On July 11, 2015, the diocese celebrated the dedication of the new St. Vincent Liem Church. If you ever have the opportunity to attend the liturgy for the dedication of a church and altar, I highly recommend that you do. In this liturgy the church “is given over entirely and perpetually to Christian worship” (ODC, 16a). The various ritual actions in this celebration teach us about our identity and our faith.
Entrance Into the Church
The Rite of Dedication begins with the entrance into the church, which may include a procession.
Enter the gates of the Lord with thanksgiving, his courts with songs of praise.
At the threshhold of the church, representatives of those involved in building the church ceremonially hand over the church to the Bishop. This action may involve handing over legal documents, keys, the book recording the work, or in the case of St. Vincent Liem, the parish council chair handed over the plan of the building. The architect also spoke about the art and design of the new church. Then the Bishop calls upon the pastor to open the door.
I saw water flowing from the Temple, from its right-hand side, alleluia; and all to whom this water came were saved and shall say: Alleluia, alleluia.
The ministers enter without venerating the altar. Once inside, the Bishop blesses water and sprinkles the people, who are the spiritual temple, and he blesses the walls of the church, and the altar.
Liturgy of the Word
May the word of God resound always in this building, to open for you the mystery of Christ and to bring about your salvation in the Church.
The Bishop shows the lectionary to the people saying the words above before handing it to the reader. There are choices for the readings but the first reading is always from the Book of Nehemiah, chapter 8 (ODC 12). The book of Nehemiah tells of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, a symbol of the city of God, of God’s presence among us. The reading recounts the gathering of the people to hear Ezra proclaim the law. Just as the walls will strengthen the city, the joy of the law will strengthen and unite the people of God.
Prayer of Dedication and the Anointing of the Church and Altar
Beneath the altar of God you have been placed, O Saints of God: intercede for us before the Lord Jesus Christ.
Following the Bishop’s homily and the recitation of the Creed, the Litany of the Saints is sung. According to tradition, the relics of a Martyr or of another Saint may be placed under the altar. The altar is a sign of Christ. It is not the bodies of the saints that give honour to the altar but the altar that makes a fitting resting place for members of Christ’s body. The sacrifice of the saints originates in the sacrifice of Christ. As Saint Ambrose explained: “Let the triumphant victims occupy the place where Christ is victim: he, however, who suffered for all, upon the altar; they, who have been redeemed by his sufferings, under the altar” (ODC 14; Simons 46).
While the celebration of the Eucharist is the only rite necessary to dedicate a church, a Prayer of Dedication signifies the dedication of the church to the Lord for all time (ODC 15). Following the prayer are the ritual actions that affirm the words.
Holy is the temple of the Lord, God’s own structure, God’s own building.
The altar is the symbol of Christ, “The Anointed One”, so the Bishop anoints it with chrism and then anoints the walls of the building, representing the holy city of Jerusalem, the body of Christ (ODC 16a, Simons 49).
An Angel stood by the altar of the Temple holding in his hand a golden censer.
The incensing has a dual symbolism. First, incense is burned on the altar to signify that the Sacrifice of Christ “ascends to God as an odor of sweetness” along with the prayers of the faithful. Second, the people and the building are incensed: the people as “the living temple in which each faithful member is a spiritual altar” and the building as “a house of prayer” (OCD 16b).
Your light has come, Jerusalem: the glory of the Lord has risen upon you, and the nations will walk in your light, alleluia.
The oil is wiped from the altar and the altar is covered with a festive cloth. Up to this point no candles or lamps were used. Now the Bishop passes a lighted candle to a minister who lights the altar candles and any others in the church as a sign of rejoicing (ODC 69, 70, 71).
Celebration of the Eucharist
This altar is an object of wonder: by nature it is stone, but it is made holy after it receives the Body of Christ (St. John Chrysostom)
The celebration of the Eucharist is the principal part of the rite and the most ancient. It is for the Eucharistic Sacrifice that the church was primarily built. The Eucharist sanctifies those who receive it and it is the celebration that consecrates the altar and the place. In this celebration the Preface makes clear the relationship between the dedication and the Eucharist. In this text the community recognizes that God has made the whole world a temple of God’s glory yet allows us to consecrate “apt places for the divine mysteries”. The church is a symbol of the whole of God’s creation (ODC 17, Simons p. 55).
The Church is the people gathered through baptism in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a temple of God built of living stones. The “church” is also the building in which Christians worship. In his homily, Bishop Henry recalled the symbolic meaning given to different parts of the building by the 13th century canonist, William Durandus in his Rational of the Divine Offices:
- Four walls = the doctrine of the four Gospels and the four cardinal virtues: justice, fortitude, prudence, temperance
- Foundation = the faith in things unseen
- Roof = charity, “which covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8)
- Door = Christ, “I am the door” (John 10.9)
- Pavement = humility (Psalm 119:25), the poor in spirit who humble themselves and sustain the Church
- Windows = the divine Scriptures that prevent harmful things from entering, but admit the light of the true sun (God) into the church (the hearts of the faithful).
 ODC = The Order of the Dedication of a Church.
 HPHP = Simons, Thomas G. Holy People Holy Place: Rites for the Church’s House. Chicago: LTP, 1998.