Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

If God is everywhere, what is the point of sacred areas like the altar in a house of worship?

It is what happens in that house of the Lord that makes the space so sacred. As we read in the Vatican II document, Sacrosanctum concilium, (nos. 122-127), a church is a house of prayer where the Eucharist is both celebrated and reserved. It is where we gather as Gods people to worship his Risen Son who is made present in all the sacraments, but especially on the altar in the form of bread and wine. Here he is both the victim offered for our reconciliation and the food from heaven that transforms us. It is also the place where the tabernacle is located, so that after the Eucharist, we reserve the Blessed Sacrament with dignity and security. This is Christs real presence, which remains there for our adoration. At Notre-Dame Cathedral, there is rarely a moment in the day when at least a few people are not gathered in solemn prayer before the real presence of Christ in the tabernacle. Literally thousands come each week to the Eucharists. All of this makes the church a very holy place.

It is important to remember that our times of celebration and adoration also have an effect that goes beyond the church building itself. As Pope Benedict wrote in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, our sacred celebrations around the altar make our world a more sacred place: "In the Eucharist Jesus also makes us witnesses of God's compassion towards all our brothers and sisters. The eucharistic mystery thus gives rise to a service of charity towards neighbour, which consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know." It is in our churches that we are transformed, sent by the Lord to bring his caring presence to the world.