The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger

The Dedication of Churches

Holiness becometh the House of God: let us adore therein Christ Her Spouse. Such is the antiphon which sums up the liturgical thought on these Feasts. What is the mystery of a House that is at the same time a bride? Our churches are holy because they belong to God, and on account of the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice therein, and the prayer and praise offered to the Divine Guest Who dwells there. More truly than the figurative tabernacle or the ancient temple, they are separated solemnly and forever by their dedication from all the dwellings of men, and exalted far above all earthly palaces. Still, notwithstanding the magnificent rites performed within them on the day they were consecrated to God, notwithstanding the holy oil with which their walls remain forever anointed, of themselves they are devoid of feeling and of life. What else, then, can be meant, but that the solemn function of dedication, and the annual feast that commemorates it, do not point merely to the material building, but rise to living and more sublime realities? The principal glory of the noble edifice will be to symbolize those great realities. Under the shelter of its roof the human race will be initiated into ineffable secrets, the mystery whereof will be consummated in another world in the noonday light of Heaven. Let us listen to some of the Church's doctrine on this subject.

God has but one sanctuary truly worthy of Him—His own Divine Life; the tabernacle with which He is said to surround Himself when He bends the heavens; though impenetrable darkness to the eyes of mortals, it is the inaccessible light wherein dwells in glory the ever-tranquil Trinity (Ps. 17). And yet, O God Most High, this same Divine Life, which cannot be contained by the heavens, much less by the earth, Thou dost deign to communicate to our souls, and thereby to make man a partaker in the Divine Nature. Henceforth there is no reason why the Holy Trinity should not reside in man, just as in the highest heavens. Thus, from the beginning, Thou couldst lay it down as the law of the newly created world, and couldst declare to the abyss, to the earth, to the heavens, that it would be Thy delight to dwell with the children of men.

When, therefore, the fullness of time came, God sent His Son, making Him the Son of Adam, in order that in man might "dwell all the fullness of the Godhead corporally" (Col. 2:9). From that day forward earth has had an advantage over Heaven. Every Christian has participation in Christ; and having become the temple of the Holy Ghost, "bears God in his body" (1 Cor. 6:20). This "temple of God," says the Apostle, "is holy, which you are" (Ibid. 3:17); the temple is the individual Christian; it is also the Christian assembly.

Whereas Christ calls the whole human race to participate in His own fullness, the human race in its turn completes Christ. It is bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh, one body with Him, and, together with Him, the one victim which is to burn eternally with the fire of love upon the altar of Heaven. At the same time, Christ is the Corner-stone on which other living stones, all the predestined, are built up by the apostolic architects into the holy temple of the Lord. Thus the Church is the Bride, and by and with Christ She is the House of God. She is such already in this world, where in labor and suffering the elect stones are chiseled, and are laid successively in the places assigned them by the Divine Plan. She is such in the happiness of Heaven, where the eternal temple is being constructed of every soul that ascends from earth; until, when completed by the acquisition of our immortal bodies, it will be consecrated by the Great High-Priest on the day of the incomparable dedication, the close of time. Then will the world, redeemed and sanctified, be solemnly restored to the Father Who gave it His only-begotten Son, and God will be all in all. Then it will appear that the Church was truly the archetype shown beforehand on the mount (Exod. 26:30), whereof every other sanctuary, built by the hands of men, could be but the figure and shadow. Then will be realized the vision of St. John: "I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God" (Apoc. 21:2-3).

It was fitting, then, that these Feasts should illuminate the closing cycle with the first rays of eternity. It is by one of the seven angels having phials full of the seven last plagues that the bride in her rich apparel was shown to the Evangelist; let the hope of contemplating Her in Her glory be a comfort to us too in these evil days. The expectation of Her approaching appearance will animate the courage of the just during the final combats.

But let us, the children of the Church, already praise our Mother. Let these Feasts be dear to our hearts and among the greatest solemnities; for they commemorate both Her birth from the side of the Heavenly Adam, and the sacred consecration which entitles Her to the good pleasure of the Father, to the love of the Son, and to the bountiful gifts of the Holy Ghost. These Feasts are especially important in these times, when they serve as opportunities of reparation for the sacrileges of the Novus Ordo, the desecration of so many Catholic churches since Vatican II, and the stripping of so many ancient churches of their beautiful and inspiring art, and its replacement with ugly "modern" art (which still continues to this day).

The Ceremony of Dedication

The name of church given to the Christian temple signifies the assembly of the faithful-those who are validly baptized and profess the true Catholic Faith. The sanctification of the elect in its successive phases is the soul and inspiration of that most solemn of liturgical functions, the dedication of a church.

First of all, the temple with its bare walls and closed doors represents the human race created by God, and yet robbed of His presence ever since the original sin. But the heirs of the promise have not yielded to despair; they have fasted, they have prayed through the night; morning finds them sending up to God the supplication of the penitential psalms, the inspired expression of David's chastisement and repentance.

At early dawn Our Savior appears under the tent which has been raised before the closed doors, where the "exiled" faithful are praying. He is represented by the Bishop vesting in the sacred robes, as He clothed Himself with our flesh. The God-Man joins His brethren in their prayer; then, leading them to the still closed temple, He there prostrates with them and redoubles His supplications.

Then around the noble edifice, unconscious of its destinies, begins the patient strategy, wherewith the grace of God, and the ministers of that grace, undertake the siege of abandoned souls. Thrice the pontiff goes around the whole building, and thrice "attempts to force open" the obstinately closed doors; but his storming consists of prayers to Heaven, his force is but the merciful and respectful persuasion of devotion. At length the doors yield and an entrance is gained into the temple: "Peace eternal to this house, in the name of the Eternal!"

The Bishop, now within, continues to pray. His thoughts are intent upon the human race, symbolized by this future church. He knows that in its fallen state ignorance is its first evil. Accordingly he rises; and, on two lines of ashes running transversely from end to end of the temple and crossing in the center of the nave, he traces with his episcopal crozier the Greek and Latin alphabets, the elements of the two principal languages in which Scripture and Tradition are preserved. They are traced with the pastoral staff, on the cross formed by the ashes; because sacred science comes to us from doctrinal authority, because it is understood only by the humble, and because it is all summed up in Jesus Crucified.

Like the catechumen, the human race now enlightened requires, together with the temple, to be purified. The Bishop makes use of the loftiest Christian symbolism, in order to perfect the element of this purification which he has so much at heart: he mingles water and wine, ashes and salt, figures of the Humanity and the Divinity, of the Death and the Resurrection of Our Savior. As Christ preceded us in the waters of Baptism at the Jordan, the aspersions are begun at the altar and continued through the whole building.

In the order of the work of salvation, water is followed by oil, which confers on the Christian, in the Sacrament of Confirmation, the perfection of his supernatural being; and which also makes kings, priests, and pontiffs. For all these reasons, the holy oil now flows copiously over the altar, which represents Christ our Head, Pontiff and King, that it may afterwards, like the water, find its way to the walls of the entire church. Truly is this temple henceforth worthy of the name of church; for thus "baptized" and consecrated, with the God-Man, by water and the Holy Ghost, the stones of which it is built represent perfectly the faithful, who are bound together and to the divine Corner-Stone by the imperishable cement of charity.

The sacred chants which, since the beginning of the solemn function, have not ceased to enhance its sublime developments, now redouble in enthusiasm; and rising to the full height of the mystery, they hail the church, now so intimately associated to the altar as the bride of the Lamb. From this altar ascend clouds of incense, which, mounting to the roof and billowing down the nave, fill the whole temple with the perfumes of the Spouse. And now the subdeacons come forward, presenting for the Bishop's blessing the gifts made to the Bride on this great day, and the vesture She has prepared for Herself and for the Lord.

In the early Middle Ages, it was only at this point that the triumphant translation of the relics destined to be placed in the altar took place, after having remained all this time in the tent outside, as it were in exile. In the West, up to the 13th century and even later, the Sacred Body of Our Lord Himself in the Holy Eucharist was sealed up in the altar with the relics of the Saints. It was the "Church united to the Redeemer, the Bride to the Bridegroom," says St. Peter Damian; it was the final consummation, the passage from time to eternity. Then follows the Mass of the Dedication, solemnly offered by the Bishop.

In not too distant times, the anniversary of its dedication was celebrated by each church. In some countries, a single day was set aside to celebrate the dedication of all the churches of that nation. In the traditional Latin Liturgy, the Anniversaries of some of the greatest churches are celebrated by the Universal Church: St. Mary Major (Our Lady of the Snows) on August 5, St. Michael the Archangel on September 29, the Archbasilica of Our Savior (St. John Lateran) on November 9, and the Basilicas of St. Peter (the Vatican) and St. Paul outside the Walls on November 18. The Liturgy for the first of these is really a Feast of Our Lady; that of the second, a Feast of St. Michael and all the Holy Angels. The Liturgy for the last two dates is truly that of the anniversary of dedication.

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