Catholic Church. With a spirit of hospitality, the large patio and surrounding corridor were envisioned to provide a meeting place before and after the liturgies. Everyone is certainly welcome to hear the good news of Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the liturgy of the word, and by the grace of God we hope that we have created an inviting atmosphere. top of page

The Entrance, Baptistery, and the Light of the World

As the congregation enters the church, it should be reminiscent of the  triumphant entrance into Jerusalem of Christ the King. A procession at the beginning of the mass should symbolize the Palm Sunday festivities where Jesus was proclaimed the messiah. In that same week, He was crucified for our sins, but in three days He rose from the dead. So our liturgical environment encompasses the movements of our heart from joy and enlightenment, then sorrow, and ultimately to a glorious rapture as the mysteries of the rosary do replicate a spiritual  rhythm.

Now the baptismal fountain just inside the entrance to house of God alludes to the pool of Siloam or better yet to the Jordan river in which John the Baptist proclaimed the Lamb of the God has come. Baptism is the rite of initiation for Christians, and it is for that reason we place the holy font at the entrance. Remember also the story of the well at which Jesus proclaimed to the Samaritan woman, "Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Holy water at the entrance of a church is there to bless ourselves, to remind us of our baptismal promises, and to wipe away our venial sins. In fact, there is so much rich symbolism in the bible and church tradition that it is truly a fascinating process to design a house of God.  For example, in the early churches, a picture of a lamb signified a Catholic church; and this signification stills remains evident today in the mass when we say "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world have mercy on us." But there is also plenty to say about our own liturgical environment that we must go on lest we spend too much time on digressions such that we break the third commandment of our terms of use policy

Continuing along the wall of the church, you will notice other candles in addition to those next to the altar. Candles are significant for many reasons. When lit, they symbolize the light of Christ and in turn prompt us to be lights to the world. Candles are used in many of the liturgies besides the celebration of the mass, for example, at baptisms, the confirmation rites, the catechumen rituals, and the marriage ceremony. And in many churches, whenever possible, little children enjoy to light the candles besides the statues of the saints. One wonders if the custom of birthday candles on a cake had any preceding link with the tradition of the lighting of candles before a saintsí statue. The altar candles and those along the church wall remind us also of the special feast celebrated on Feb 2. On that day, forty days after Christmas, the universal church celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the temple, and this is when the priest traditionally blesses the candles to be used on the Eucharistic table nowadays. Finally, the Pascal candle holds special significance during our Easter liturgies. Candles, then, play an important role in liturgical events and church decor. top of page

The Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist:

The mass for which a dignified setting is required is actually composed of two sacred liturgies, the Liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. The liturgy of he word is first. It is composed of prayers, songs, acclamations, and scripture readings. There are also moments of quiet reflection and a homily for illuminating the word of God. Here, we unfold the mysteries of the old and new testaments and apply divine revelation to our current life. St. Anthony preached in such a manner that he broke open holy scripture to the benefit of all; legend has it that he even sermonized to the fishes along the shoreline when the townspeople would not listen. The great biblical scholar of the middle ages, St. Jerome said, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." Why? One could quote innumerable scripture passages but a few shall suffice. St Peter said, "To whom shall we go Lord, You have the words of everlasting life. Scripture has it, "Your words Lord are sprit and life." "The truth shall set you free." The bible, priest, ambo, lectern, and  lector constitute important elements in the proclamation of the truth and due attention should be directed to them.  Therefore, it is important to have an atmosphere that is conducive to public speaking with working microphones, proper illumination for the lector, a position where the audience can see him or her who proclaims the word of God, good audio speakers so that the spoken word is neither missed, muffled, or echoed, and where interference from outside noise is non-existent, especially for the periods of quiet reflection. When we fully realize that it is God speaking to us, right there, right now, we naturally recognize that our liturgical environment needs to be fitting for such a solemn and grand occasion. 

In the second half of the mass comes the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It is the preeminent liturgical service for Catholics. In fact, our initial attention after entering through the doors ultimately leads to the focal point of any Catholic church, the altar.  That monumental fixture symbolizes where the Old Testament sacrifices of God's servant Abel, our father in faith Abraham, and His priest Melchisedech were offered. Finally the altar is the pinnacle element on which we commemorate Jesusí sacrifice on the cross.  It is no wonder then that the crucifix is definitely an important symbol for Christians because of its reference to the resurrection. "If Christ did not rise, our faith is in vain."  Also, the altar is considered the table around which the Lord celebrated the Eucharistic on Holy Thursday. There we memorialize the Passover meal of the New Testament as commanded by Christ. So many of the biblical stories revolve around meal time in the old and new testaments. The manna from heaven, the Passover Seder, the wedding feast at Canaa, the breaking of the bread in Emmaus, and Jesus' invitation after the miraculous catch of fish (which occurred after His resurrection) all prefigure or allude to the Eucharistic banquet. With the advent of the Apostolic tradition handed down to us, we celebrate the Eucharist in our sacred setting with all its ecclesial decor as you now see. top of page

The Priesthood and the Heavenly Host

The ministry of the priesthood is alive and well at our parish, thanks be to God! Ultimately, the final responsibility for the liturgical environment rest with the pastor as the one in charge of St. Bernadine's spiritual talents, ministries, gifts, and treasures. Foremost, our pastor, assistant priest (s), and deacon (s) lead us in prayer. What color vestments the  priest wears during a prayer service changes throughout the year according to the liturgical season. But one is also reminded of the story of the woman in the crowd who touched Jesus' garment and was cured. May our spiritual events be filled to overflowing capacity to fulfill the words of the apostle who said, "Can't you see Lord, there are so many people, it's impossible to determine which one of them touched you." By the way, our deacon with his white robe and colored stole and the altar servers have to be properly attired for their important ministries too. We hope that you, either visitor or parishioners, also come properly dressed as befitting the religious ceremony. For you also share in the priesthood of Christ through your baptism. Now Jesus our high priest continued the ministerial priesthood at the last supper and has ensured its longevity. But we must pray hard, and for that, the priest heads the liturgy of the word from the presider's chair. That chair holds a prominent position in the sanctuary. With its occupancy, we rest assured that Jesus is in our mist in the persona of the priest. It is the priest who also uses the oils for the anointing of the sick. And it is our bishop who comes and uses the oils to confirm the youth of parish with the fullness of the Holy Sprit. Yes, the ministry of the priesthood is a very important element in our liturgical services, and it has a tremendous impact on the decor of the church.

The liturgies of the church are in a real manner cosmic. They must be because they are directed to God, a Trinity of three persons. The Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible, is the source of all life and matter. Our ecclesial environment has a natural and supernatural dimension that is instilled from the liturgical services. That is, by the visible elements in our environment, we hope to reveal the invisible character of the sacraments that we come to celebrate. God, angels, grace, the community of saints and the devil are truly spiritual realities that dramatically affect our lives. In fact, it is no wonder then that angels play an important roll in our liturgies and are constantly recounted in the Bible. In the Eucharist prayer number one, the priest says "May the angels take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven."  They are depicted in churches throughout the world  in one form or another even though they are spiritual persons. Needless to say, if we attend mass our guardian angel whom has been entrusted with our care is at our side. Even having our wonderful Catholic school no more than 30 feet away from our great church is a constant reminder of their continual presence. For holy scripture proclaims, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of My Father who is in heaven." Matt 18:10. Along with the angels, the church triumphant participate in our heavenly celebrations. We invoke the communion of saints in the creed that we profess at masses and baptisms. In addition, the litany of saints is said at baptisms and funerals, for example, "St John the Baptist, pray for us." All this  is yet another sign of the dimension of the Catholic faith that transcends death. And along with the angels and saints, beautiful nature also proclaims the glories of our Lord as depicted by the rainbow with Noah, the sky darkening at the crucifixion, the wind of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. We must always remember the cosmic dimension surrounding our liturgies and never let them become banal or mundane. top of page

Reconciliation, the Tabernacle, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Chapels:

Needless to say, the liturgical environment is very important to the people of God because we are to grow continually in holiness. In fact, the Lord himself challenged us "To be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." But on our faith journey, we stumble and fall. Yet the incarnate Savior is full of love and compassion. The rooms for reconciliation are inside the church because our God is ready and willing to forgive His pilgrim people so that we may enter the liturgies with a clean heart. In turn, Jesus asked us to pardon our brother or sister before we bring our gifts to the altar. God's mercy endures forever via the ministry of priesthood who give us absolution for our sins, encouragement on our journey, and advice for life. Inside the rooms are two chairs for the face-to-face reconciliation. A kneeler and partition are situated for the traditional approach to confession. But what is so lovely about the rooms is the presence of the two statues. Especially poignant  is the fact that when the penitent enters one of the rooms of reconciliation, he or she sees the statue of Jesus carrying the lost sheep on His shoulders. Donít you think that is so appropriate and such a beautiful sign of Godís Love!

In between the two confessionals, the name by which prime timers remember them, is the chapel containing the tabernacle. Here, the body of Christ is held in reverence in a beautiful tabernacle surrounded by an exquisite mosaic. The early church established the tabernacle to have the sacred Host readily available as the viaticum for the dying. The tabernacle is a very important and solemn element within a church; and its surroundings should reflect a most solemn place, e.g., as when God cautioned Mosses who approach the burning bush on Mount Sinai. The liturgical environment committee has directed due attention even here with respect to maintaining the lighted lamp 24 hours a day before the tabernacle.

A tradition developed of the people coming to pray throughout the day in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, many of the people of God pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the universal prayer of the church said worldwide. Also called the Divine Office, priest, religious, and others praise God together no matter where they are in world with the same prayer. They (by their religious vocations) are required to pray at a certain time of the day which is a carry over from the Jewish tradition and similar to the Moslem practice. Their prayers consist of readings from Scriptures, the lives of the saints, and ecclesial prayers, which come together in the book called the breviary. In a sense, this rhythmic prayer cycle keeps the presence of God at the forefront of peoples' lives, a very important goal of the liturgy of the church.

The Liturgy of the Hours is meant for the People of God to praise God at certain times of the day, Likewise, our chapels are meant to be solemn places set apart from the rest of the world for the praise of God too. Chapels may be in the church, or outside of the church. They are at cemeteries, hospitals, religious houses, and in rectories. The Los Angeles archbishop Roger Mahoney requested whenever possible that pastors set aside space in their rectories for his priests to pray in private. St. Bernadine of Siena Catholic church also has its own chapel where parishioners can come to pray in private. Popular piety is beneficial, and it should always be directed to Liturgical pray just as the Blessed Mary always points to her SON. top of page

Liturgical Music and Art

The atmosphere and mood surrounding the liturgies must permeate the people of God visually, audibly, and even aromatically at times. Was not Jesus anointed with perfume by Mary Magdalene? To see a flowing stream  in the baptistery that symbolizes the Jordan river in which Jesus prefigured our own baptism is greatly enhanced by the sound of the running water. And why not use sound to awaken the Holy People of God to the evident fact  that prayer is the lifting of  their heart, mind, and soul to God. And just as important is the opposite effect, that is, the motionless moments of our worship are enhanced by the silence within the sanctuary. Disturbing traffic noises or sirens and those intrusive cell phones that ring destroy the tone of the liturgy. Silence is golden. The congregation must always remember with respect to cell phones that there is a Higher Calling, i.e. God, present and speaking to us. But with respect to the positive force associated with sound, music is the overwhelming reverberation on which we the parishioners should focus. The spoken word is wonderful, but Saint Augustine claims that he or she who sings prays twice. And so, we especially are cognizant of making the surroundings well suited for the music ministry at our church. The choir should be situated in such a location that they can command the attention of the congregation in their efforts to lead us in prayer. Then, there should be enough space and light for themselves and their instruments. Lastly, all the audible factors in church decor should harmonize well with the visual elements to ensure a holistic and sacred setting.

A key principles behind our liturgical environment is that the church must be beautiful. Therefore, artistic works of genuine substance should occupy the sanctuary as befitting a most sacred place of worship. Remember, this is the house of God in our very own neighborhood; here we come together in force to pay homage to the Creator. Beautiful works of art in various forms (for example, tile, glass, wood, and precious metals) should reflect the splendor of our Savior. Keep in mind that the Triune God cannot be out done in generosity and that everything we posses, (our time, talents, and treasure) are bestowed from Him. So it is only just that a portion of what God has given to us is returned as a gracious gift for the glory and praise of the Trinity. All our noble endeavors and nature itself should manifest in a concrete way a sincere love for God. We, who are made in the image and likeness of God, express His goodness and beauty through art and culture. Moreover, we express through visual and audible effects our human soul radiating with joy, knowledge, and truth. We proclaims a beautiful image of God that is veiled in various appearances and manners, but however well done, they will always fall short in reflecting the invisible God. The artistic pieces call to mind for this present generation the saving grace  portrayed throughout the old and new testaments. Moreover, such things as relics and the stations of the cross serve as instructional aids and teach us of the sufferings that our Savior endured for our benefit. Just as the motion pictures the "Passion" or" Jesus of Nazareth" portray the salvation history through the power of film, church decor can have a powerful influence on the parishioners. Works of fine art, sculptures, paintings, and tapestries, serve to remind us of our past traditions and heroes such as the saints. Vatican II states another principle of church decor is that it should be noble yet simplistic. Therefore, all the efforts of the environmental liturgical committee are directed to replicating a church befitting of God Himself. top of page

The Sacristy and Behind the Scenes:

But the work of the environmental committee continues today, and in fact, will never end. There are liturgical updates from the Vatican and the Archdioceses to implement, the liturgical seasons from the beginning of the church year through Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost for which to decorate, and just the daily liturgical exercises for which to prepare the church. Yes, the work of Martha continues in order that others like Mary can pray in an environment that is conducive to thanksgiving, praising, forgiving and petitioning. For remember the saying invoked by our very own mothers, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness". Sometimes called the altar society; some of them may work in the sacristy out of sight from the congregation. Much of their holy labor occurs there, but not all of it because there is so much to do. And sometimes, they hastily do their chores without enough time, but from that great traditions may possibly emerge such as the use of unleavened bread in the Latin Rite of the Eucharist. They wash the chalices, polish the vessels, launder the garments, iron the linens, sew the cross on the purifiers, dust the statues, and water the plants. They open the church, mop the floors, vacuum the carpet, sweep the tile, wax the furniture, wash the windows, and fix what is broken. They turn on the lights, replace the bulbs, put out the candles, tidy the pews, return the song sheets, order the missals, purchase the liturgical books, change the song books, retrieve lost items, through out the trash, and remove objectionable material. Oh yes, remember our Lord threw out the money changers from the temple. They check the sound system, set the thermostat, turn off the lights, lock the door, and switch on the security system. From sunrise to sunset and beyond, members of our church volunteer to make it an appropriate place to pray, worship, and celebrate. One can see the rich symbolism of Jesus at the Last Supper washing the feet of His disciples alive and well at our parish. For all this, we are grateful to the parishioners and staff who work behind the scenes. But rest assured that they are always  recognized by God who sees all and by the His priests in turn!  top of page

Praise be to God that there is so much rich symbolism to draw upon for the church decor. It is truly a splendid process to design a suitable house for God and a satisfying experience for the builder. And when it is wonderfully done, as it is at St. Bernardine of Siena, it is also a magnificent pleasure for the eye and ear. We are proud of our liturgical celebration because of our fantastic people who make it all a reality just as the Holy Father is thankful of the participants at his prayer gatherings. Without the contributions of so many helpful people, truly none of this would have been possible. A heartfelt thanks to the priests, the liturgical environmental committee, and the parishioners who fill up the pews. Remember, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in your midst."

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