Sunday Mass, San Marco, Venice

We walked to Saint Mark’s Basilica this morning for the 10:30 Mass, and entered the side door at 10 by a brusque guard, through the Chapel of Santa Maria Nicopeia and found seats in the sixth row in the nave.  We were close enough to view some of the liturgy through the rood screen pillars and far enough back to see the five golden domes, the rolling vaulted transept forming the Greek cross plan.

Sun streamed through windows high above the chancel galleries and lit the walls of glittering mosaic and I wondered again in some awe at the glorious jeweled depictions of saints and prophets, martyrs and apostles, the Passion of Christ covering these domes and walls.  I pondered the Temptation in the Wilderness high above us.  Satan, the small black lizard/demon appears three times before Christ in his white robes; finally the demon is shown scurrying off and angels appear.  I thought of our own wilderness, the world in which we live which seems more and more hostile to believers and also the wilderness within our own hearts, the temptations we must face daily – pride, envy, covetousness, selfishness.

I looked about the crowd, now filling the nave.  How many were believers, how many were simply seekers, seekers searching for transcendence, some pull outside themselves.  How many had found what they sought?  How many continued their search?  How many reveled in the momentary light, the choir’s voices soaring through the musty air, the bells clanging high above?

Some, it seems, continually seek, finding but not accepting what they find.  They wander in the spiritual half-light.  ”Seek and you shall find,” Our Lord said.  “Ask and it shall be given to you.”  But how many reject the gift when they find it?  For the gift of belief requires a response, a commitment to Christ, to God, to the Church, Christ’s Body on earth.  Christ Himself is the answer, and with that immense love (not all want the demands of love) we must also love, we must be Christ-like, we must examine our hearts and clean out our souls.  We are called to righteousness, to perfection, to sacrificial love.  We must desire to be changed.

I looked at the domes of brilliant glory and then at the darker sculpted images of the rood screen.  The light and the dark.  We live in the darkness of our own mortality, our own selfishness, but the light has come to show us the way.  The images in San Marco ’s vaults glittered with a heavenly assurance that this world is not all there is, but that God lives among us, God is with us.  By the Cross God enters our world and redeems us.  He has conquered death, the dark reality of our humanity.  We need only believe.

I left San Marco happy, radiant with the memory of soaring chants, bread and wine changed to Body and Blood, the hundreds of worshipers partaking of the divine feast.  And God among us.

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