From the altar flow streams of grace - Consecration and Re-dedication of St Thérèse' Church, Moonah Lutana
The ceremonial of the dedication of this church today eloquently expresses the Church's understanding of the importance of the church building as both an expression of Catholic faith and as a place for worship of God.
The architect operated under an exacting brief. He was not free to give wide interpretation as to what he thought the church should look like. The Catholic Church has a stable and clear understanding of the character of a church building and how its elements are to facilitate the celebration of the liturgy. While tastes and styles may vary, the key nature of what a church is meant to be and the elements that are necessary to meet liturgical and devotional needs are clear.
This has been achieved in this renovation and I congratulate those involved - the parish renovation committee, the architect and the builders.
The liturgy of dedication tonight will capture the various foci of the church building, culminating in the consecration of the altar. This is a dramatic action where the centrality of the altar in Catholic liturgy will be emphasised.
The altar is to be the centre of focus for every Catholic church. It reminds us that Catholic worship has as its summit and source (to quote the document on the Liturgy from the second Vatican Council) the sacrifice of the Mass.
The Mass is first and foremost a commemoration of and an engagement in the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Just as every church has the image of Christ crucified in a prominent place so the liturgical action of the Mass centres on the death of Christ and its implications for each of us.
We are drawn to Calvary at every Mass. When asked to proclaim our faith after the Consecration we declare with deep and grateful faith: We proclaim your death O Lord and profess your resurrection… until you come again. At every Mass this is the central proclamation of the community: our Lord Jesus Christ died for us and rose again.
This is the central Christian mystery. However, though constantly presented to us, its full meaning can easily escape us. In the Mass we are not just remembering a sad historical event - that Jesus, Son of God, ended his life tragically by being crucified. We are rather declaring that this death was the moment of the redemption of the human race; that this death was at the heart of God's plan to save humanity from eternal separation from Him. The death of Christ was what the Father asked of His beloved Son. Jesus, though struggling in his humanity with this request, acceded to what His Father asked of him: "not my will, but yours be done".
The death of Christ was a death for us. It was the supreme act of self-sacrificing love. Something beyond our human comprehension. He assumed our human nature in all but sin, but on the cross he embraced the sin of mankind - of all time and place - and cried out to his Father: "Forgive them they know not what they are doing".
From the cross Jesus cried out to the Father on behalf of humanity. He asked that humanity be reconciled with God. He interceded with his Father that the sin of humanity be forgiven and that it would be possible for human beings to receive eternal life in heaven. He offered himself as the atoning sacrifice. And his prayer was heard.
In the Gospel reading this evening we see that Jesus was concerned about the eternal salvation of the thief crucified with Him. And he could declare that he would be the first to benefit from what was occurring - "today you will be with me in paradise". This is why Jesus died - that even sinners, by repenting, will be received into eternal life.
Humanity was redeemed on Calvary. However, it was at the Last Supper that Jesus, knowing what was to happen and its profound significance, took bread and said, "this is my body". He took a cup of wine and said, "this is my blood". Then he said, very importantly, "do this in memory of me".
"Do this in memory of me". These words have become engraved on the heart of the Church. So from the very beginning of the Church, the Christians met to commemorate what Jesus did at the Last Supper. And what he did only made sense in what was to happen the following day, the day we call "Good Friday".
Every Mass takes us to Good Friday and on the altar the sacrifice of Christ is relived and made real and effective for us.
When we gather to celebrate Mass we embrace what Christ did on Calvary. We claim the redemption gained for us. We enter into the sacrifice that we might share its victory.
At the centre of this church is the altar. At the heart of the liturgical rites performed in this church is the altar. When we enter this church the altar draws our eyes. Here in this church we are able to make our lives one with the sacrifice of Christ. We are able to be drawn into the saving action of Christ.
The prophet Ezekiel, himself a priest, had a vision of the altar in the temple in Jerusalem and there flowed streams of living water from the threshold of the temple. It is from the altar that the streams of redeeming grace will flow. And we will drink of this water. It is the water of the Spirit. It is the sanctifying life released by the sacrifice of Christ.
In Christ I am saved from eternal death. In Christ I am promised eternal life. In Christ I am swept up in the mercy of the Father.
This church is a holy place. Today it is dedicated to Christian worship. It exists for this purpose and this purpose only. This church is a sacred place and in the church we enter into prayer for we are in the presence of God. This church is where the saving act of Christ on calvary is made real and present and effective in our lives.
So, this building is a holy place. It is the House of God. This is a place where worship of the one true God will occur. This is a place where the angels will gather. This is a place where we will lift our hearts and voices in praise and thanksgiving. This will be a place where our prayers will rise like the smoke of the incense. This is a place where we will taste the presence of the Lord. This is a place where grace will flow.
Coming to this church for the celebration of Mass there are two basic dispositions of heart that are appropriate. The first is coming with a humble spirit. We are sinners, unworthy of what God has done for us. Thus a first prayer at Mass is "Lord have mercy". Our approach to God is always marked by sincere humility.
The second disposition of heart is to come with thanksgiving, with a grateful heart that God has redeemed us. Thus before the Eucharistic Prayer we are urged by the priest to give thanks to the Lord our God and we respond, "It is right to give Him thanks and praise". We offer our profound gratitude to God for His love that has restored us and not abandoned us in our sin.
The Mass is an act of thanksgiving and we join with the angels and saints in heaven as they glorify the Lord. We sing their song and make it our own: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts".
All of this is around the altar - the place of sacrifice.
So let us proceed with the liturgy of dedication, conscious of the significance of what we doing.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
Friday, November 18, 2016