Dear Brothers and Sisters,
You will remember at the beginning of this Mass that everyone was sprinkled with holy water and finally, as a sign of penance and purification, I sprinkled holy water on the altar here in Saint Luke’s church.
The Fathers of the Church when they meditated on the word of God asserted that Jesus was the victim, priest and altar of his own sacrifice. In the Old Testament there had to be always these three elements for a sacrifice; usually an animal, a place and a priest. But when Jesus went to the cross he was the priest who did the offering, the victim who offered himself and the altar because he made the cross as the place where he offered himself.
In our Christian Church because the Mass makes present again what happened on Calvary the altar is the place where Jesus offers himself through the words of a priest – another Christ – where we encounter God. Saint Paul challenges us that we too can offer ourselves like Christ and Saint Gregory the Great says: “What is God’s altar if not the soul of those who lead good lives. Christians who give themselves to prayer, who offer petitions to God and come to the sacrifice of the Mass are the living stones from which the Church is built.”
So you can see that the altar is the table of sacrifice and yet a banquet place in which the priest represents Christ and does what Jesus did and what he handed on to his disciples to do in his memory. We are all one body. As Saint Paul says: “The blessing cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.”
In tonight’s ceremony we see that here at this altar what Jesus did on the cross is given to us. We come to give thanks and receive the body and blood of Christ and the altar is the centre of all the thanksgiving that we give. Sometimes relics of martyrs are placed in the altar and this is a reminder that our faith is built on the faith and goodness given us by our parents and by the saints back through the centuries. Tonight’s ceremony helps us to understand this.
1. Because this is an important occasion we pray the Litany of the Saints asking all the saints in heaven who are our brothers and sisters to pray with us.
2. The relics of martyrs are placed in the altar to show that living close to Christ is part of our witness.
3. Then I will say the Prayer of Dedication, recalling the offerings of Noah, Abraham and Moses in the Old Testament, then of Jesus on the cross who offers us himself, calls us to this place as a place of joy, communion and peace, unity and friendship, the centre of our praise and thanksgiving.
4. Then, as we were anointed in Baptism and Confirmation, the table of the altar is anointed and set apart as a holy place.
5. Incense is burned on the altar that as its perfume rises so our prayer may rise to God and after the clothing of the altar the altar candles are lit as a reminder that the light of Christ is with us as God’s holy people who have dedicated this altar to his name.
I pray with gratitude that you have built this beautiful altar and I ask that you will remember it always as a place of meeting with our loving and ever-faithful God.
Congratulations to Father Nicholas and yourselves for the excellent work which has been done.
+ Denis J. Hart,
ARCHBISHOP OF MELBOURNE.