Worship in the Beauty of Holiness

20160904_032837Ordinarily, I worship God in a storefront church. We are über casual. There is no liturgy to speak of—we are an informal bunch. If people want coffee during the service, they get up and get it. And if they have an opinion about what the pastor is saying, they may express it right there, on the spot. In fact, he often encourages such participation. Oh, and by the way, we all speak English at my church.

So it probably won’t surprise you that worshiping at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris earlier this month represented quite a change for me. My French is rusty, and my Latin non-existent. I am unfamiliar with the traditions of a Roman Catholic mass. The 12th-century church is huge and ornate, the atmosphere formal and quiet, and there is no coffee anywhere to be seen.

I anticipated feeling out of place. I expected not to know what was going on. And, frankly, I didn’t envision encountering God there.

But I was wrong—at least about the encountering God part.

As I sat down a few minutes before the service began, I was awed by the beauty. As I gazed at the magnificent stained glass, gilding, pillars, and soaring arches, I was overwhelmed by a sense of God’s majesty. I felt drawn right into the courts of heaven. Psalm 46:9 came to mind: “O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: tremble before him, all the earth.”

This church was built for Your glory, my heart prayed. It was built to reflect Your splendor. Holy, holy are You Lord!

I should have just stayed in that attitude of worship. But I also wanted to capture the moment, so I did the touristy thing: I pulled out my phone and snapped a photo. Instantly, it seemed, an older gentleman sat down next to me and started a stern lecture, in French! I could barely understand the words, but his meaning was very clear: I was not to take photos while seated in the nave. Either I was there as a tourist (not seated in the service, taking photos at will) or I was there as a worshiper. Which was it?*

I meekly apologized, put my phone in my purse, and waited quietly for the service to begin. As other worshipers entered, many faced the altar and genuflected before taking their seats. They were hushed and, unlike me, did not take pictures.

I was impressed by how reverent everyone was. The atmosphere seemed saturated with God’s holiness.

The priest, cantor, and altar boy started their procession down the aisle toward the front of the nave. The cross was lifted high, as was the Word of God. Incense filled the air. The symbolism of this trio of simple, beautiful acts stirred my heart to honor and praise God.

When the service began, there were no upbeat choruses. There was no good-good-Father-Jesus-calls-me-friend vibe. But there were majesty, splendor, and holiness. And there was singing—of Psalms, in French. I didn’t know all the words, but some did stand out to me: Seigneur, souverain, grand et puissant, majestueux, glorieux (Lord, sovereign, great and mighty, majestic, glorious). And they were enough. My soul worshiped along with the assembly and, dare I say? with the angels, too.

My imagination wandered to Isaiah 6 and Revelation 5—scenes before God’s throne in heaven. I could imagine, in a way I usually cannot at my casual, storefront church, what it might be like to be overcome by God’s holy presence.

Hebrews 8:5 says that the earthly tabernacle (later temple) is “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” A lot of that has been lost in on modern places and forms of worship. Which is not to say we all need to start new cathedral building programs. All I am saying is that for me at least, a visit to a cathedral once in a while is good for my soul. It reconnects me with the majesty of God and renews my reverence for Him. At least that’s what happened a Sunday at Notre Dame a week and a half ago.

*With a little embarrassment, I am sharing with you the solitary picture I took before the French gentleman’s rebuke. However, my out-of-focus, stolen photograph cannot begin to do it justice!



8 thoughts on “Worship in the Beauty of Holiness

  1. aude de la salle says:

    Dear brothers and Sister,

    I would like to remind you few things:
    The Bishop who started the building of Notre Dame de Paris dedicated it to Mary the Mother of God. It is consecrated to her and there are 37 représentation of Mary in the Cathédral alone. One of the motivation behind the building of this cathédrale was also to show the power of France.
    Today it is the most visited monument in France.
    France is the second most occult country in the world. Ocult practice are everywhere in France. Very few catholic I know trully know Jesus as Lord. Most catholic I know worship Mary and pray to Mary more than Jesus.
    Louis the 14 th as an act of open rébellion against God and to show that he , Louis the 14 ( also called the Sun King) gave the nation of France to Mary the Mother of God.
    So forgive me for not being so excited about the building but I see it simply as another deception of the enemy.
    And there is much more than could be said.

    May the Lord bless you all in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior

    Aude de La Salle

    • cbezek says:

      Dear Aude,

      I thought of you often while I was in France. I remember you fondly and pray you are experiencing God’s favor. I am grateful for time I got to spend with you years ago.

      I have heard of some of the great spiritual challenges in France. I am glad to hear that you are standing strong in Jesus. May God give you strength, opportunities, grace, and truth to bring His light and truth to your beautiful country.

      And please pray for us in the United States, too. Our nation also has strayed and badly needs to return to the Lord.

      Grace and peace to you in Christ Jesus,

  2. Judy Niednagel says:

    How beautiful!! And how wonderful that God shows us His glory to us in so many ways and that He chooses to dwell in lowly temples not made with hands!

  3. Wendy says:

    I resonate strongly with this post. My experience is that by attending worship services of different types in different cultures, ranging from the extremely formal to the extremely informal, or from the contemplative to the charismatic, I’ve learned more about different aspects of the Holy Spirit and discovered that He can be just as powerfully present in every place, depending on the genuineness of the worshippers rather than the style of worship..

    • Beverly says:

      My thoughts exactly! As Cynthia shared about her casual storefront church, I wanted to be there. When she shared about the cathedral, I wanted to be there! Where God is honored and reverenced, we should want to be!

  4. Jann Coffman says:

    There is something special about European cathedrals. Many years ago, I attended service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. While I could understand the language (except the Latin parts), the form of worship was very unfamiliar to me. There was a differing sense of God’s grandeur and the expression of His majesty conveyed in the architecture and design and the centuries of history housed in that setting. I also felt more connected to the overall continuum of the Church, past and present. I think we miss that here in the USA.

  5. Brenda says:

    I understand your feeling of encountering God. I love to participate in Swahili worship in Kenya. I have no idea what is being said, but I just know it is worshipful and know that God is present in the midst of all that was going on around me. Though you cannot understand the words, you are still enveloped and swept away by His Holy presence.

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