About San Rafael
St. Raphael – San Rafael in Spanish – (“God heals”) is one of the seven Archangels named in the apocryphal book of Enoch who stand before the throne of God. Besides Raphael, Michael (“Who is like God”) and Gabriel (“God is strong”) are the only Archangels mentioned in the Christian Bible. Raphael was sent by God to help Tobit, Tobiah and Sarah, and his story can be found in the Book of Tobit of the Bible. Raphael instructed Tobit how to enter safely into marriage with Sarah, whose previous seven husbands had all died on their wedding night! Tobit was also blind, and it was Raphael who provided Tobit’s son, Tobiah, with the knowledge of how to cure the blindness by using a medicine made of fish gall. This knowledge was given to Tobiah as he and Raphael journeyed together to Media and back. Raphael is also identified as the angel who moved the waters of the healing pool of Siloam in Jerusalem. Raphael is patron of the blind, of happy meetings, of nurses, physicians and travelers. Raphael’s Feast Day is celebrated with Michael and Gabriel on September 29, the Feast of the Archangels.
San Rafael Parish exists to bring the Lord to all people in our area through faithful proclamation of the Word and celebration of the Sacraments. The Sacred Liturgy is our primary focus, from which all else flows. In light of this, we strive to create awareness that each person is special to the Lord. Consequently, each person shares in the Lord’s work of teaching and reaching out to those in need. San Rafael Parish endeavors to do this through its many ministries, as well as reaching out to the poor and less fortunate both here at home and in the missions.
Symbolism at San Rafael
Welcome to San Rafael Parish! Our parish church, which was built in 1974, but modified over the years to meet the changing needs of our congregation, combines ancient symbolism with modern architecture. When you visit our parish we hope that this brief description will help you appreciate the symbolic elements contained in the church architecture.
The church itself is built in the form of an octagon which was a common construction among some of the earliest Christian churches. The church which marked the site of the house of St. Peter in Capernaum and the Kathisma Church (Seat of Mary Church) on the road to Bethlehem in the Holy Land (both constructed in the 5th century A.D.) are only two of many that were built in this shape. According to archaelologists St. Peter’s house is where he lived in Capernaum, and pious custom tells us that Mary rested on the way to Bethlehem before Jesus was born and drank from the nearby well at Kathisma. The eight sides of the ancient churches and, thus, San Rafael, recall the eight Beatitudes in Matthew, Chapter 5, as is also found in the Church of the Beatitudes in Galilee.
As we enter the church at San Rafael we can’t help but notice the large, four pillar fountain to the east of the main doors. This fountain recalls the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well asking for living water (John 4) and the four gospels. Like the gospels each pillar is a different length, going in a different direction, providing the life-giving water of the gospels which come from the unseen source of the Holy Spirit, as was given the woman by Jesus Himself.
Upon entering the church we are met by the figure of the risen Lord with open arms above the holy water font to welcome us. We bless ourselves with holy water as a symbol of our baptism, cleansing of our sins and reminder that we are entering a sacred space. The vestibule provides a place that is a transition between the sacred and the profane. Above all of these are seven stained glass windows which depict the seven sacraments through which Christ effectively reaches out and touches His people in the various aspects of our lives.
The Blessed Sacrament Chapel is to the right of the vestibule. The tabernacle is at the eastern wall mounted on a round table (the circle being the symbol of eternity without end or beginning) supported by three legs (the Holy Trinity) and reinforced by a triangle at the bottom which holds them together (Three persons, one God). The lectern with the Bible to the right of the tabernacle has four legs each of which point in a different direction, symbolizing the Word of God going to the four corners of the earth.
Above the altar is a reproduction of the cross of San Damiano from which Christ spoke to St. Francis telling him to “Go, rebuild my Church,” reminding each of us of what we are called to do. To the left of the tabernacle is a beautiful stained glass window of the burning bush from which God revealed Himself to Moses. The door leading into the church from the Blessed Sacrament chapel has an image of the Blessed Sacrament in the center panel.
When we return to the vestibule and enter the church proper the floor looks unfinished. It is supposed to look that way to remind us that we, too, come before the Lord in an imperfect state. As we proceed down the aisle to the altar we notice that the floor changes color and texture, a little more finished in appearance. The predella, on which the altar rests, is directly beneath the stained glass window of the Holy Spirit who watches over and guides the Church. The round predella again represents the eternal God without beginning or end. From the center of the predella, directly beneath the altar, lines go out in all directions of the compass. They also form a Greek Cross ( + ) and a St. Andrew’s Cross ( X ) reminding us of the cost of discipleship as well as forming part of the compass which illustrates that what is done at the altar affects the whole world. The circular cuts on the predella and altar area floor symbolize ripples in the water going out from the center of the action on the altar to the far shores of the earth.
Behind the altar is the baptismal font through which a person enters the life of Christ in the Church. The font and back wall stone are all the same stone but with different finishes. We come unfinished to the Lord in Baptism. Once we are baptized and enter into the life of Christ our journey to perfection commences, rough at first but finally finished in glory. The copper strips on the lower part of the back wall, the stone of which is also reminiscent of the limestone of which most of Jerusalem is built, represent the Communion of Saints, the silent gathering of witnesses watching over us to all we say and do in the Church. The copper strips are the same copper as the bowl of the baptismal font showing how Baptism incorporates us in the Communion of Saints.
The Ambo, from which the gospel is proclaimed, stands between the baptismal font and the altar of the Eucharist, drawing all three together in the mystery of salvation.
On the back walls there are two votive candle holders, each holding twelve candles. The candles on the left side of the church represent the twelve tribes of Israel. The candles on the right side of the church represent the twelve apostles. Votive candles are lit to remind us of our constant, silent prayer that comes before the Mercy Seat of God.
Over all of this hangs the ultimate symbol of God’s love for us, and the most recognizable symbol of our Faith, the crucifix, on which the Lamb of God – Jesus Christ – was offered as a sacrifice to save us once and for all from our sins and guarantee us passage through the sea of trials in this life to the joy and peace of the Promised Land.
The stained glass windows which surround the church, the seasonal icons and statutes of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Family depict the great men and women of Faith who help us to recall salvation history from the moment of creation to the coming the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, as well as their constant and continued prayer for the Church. Christianity is not a community of the dead, but it is a community of the living and such images remind us of the saints of the Church who continue to pray for us and guide us today.
There are no kneelers in our parish church. During Mass everyone who is able stands for the Eucharistic Prayer reminding us that we stand in honor of the presence of the Divine Lord as we participate in the banquet of life and prepare to take the Good News of Jesus Christ into the world.
We hope that this brief explanation of the symbolism found in the church of San Rafael Parish will help all who come here have a greater appreciation for the manner in which every Christian is called to live and proclaim the Faith.
Parish Ministry Council
The purpose of the Ministry Council is to serve in an advisory capacity to the Pastor and the parish concerning the present and future needs of the parish. The Council meets bi-monthly and includes a representative from every recognized ministry through the following ministry groups: Liturgy, Education and Faith Formation, Service Ministries, Hospitality and Social Concerns. Parish staff members also serve on the Council.