Dedication of the church of Monte Cassino
Luca Giordano




The consecrating bishop, who, together with the congregation, has prepared himself by fasting on the preceding day, sets apart overnight the relics to be used in the consecration. On the morning of the day appointed he betakes himself to the place whither they have been carried, and after vesting pontifically recites with the clergy present the seven penitential psalms and the Litany of the Saints. He then goes in procession with the clergy round the outside of the church, the door of which is closed, sprinkling the upper portion of the walls with holy water in the form of the cross, saying * In the name of the Father 4% and of the Son 4% and of the Holy + Ghost— the clergy meanwhile singing a re- sponsory. On coming back to the church-door the bishop says a short prayer, and knocks with his pastoral staff at the door, saying: Attollite portas, principes, vestras f etc. (“ Lift up your heads, ye princes, and be ye lifted up, ye eternal gates, and the King of glory will enter.”) He then goes round the church again, sprinkling the lower part of the walls with the same words; and on returning to the door says a different prayer, and knocks with his staff as before. A third time he goes round the church, this time sprinkling the middle part of the walls; he then knocks three times with his staff at the door, saying: M Be opened ! ” And upon the door being opened he makes a cross with his staff on the threshold, saying: * Behold the sign of the cross; let the spirits of evil depart! ” Entering into the church, he says: “ Peace be to this house ! ”

In the middle of the church the bishop kneels down and intones the hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus ; this is followed by the Litany of the Saints and the canticle of Zachary: Benedictus Dominus Deus (“ Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. ”) While these are being sung he forms a cross with the letters of the Latin and Greek alphabets, which he inscribes with his staff on ashes wherewith the floor of the church has previously been sprinkled; then, kneeling before the high altar, he chants three times the words, Beus y in adjutorium meum intende, etc. (“ O God, come to my assistance,” etc.). Thereupon he blesses with the prescribed form of prayer ashes, salt, water, and wine, mixing them together and signing them repeatedly with the cross, and proceeds to consecrate the high altar and the other altars. Dipping his thumb in the preparation which he has just blessed, he makes a cross in the middle and in the four corners of the altar-stone, saying: “ Let this altar be sanctified 4* to the glory of God, of the Vir- gin Mary, and all the saints, and in the name and com- memoration of St. N . [naming the patron of the church], in the name of the + Father,” etc. These words are repeated five times. Thereupon he goes round the altar seven times, sprinkling it with holy water and reciting the Miserere .

He next goes three times round the interior of the church, sprinkling the walls above, below, and in the middle whilst three psalms and antiphons are sung. He also sprinkles the floor of the church in each of the four corners, with certain prayers and the sign of the cross, and returns to the high altar. He then blesses chalk and sand, and mixes them with holy water, thus preparing the mortal for the laying of the altar-stone. Afterwards, going in procession to the place where the relics were deposited on the previous evening, he incenses them, and carries them with lighted tapers and smoking censers round the church. Pausing on the threshold, the bishop makes three crosses on the door, saying: u In the name of the Father*, and of the Son*, and of the Holy* Ghost, be thou blessed, sanctified, and consecrated.^

When the procession reaches the high altar, the bishop makes five crosses with chrism in the cavity of the altar, called the sepulchre, places the case containing the relics in it, incenses them, and closes the repository or sepulchre with a stone that has been blessed and the mortar prepared for the purpose. Thereupon he incenses the altar itself, and hands the censer to a priest, who goes round it incensing every part. Meanwhile the bishop makes five crosses with oil of catechumens on the table of the altar, one in the centre and one in each of the corners, with the same words employed when blessing the water, incenses the crosses, and goes round the altar incensing it. After the prescribed prayer and psalm have been recited he again anoints the altar, making five crosses upon it, saying: “ Let this altar be blessed, sanctified, and consecrated." He then again incenses the crosses and the whole altar. This ceremony is repeated a third time, whilst psalms are chanted by the clergy. Finally, the bishop pours oil and chrism over the whole altar **»kbing it in with his hand. He then goes round the interior of the church, and anoints the twelve crosses upon the walls with the chrism, saying: “ Let this church be hallowed and consecrated in the name of the Father, etc.,” and incensing each cross three times. Returning to the altar, he blesses the frankincense, lays five grains of incense wherever the five crosses were made, forms five small crosses out of wax tapers and lights them. Whilst they are burning, he kneels down, as do all the clergy present, and intones the hymn Vent, Sancte Spiritus . This is followed by more prayers and a pref- ace; the clergy chant Psalm lxvii. in thanksgiving for the graces received; the bishop makes a cross with the chrism below the table of the altar, and recites more and longer prayers. After that he rubs his hands with bread and salt, and washes them in water. The clergy wipe the altar with linen, cover it with an altar-cloth, decorate it as best they can, whilst psalms and responsories are sung. In conclusion the bishop incenses the altar three times, and proceeds to celebrate a solemn pontifical High Mass.

All who have been present at the dedication of a church cannot find words to express their surprise at the number of different ceremonies, anointings, benedictions, and prayers that appertain to the ritual. What is the object of all of these? It is in order to render the church a temple meet for the great and holy sacrifice offered up therein to the most high God, and to hallow and consecrate the altars whereon the spotless Lamb of God is to be slain in a mystical manner.

This is sufficient to convince any Christian of the sanctity of our churches and altars, and the great reverence we ought to pay to them. Solomon’s temple was but a foreshadow and type of the Christian Church, and yet in what respect it was held both by Jews and heathen! How much the more should we reverence and respect our churches, hallowed as they are by so solemn a dedication ! We read in the Third Book of Kings that Solomon, on the occasion of the dedication of his temple, offered up no less than two and twenty thousand oxen, and a hundred and twenty thousand rams. These animals were all slaughtered by the priests, purified, and laid in pieces on the altar. And while the king prayed aloud fire fell from heaven and consumed the victims. The whole temple was filled with a cloud, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. And all the people, who beheld the fire and the glory of the Lord, filled with awe, fell upon their faces and adored the Lord. There- upon King Solomon, standing on a high place in the sight of the assembly of Israel, spread forth his hands towards heaven and said: “Is it then to be thought that God should indeed dwell upon earth ? For if heaven and the heavens of heavens cannot contain Thee, how much less this house, which I have built ! ” (in. Kings viii. 27.)

Who, indeed, can fail to be amazed at this, and feel himself unable rightly to comprehend the dignity of that sacred temple ? And yet that temple was but a type, an image, of our churches. In that there was nothing but the Ark of the Covenant, which only contained the two stone tables of the law, a basket of showbread, and Aaron’s rod that had blossomed. The sacrifices of the Jews were only animals that were slaughtered and burnt, besides offerings of bread, wine, cakes, etc., whereas our churches are dedicated by the bishops with incomparably greater solemnity; they are anointed with holy oil and chrism; they are blessed by being sprinkled with holy water and incensed with frankincense; they are hallowed repeatedly by the sign of the cross, and consecrated finally by the oblation of the most holy sacrifice of the Mass. Instead of the Ark of the Covenant we hire the tabernacle, where the true bread of heaven, the adorable Sacrament of the Altar, the body and blood of Christ, is continually reserved. If it is right to hold Solomon’s temple in honor, how much more ought we to reverence our consecrated churches, in which God dwells in person.

Our churches are called the house of God, and this in very deed they are, since God Himself dwells in them, and is always to be found in them. He is surrounded continually by a countless host of angels, who serve Him, who adore Him, who worship Him, who praise Him, who offer our prayers to Him. This was foreshadowed by the vision of the patriarch Jacob. Overtaken by night in the open country, he laid down to sleep, and in a dream he saw a ladder standing upon the earth, the top of which reached to heaven. By this ladder the angels of God were ascending and descending, and at the top of it he beheld God Himself. Jacob woke from his sleep trembling, and said: “ How terrible is this place ! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven.” (Gen. xxviii. 17.) He took the stone on which his head had rested, poured oil upon it, set it up for an altar, and on his return journey he offered sacrifice upon it to God. That was a type of the Christian Church, with its altar, anointed with holy oil and chrism, of which we can in truth say: “ How terrible is this place ! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven,” for here the angels ascend and descend, and carry up our petitions to heaven. Our churches are the place of which God speaks by the mouth of the prophet Isaias: “I will bring them [the people of the Lord] into My holy mount, and will make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their holocausts and their vic- tims shall please Me upon My altar; for My house shall be called the house of prayer for all nations.” (Is. lvi. 7.)

From all this we learn the sanctity of our churches, and the respect we owe to them. It is because they are the house of God, and Jesus Christ dwells in person within them in the Blessed Sacrament, surrounded by in- numerable angels, that we know not how to honor them enough, how to be sufficiently devout and recollected in prayer. If we had a living faith, we should enter a consecrated church with trembling; we should worship Christ present in the Adorable Sacrament with deepest reverence, and invoke the assistance of the holy angels who are there. Such was David’s custom, as he tells us in the words: u I will worship towards Thy holy temple; I will sing praise to Thee in the sight of the angels.” (Ps. cxxxvii. 2, i.) Therefore to be inattentive in church, or in any other way to displease God by disrespectful behavior, is an insult to the Divine Majesty and dishonor to the house of God. Let us firmly resolve on entering a church not to utter or listen to an unnecessary word, nor to look about us, but to behave reverently, to pray devoutly, to adore the Lord our God, to confess our sins and implore the divine mercy.

Furthermore, we may learn how excellent a thing is the holy Mass from the solemn ordination of priests and clerics. Every priest must be admitted to seven different grades of orders before he is empowered to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The four minor orders indicate that he who receives them is taken into the service of the Church, and may assist the priest who celebrates Mass. But they do not confer the right so much as to touch the chalice, the paten, the corporal, or the purificator; for this the fifth order, that of the subdiaconate, must be received.

Only the subdeacon, the deacon, and the priest are entitled to handle the sacred vessels employed at the altar, or to cleanse them. It is of great importance that all the things that are required for the celebration of the holy Mass should be kept scrupulously clean and in good condition, as they are used in the highest act of divine service, and are brought into contact with the most sacred body and blood of the Lord. It is greatly to be deplored when proper and clean vestments and vessels are not provided, or when the congregation is backward in supplying the priest with the funds requisite for the purpose.

Cochem's Explanation of the holy sacrifice of the Mass ~ Martin, von Cochem, 1634-1712


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