Five hundred years after the Exodus when Moses delivered God’s chosen people, the great Temple of Solomon was consecrated. The Ark of the Covenant was brought forth from Zion to Jerusalem in the presence of King Solomon, and leaders of the tribes of Israel. It was quite a production. The temple was an ordinary building, but once the Ark of the Covenant was set in place it became the dwelling place of God. Great incense braziers were set in place to call to mind the Psalm: “Let my prayer rise like incense to Thee Oh Lord.” The great Temple was “consecrated,” or set apart for God’s exclusive use.
On March 18, 2016 the new altar in our Cathedral of Saint Agnes was consecrated by Bishop Murphy in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio, bishops, priests and hundreds of God’s people. The church is organized throughout the world into dioceses, which were named after the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who organized his empire into sections so that they could be easily unified. When the Roman Empire fell, the church continued this tradition of unity. Every diocese is unified by a central bishop who is the chief teacher of the faith and the one who keeps the purity of tradition. This is done throughout the world: the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Diocese of Charleston, or on a grander scale, an archdiocese, such as Paris or New York. In every cathedral is a “cathedra,” which is Latin for “throne.” It is the symbol of the central seat of authority, such as in a university, from whence a bishop will proclaim the eternal truth of our deposit of faith.
During the ancient consecration ceremony the church is blessed by the bishop with holy water, sacred chrism anoints four corners of each of the church’s walls. Sacred Chrism is rubbed upon the altar so that braziers may be set upon the altar to permanently sear the chrism into the top of the new altar of sacrifice. This practice has been done throughout history for every church in the world. It is called “consecration.”
To consecrate means to take something ordinary, and to set it aside for God’s exclusive use. Ordinary marble is consecrated with the oil of Sacred Chrism, or set aside, for the exclusive use as God’s altar. A priest’s hands are consecrated with the oil of Sacred Chrism for the exclusive purpose of blessing, sanctifying and absolving in God’s name. Ordinary bread is consecrated at Mass by those same hands, and is now set aside for God’s exclusive use; it becomes the Holy Eucharist. Consecration means to take something ordinary and to make it extra-ordinary. To make it exceptional as it is set aside for God’s exclusive use. A church is consecrated so that it is no longer an ordinary building; it is set aside just for God!
Please remember that at your baptism you were consecrated with Sacred Chrism upon your forehead—otherwise known as your temple. You became the temple and dwelling place of God at that moment. Most poor souls never realize the implications of this dignity. You are consecrated, set aside just for God’s exclusive use. That is pretty neat. It reminds us of our inherent dignity as belonging to God as His child. It gives us confidence and improves our self-image. We are ordinary, but now consecrated and set aside for God’s exclusive use. We are ordinary, but have become “extraordinary.” Saint Catherine of Sienna said it best: “You are not your own.” You have been set aside, and you now belong to Him.
– Fr. Gerard Gordon