"Christ is the victim, priest and altar of his own sacrifice"
Mass And Dedication Of The Altar at St John's Church, East Melbourne,
Celebrated By Archbishop Denis Hart,
on Sunday, 25th November, 2001, at 5.00pm
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am delighted to be with Father Joe Tien and all of you in the community for the consecration of this altar and sanctuary in St John's Church. It is highly significant because the ancient Fathers of the Church said as they meditated on the word of God, "Christ is the victim, priest and altar of his own sacrifice."
It is by people that God is worshipped. This holy place and the work given to the preparation and consecration of this altar is a reminder that we are a holy people set apart for God.
As our ceremony begins this fact is emphasised by the blessing and sprinkling of holy water upon us, God's holy people.
My dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are taking part in one of the most solemn acts of worship of the Church. Although it is by the celebration of Mass that this altar is made holy, the prayers and ceremonies which we use are intended to illustrate the importance of who we are as God's people and of what we do each time we offer the Mass.
It is with great joy that we gather as a community to recognise our total dependence on God. This altar is the focal point of our Mass. We remember that when Jesus gave himself on the cross he himself was the priest, the altar and the victim. The Church teaches that each of us as Christians are spiritual "altars" by baptism. This means that we are holy places. Original sin is driven out from us and God comes in to take possession of us. In Confirmation God sends us the Holy Spirit to teach us everything that is true, to stay with us forever and to make us his temple or his holy place.
The Lord wants our words, our deeds, to be holy, to lead towards Him, to build up the community of the faithful and to give hope and challenge to the people among whom we live.
I do congratulate you here at St John's Church. Many of you have suffered in professing your Catholic faith or have been severely challenged in your journey to Australia. Thank you for your ongoing witness in the midst of a world, which is largely forgetful of the wonder of God. Yet our role as Christians is to bring hope to that world by providing a new vision. The fact that we are gathered for the Mass, the greatest prayer of all, shows how God works through each of us. Let us not underestimate who we are or what we do.
In consecrating an altar we say that the altar represents Jesus Christ and that the Christian spiritually is an altar. Since Christ, the head and teacher, is the true altar his members and disciples are also spiritual altars on which the sacrifice of a holy life is offered to God. This means that holiness is not only for priests and religious. It is for each one of us.
The great Fathers of the Church, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Saint Polycarp, Saint Gregory, and Origen, have said, "Christians who give themselves to prayer, who offer petitions to God and present sacrifices of supplication, are the living stones from which Jesus Christ builds the Church's altar." It is through your work, your monetary contributions and above all your prayers that the provision of a new consecrated altar here in St John's has been possible.
This is a sign of your love and reverence for God. This is a reminder that this sacred place in the midst of your homes is a place where we can meet God face to face.
This altar is a table of sacrifice because in the Mass all that Jesus did in dying on the cross is brought powerfully to us and we receive him in Holy Communion. "Our blessing cup is a communion with the Blood of Christ." (1 Corinthians 10:16.17)
So when we come into the church let us see the altar as the sign and reminder of Christ. Or as Pope Pius XII said, "As the focal point around which the Church's other acts of worship are centred." (Mediator Dei AAS 1947, 529)
Immediately after this homily we will make our profession of faith and then invite all of the saints to pray for us as we place the relics beneath the altar. Then follows a prayer of dedication, which highlights what we have already said.
The altar is anointed just as people are anointed as a sign of their oneness with God.
The altar is incensed and as the smoke arises this is a reminder of the constant aroma of our prayer going up to God.
Finally, the altar is covered and lights are placed upon it as a reminder that Christ is the light of the world and we are called to reflect his light in the deeds of every day.
This evening is a moment when we come humbly into the presence of our God, wondering at the way in which he comes close to us through external signs. May this altar be a place of powerful remembrance of God's presence. May it provide us with comfort and conversion. May it lead us joyfully into eternal life and may the Lord bless you for your love, dedication and generosity in constructing this altar.
+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.