Astonishment at the Paschal Mystery

Solemn Dedication of Church and Altar at St Francis Catholic Church, Riverside

At the outset I would like to acknowledge that this church has been the place of worship for our brethren in the Anglican Church under the patronage of St David. Today we dedicate this renovated church and especially the altar for Catholic worship.

From ancient times the Church insisted that a church be solemnly consecrated such that it would be solely set aside for the worship of God. At the heart of this dedication is the consecration of the altar with Holy Chrism. It is on the altar the Paschal Mystery, the heart of our Christian faith, is celebrated.

We could say that a church is a building to house the altar. The altar is always the focal point in every Catholic church, and the celebration of Holy Mass is the very centre of Catholic worship.

In his recent Apostolic Letter on liturgical formation, entitled Desiderio Desideravi, Pope Francis spoke most eloquently about the significance of what occurs at every Mass. He urges us all to rediscover “the beauty of the truth of the liturgy” declaring that there is an “ocean of grace that floods every celebration” (DD 24).

He encouraged us all to discover afresh what he described as “astonishment at the paschal mystery”, saying that wonder is an essential part of our participation in the liturgy. We are being taken into the transcendental realm and engaged in the wondrous mystery of God’s saving work.

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 centers 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. We humbly and gratefully acknowledge that have been saved and we now share in the salvation won for us.

Quoting from St Paul VI at the closing of the second session of the Vatican Council, Pope Francis writes, “the Liturgy is the first source of divine communion in which God shares his own life with us” (DD 30).

The Pope reminds us that the “Liturgy gives glory to God not because we can add something to the beauty of the inaccessible life within which God dwells, … but because it allows us – here on earth – to see God in the celebration of the mysteries, and seeing Him draw life from his Passover” (DD 43).

He says that the “salvific power of the sacrifice of Jesus … reaches us through the celebration of the sacraments” (DD 11) and declares that “Christian faith is either an encounter with him alive, or it does not exist” (ibid).

At Mass we are caught up in the Paschal Mystery. We embrace the salvation won for us on Calvary. Thus, our first response is grateful praise and worship of God. We are invited as we enter the Eucharistic Prayer to join our voices with those of the angels, so we sing, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of Hosts”. We join our voices with the heavenly worship of the Triune God.

As the Church is dedicated today let us renew our desire to participate fully in the mysteries of our faith that will be celebrated here, especially the Holy Eucharist. Let us resolve to have this church always as a house of prayer and so it enter it in silence and reverence, for here God dwells among us.

This parish and this church has as its patron, St Francis of Assisi. I would like to conclude my homily with words from St Francis that the Pope quoted at this end of his Apostolic Letter.

Let everyone be struck with fear, let the whole world tremble, and let the heavens exult when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest!
O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity!
O sublime humility! O humble sublimity!
The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God,
so humbles Himself that for our salvation
He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread!
Brothers, look at the humility of God,
and pour out your hearts before Him!
Humble yourselves that you may be exalted by Him!
Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves,
that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!
                                                                   Saint Francis of Assisi

Archbishop Julian Porteous

Saturday, 10 September 2022

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