Incense, candles, oil help us realize house of God

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Jan. 13 at the Blessed Sacrament Church dedication in Jonesboro.

When I was in seminary I learned the theological meaning of the sacraments and how our celebration of the sacraments has evolved over time, starting with their institution by Jesus himself.

But what I remember most about the sacraments is the definition of a sacrament I learned in second grade in from the Baltimore Catechism: “What is a sacrament? A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” And while the sacraments can be celebrated anywhere, the proper place for their celebration is in the church. 

Our ritual of dedication expresses an inner reality: that this is a house of God.

Church in both senses of the term, that is: the Church as the community of believers and the church as the consecrated building in which God dwells in a special way through the sacraments and in the tabernacle, which is why every Catholic Church is a house of God and not merely a worship center.

Today we — the Church — are gathered to dedicate this house of God and we do so in a series of ritual acts culminating in the celebration of the Eucharist whereby God takes up residence in this building sacramentally for the very first time. But first there are other preparatory ritual acts which we call sacramentals. These sacramentals are other external, tangible signs which God also uses — like with the sacraments, though not directly instituted by Christ — to produce internal spiritual effects and thereby help us to follow Jesus more closely along his way of truth and life.

And nowhere are we more richly surrounded by sacramentals than in the celebration of the dedication of a Church.

First, at the beginning of this Mass you gave me the keys to this building. At that time we remembered all those who have collaborated to provide us this marvelous building. Your architect and construction manager and building committee and all those laborers who worked so hard to provide us with a beautiful church building that really does give glory to God. And of course, all of you who donated money and done other things to gather the funds to pay the costs of this, the biggest project in the entire history of your parish.

And then when the architect and contractor and building committee chair gave me the architectural plans and keys to the church, it was to recognize that your parish belongs to something bigger, the universal Church, which I represent as your bishop. Then I gave them to Father Alphonse, to show that I have entrusted you to his care and that he represents me in everything that has to do with your Church. And I must say, he has done a wonderful job in leading your parish throughout this very demanding process.

Then I blessed water, with which I sprinkled the church in order to purify it. After I finish this homily, I will anoint the altar and the walls of this building with chrism at four places representing the four Gospels.

Then I will incense the altar to represent the sweet fragrance of our prayers ascending to God from that altar and finally we dress the altar and light the candles to show that the light of Christ is to shine forth in the Church and not just in this building, but also in us, who are then to go forth and bring this light of Christ to others.

Through these outward signs, our ritual of dedication expresses an inner reality: that this is a house of God, set apart for worship, in which Jesus teaches us with his divine Word and feeds us with his body and blood, and from which he then sends us forth to bring the Word of God and the sacraments of eternal life to others.

Which is exactly what we will now proceed to do. You presented this building to me — and through me, to the Lord — at the beginning of this Mass. Now we will profess our faith and then proceed to anoint this church and this altar, consecrating them to his service.

And then on this newly consecrated altar, we will consecrate bread and wine, which become the body and blood of Jesus, God present sacramentally for the very first time in this building which has now become his house, present as always when two or three are gathered in his name, but now also present for our worship and adoration in the tabernacle of this Catholic Church even after those two or three have left, which is why this church is a house of God and not just a worship center.

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