Offering a Sacrifice of Praise

Dedication of Altar, St Mary’s Cathedral, Hobart

Sacred Scripture gives us some brief glimpses into heaven. Isaiah, the prophet, describes his vision of the glory of the Lord. He says, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple” (Is 6:1). We are told that as the Lord spoke the foundations of the threshold shook and the Temple was filled with smoke. The Prophet describes a host of angels crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, His glory fills the whole earth”.

The writings of the Prophet Ezekiel begin with his declaration: “as I was among the exiles on the bank of the river Chebar, heaven opened and I saw visions of God”. He beheld a Being which looked like a man, fire and light surrounded him. He declared that he had witnessed the glory of the Lord (see Ez 1:28).

In chapter 5 of the Book of Revelations St John describes one of his visions of heaven where there were an immense number of angels gathered around the throne and the cry went up: “The Lamb that was sacrificed is worthy to be given power, riches, wisdom, strength, honour, glory and blessing” (Rev 5:12). The Lamb, of course, is Christ, described by John the Baptist as “the Lamb of God”.

From the glory of heaven God, in a singular act of creative love, brought forth the universe. His greatest creative act was the forming of human beings made in his own image and likeness. Each human being possessed an immortal soul, and was given the gift of freedom and the capacity to love. This gift was abused, humanity sinned, but God did not abandon humanity. He sent his own Son not to condemn sinful humanity but so that through him humanity might be saved, as we read in St John’s Gospel (Jn 3:17).

Jesus of Nazareth was born of a woman, a woman chosen among all women. As the sacred vessel holding the divine child, as a singular act of grace, she was preserved from all sin. She was immaculately conceived, the feast ancient in origin that the Church celebrates today.

Now Jesus, dead and risen, sits at the right hand of the Father. The Church offers him fitting worship and praise in the Sacred Liturgy, especially in the Holy Mass.

To offer a sacrifice of praise is the first duty and the desire of every believing Christian, conscious of the salvation won for them on Calvary.

Every Mass engages us with the Paschal Mystery – “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life”.  At every Mass, following the injunction of the Lord – “do this in memory of me” – we are drawn into the mystery of redemption. We embrace the salvation offered to us. We claim for ourselves the fruits of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God from whose pierced heart blood and water flowed. This wondrous truth is reflected in the beautiful mosaic adorning the front of the altar.

Thus, the Christian people gather before the altar to offer the sacrifice of the Mass. The altar is the centre of every church. Indeed, we could say that a church is the building to house an altar at which the Sacrifice of the Mass is offered.

As from the temple streams of living water flowed (see Ex 37), so too now from the altar streams of saving grace flow not only upon the congregation gathered but they flow out to all the world.

Christians have always sought out the best artisans and artists to adorn their churches. I am indebted to the wonderful skilled artisans and artists who have contributed to this renovation of St Mary’s Cathedral here in Hobart.

The Christian liturgy has always drawn forth the best in architecture, art and music. Our churches and our liturgies are our best efforts to offer fitting worship to the majesty and splendour of God, to find in beauty a way to lift and inspire the human spirit. In the Liturgy we are transported to another realm, the realm of the spirit, in order to glimpse something of what is revealed to us in the sacred texts of the glory of God.

Christians, living in this vale of tears, unite their hearts and voices with the angels and saints who behold the splendour of God. We lift up our hearts to God in grateful thanks for his abundant mercy and his wondrous act of salvation in Christ.

The first desire of the Christian is to offer worship to God, to offer a sacrifice of praise.

Tonight, we dedicate the new altar of St Mary’s Cathedral. We bless this church with holy water following its extensive renovations. May this cathedral church be pre-eminently a place where God is worshipped and the grace of salvation flows forth upon the people who gather here and upon this island of Tasmania.

Archbishop Julian Porteous

Thursday, 8 December 2022.

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