There are two days of which are of the greatest Solemnity in the life of a parish – the Solemnity of its titular saint and the Solemnity of the dedication of the parish Church. Today we celebrate both of those as this Church was consecrated sixty years ago today on the Feast of our Patron, Pope St. Leo IV.
The celebration of the dedication of a Church is of such importance that the Church elevates this day in its liturgical ranking above the Sundays in Ordinary time and so hence today we put aside green and wear solemn gold vestments as a testimony that this is indeed a sacred place with a sacred purpose.
Sixty years ago on this day, Bishop Maurice Schexnayder consecrated this Church and this altar to God for the celebration of the sacraments. This is no minor significance as the Code of Canon law at the time required that in order for a Church to be consecrated, it must be completely debt free.
This is a testimony that you, the people of Roberts Cove recognized that the Church is indeed the center of the life of this community.
Before a Church is to be dedicated it must have a titular whose name is to be invoked as an intercessor for the people of God. For us, that is Saint Leo IV. You will see that this Church bears a marble stone which indicates that this Church was Consecrated to Almighty God under the Title of St. Leo IV.
If you look along the walls of this Church you will see that there are lit twelve candles which indicate the twelve places where the walls of this Church were anointed with Chrism, primarily representing the twelve stones that were used by Moses to build the altar of the Covenant which represented the twelve tribes of Israel. Likewise, it recalls the twelve gates of the new and heavenly Jerusalem mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Only churches that received the Solemn rite of consecration bear these candles. These candles are of such great importance that normally they are only lit on occasions of great Solemnity such as today, the anniversary of the dedication.
Many of us will never experience the Rite of the Dedication of a Church because it is such a rare occasion but perhaps some here today were here when this Church was dedicated.
As part of the Rite of Dedication, you would have seen a building built with mere natural brick and tile transformed into a supernatural place dedicated to the worship of God almighty. As the Bishop enters the Church he blesses the Church and the altar with Holy Water. This sprinkling is representative of our own baptism in which we are transformed and given supernatural life.
Next the relics of a martyr or some other saint are deposited within the altar as a reminder that the sacrifice of the Eucharist, which will be celebrated here, has its source in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and is united to the Blood of those who in union with Christ, gave their blood for the perpetuation of the faith.
The Church then has its walls anointed in twelve places and the altar is then covered in Chrism thereby consecrating the building and altar and setting it apart entirely and perpetually for the Worship of Almighty God in the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist. This anointing is also symbolic of the Sacrament of Confirmation, where we are sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
A brazier is then placed upon the altar filled with incense to signify that the sacrifice of Christ, which is here perpetuated in mystery, ascends to God as an odor of sweetness and also as a sign that the prayers of the people rise up, pleasing and acceptable, reaching the throne of God.
The altar is then covered in a cloth, indicating that this is now an altar where sacrifice is offered to almighty God and also the place where Jesus Christ nourishes us with his Body and Blood.
Lastly, the Eucharistic sacrifice is offered for the first time on this altar for the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Faith.
My dear friends, the actions of the Rite of Dedication are not accidental or coincidental but rather have a deep theological meaning. The entire rite is oriented so that what the Church and the altar receive emulate the sacraments of initiation that we receive as we enter into the Church. The Church is symbolically baptized, anointed as in Confirmation, and then she receives her first Eucharist.
Today we do not honor a building, rather we honor that gift of God that He takes what we have built with mere human hands and transforms it into a place which is made suitable for worship of Him. God the Father transforms simple brick and mortar into a place where his Son, Jesus Christ, will reside in all His majesty until the end of days.
I leave you today with these words from the Hymn of Dedication of the Abbey Church of St. Joseph Abbey at Covington, a Benedictine foundation whose monks served this community until 1907 and whose Abbey Church was not dedicated until October 4, 1998, 67 years after it had been built. The hymn’s refrain is as follows:
“Hail House of God! Gateway leading to heaven, ladder scaling the skies, bearing the hidden presence of the God of Israel!”
May we be always reminded that this place is indeed the House of God, the gateway that leads us to Heaven, that bears here in this tabernacle, the God of Israel. Amen