The Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran
Sunday, 9 November 2014
St. Michael’s Church, Ardaghey 10.00am
My dear friends,
The Oil of Chrism, with its discreet perfume (balsam), will be known to most of you. It is used in various forms of consecration. Blessed by the Bishop on Holy Thursday morning, it is brought from the Cathedral to the parish Churches throughout the diocese, and used in many of the sacraments. In the Rite of Baptism, most of us had the sign of the cross traced on the crown of our head by the priest with this fragrant oil. Chrism is used again in the sacrament of Confirmation, as a sign of commitment and consecration to the way of life which Jesus taught us; and during the Rite of Ordination, the Bishop uses the Oil of Chrism to anoint the newly ordained’s hands.
So the Oil of Chrism is especially associated with consecration and dedication. In all of the Sacraments already mentioned, this is so. In Baptism, our parents pledge to teach us and show us how to live the Way of Christ. Through this sacrament, each Christian pledges to witness to certain values, and to honour the goodness of God in so doing. This declaration becomes more personal and more mature when our faith is confirmed in the presence of the Bishop as we enter the teenage years. The hands anointed with the Oil of Chrism at Ordination will be called to console and heal the sick, celebrate the Eucharist, forgive sins and dispense God’s grace to the flock.
During the dedication of a Church, the consecrating Bishop anoints the walls and stones of the building and altar. In this act of consecration, the building is set aside for a specific purpose. The building has a purpose distinct from any other. This is usually very obvious when it has a prominent and special location in the parish. It is higher than most other buildings; its spire points to the heavens and the peal of its bell reminds us of our final and ultimate destiny.
The pre-eminent and substantial site which the Church usually has reminds us of its importance to the faith community. It reminds them that God has pitched his tent among us. Here God lives among his people. On the altar, god takes flesh again and again in the Eucharist. This is the ‘holy place where the most high dwells’. It is a building, and more than a building, because it houses so many memories and significant moments of our lives. These stones are living stones. They have secrets. They have seen and heard so much that they could not be treated as anything less than venerable.
So when we celebrate the dedication of a Church, we are dealing with more than just a building. We honour the vision and tenacity of those who built it out of pockets that had nothing to spare. We may marvel at the faith, sacrifice and dedication of those who gathered here to worship for almost 200 years. Then there are all the memories and the people who make up these memories. We remember all the characters who gave life to the pews and to the stories retold around the fireside. In that sense we celebrate a living, vibrant community always on the move, ebbing and flowing.
Paul wrote to the people of Corinth and talked of not so much a building but a temple. Each one must be careful how he builds on it. The Temple of the Jews in Jerusalem was revered by the people. In a special way, it was the site of God’s presence. So are the hearts and minds of the worshipers – sites of God’s presence. Paul warns against destroying God’s presence. No one should cause division or desecrate the Temple, the Church in which the Spirit of God continues to dwell.
Today is the Feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. It is the Cathedral Church of the diocese of Rome, so it is the Pope’s Church, a building of great beauty and proportion. In celebrating the dedication of this special Church, we celebrate too our own Church which shelters the members of our community and is our special place of communion with Christ. As we look fondly on these living stones, we thank God for our Church building and our freedom to worship. What happens through God’s interaction with us within these walls is very precious. God’s presence and grace offers us the potential to be a living community in which we can live, and teach our children to live, as God intended us to do. By our witness as individuals and as a community, we are called to be temples where Christ can take flesh once again in the midst of the world.
+Liam s. MacDaid
9 November 2014