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Fr. Alexei Smith Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
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Decoding Rituals and Symbols of Roman Catholicism:
Touring  the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

The colorful crowd gathered on the plaza of Our Lady of the Angels on a blisteringly hot day. They had come from many directions and walks of life to get an understanding of the rituals and symbols of Roman Catholicism manifested throughout the Cathedral.

Father Alexei Smith, the charming and informative Director of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, served as an ideal tour-guide.  As he shared the rich history and meaning of the symbols he also included many amusing and touching tales, allowing participants to peek inside the architecture and iconography to the human struggles and values they portray. Above the entrance Our Lady of the Angels stands on a crescent moon, reflecting powerfully the diversity of Los Angeles by evoking multiple nationalities simultaneously.

Among other interesting facts, Fr. Alexei noted the Cathedral’s Spanish architect’s replacement of the 90 degree angles we’re comfortable with by sharper ones indicative of the complexity of space. He spoke of the meaning of the baptismal font and its placement at the back of the church, and also about the pool of water beside the font, an invitation to ‘full immersion’, a form of baptism that is still new and perhaps uncomfortable to many Catholic priests like himself who don’t want to get soaked. The pool is reflective of the Church’s commitment to openness towards their Christian brethren of other denominations, from the reform of the Second Vatican Council. The Rev. Dr. Guibord, The Guibord Center’s Founder, joined in with her humor and insights throughout the conversation, adding a valuable dimension from her background as both an interfaith leader and an Episcopal priest.

The teaching tour then went underground to a small chapel for fascinating discussion and a lively exchange of questions covering subjects from ‘why and how people cross themselves’ to the surprising fact that the Roman Catholic Church is a part of a whole communion of Catholic Churches and not the ‘only one’. The tour took off again to the crypts and the beautiful stained glass windows saved from the original cathedral in Los Angeles, St. Vibiana’s. There Father Alexei explained the placement of crypts in relation to the Altar above us, the history of Catholicism in California, and  shifting understandings of cremation and burial.

From this area, people moved into the main sanctuary where the engaging outpouring of the history and meaning imbued in the sanctuary continued, from why the two red hats hang down from the ceiling to the smear of Holy oil remaining on the wall from when the Cathedral was consecrated.

The day was full. Many were grateful for the taping that The Guibord Center always does enabling them to have the opportunity to go back and look again at a wonderful and meaningful journey into Catholicism.

Please take time to watch the video of this event. Whether you want to relive the day or see it all for the first time, the presentation by Fr. Alexei will be sure to enlighten you about the Rituals and Symbols of Roman Catholicism.

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