Making St. Benedict Cathedral ‘a church’

By Matt Miller

Diocesan Director of Worship

Special to The Message

Editor’s note: The photos accompanying this story are from the Sept. 23 Dedication Mass for the renovated St. John the Baptist Church in Newburgh. They show some of the things that Matt Miller describes in this story.

A church building itself is made (or renovated) the same way any other building is – with wood, stone or metal put together through the sweat and labor of workers and craftsmen. But a building is “made” a church in much the same way we have been made members of the Body of Christ – through water, oil, bread and wine.

Following is a look at what will take place during the Nov. 6 Dedication Mass for St. Benedict Cathedral.

In the Introductory Rites of the Dedication Mass, one of the first things the bishop will do is bless water that he will then sprinkle on the people, the walls and the altar. This is not only a reminder of our own Baptisms, but also a purifying act for the building – preparing it for the celebration of the sacred mysteries.

The next major part of the dedication occurs after the homily and Creed. We ask for the intercession of the saints in the Litany. Then, mirroring the ancient practice of building altars on the tombs of the martyrs, the bishop places relics of saints in the base of the altar. This serves as a reminder to us that the sacrifices of those who have gone before us find their true meaning in the one sacrifice of Christ.

After the Prayer of Dedication, which expresses why we are doing what we are doing, the altar and walls of the church are anointed with the same Chrism that is used for Baptisms, Confirmations and Ordinations. Through this anointing the altar becomes a symbol of Christ, “the Anointed One,” and the building is given over for the sole purpose of Christian worship. This is further represented by the incensing of the people, the building and the altar, a sign of our own prayers and sacrifices rising up to God. Lastly, the altar is dressed and decorated, and the candles at the altar and in the church are lit, reminding us of the light of Christ.

The last part of the dedication is the most important – the Eucharist is celebrated on the altar for the first time. In the words of Saint John Chrysostom, “This altar is an object of wonder: by nature it is stone, but it is made holy after it receives the Body of Christ.”[1]

We can see how this follows our own initiation – the waters of Baptism, the anointing of Confirmation, and our first reception of the Eucharist. May this celebration of a church standing as a visible witness in the world call us to be greater witnesses, set aside for the praise and worship of our heavenly Father.

[1] Saint John Chrysostom, Homilia XX in II Cor.