October 20, 2007

The Feastday of an Altar and the Feastday of a Church

Tomorrow, 21 October A.D. 2007, is the twentieth anniversary of the dedication of my monastery's church, "Our Lady of Einsiedeln Church." I posted the following some months ago, and am reposting it today.

In the universal calendar of the Church, there is one feastday for a church building: November 9, the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. That church is the cathedral of the pope. In the worldwide Church, that day is a feast. However, in the city of Rome and in the Lateran itself, the day is a solemnity, meaning that the liturgical observance of the anniversary begins on the evening before the day of the anniversary.

Christians are the Church, the Body of Christ himself. A church building is a representative of both Christ himself, and his people, the Church. The feast of the dedication of a church is always a feast of the Lord, like, for instance, his Transfiguration (August 6).

When a new church building is dedicated, its anniversary is a solemnity in that church (beginning on the evening before the actual day), and if the anniversary falls on a Sunday it takes the place of the Sunday.

During the dedication of a new church, its altar is also dedicated. In that case, the anniversary of the church’s dedication is also the anniversary of the altar’s dedication.

However, if an already existing (already dedicated) church is having a new altar put in, then the new altar has its own dedication Mass, with its own prayers and readings. The anniversary of the dedication of the altar also becomes a solemnity in that church (beginning on the evening before the actual day), and, if it falls on a Sunday, the anniversary of the altar also takes the place of the Sunday. Like the feast or solemnity of the anniversary of the dedication of a church, the anniversary of an altar’s dedication is also a feast or solemnity of Christ the Lord himself.

In the rite of dedication of a new church, the walls and the altar are both “christed”— that is, anointed, with “chrism”. Since the altar is a “christ”, and represents Christ the Lord, it is to be made with five crosses on its top surface to represent the five wounds of Christ. It is also vested with white linen like the alb of a priest. Since the altar represents Christ the Lord, the priest who celebrates Mass always bows to the altar and then kisses it when he arrives to begin Mass; then, at the end of Mass, the priest kisses the altar and bows to it before leaving.

While a church may be named after a saint (just as a Christian may be named after a saint), a church is always dedicated to God himself, not to the saint whose name the church bears (just as we are consecrated in Baptism to the Trinity, inserted into the life of the Trinity, even though we might bear the name of a saint).


Anonymous Jon said...

That's interesting, I was not aware that the altar has it's own solemnity as well, then again at my church, the altar and the church were dedicated on the same day, though with your explanation it makes perfect sense why that would be so.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Jeron said...

I always wondered why the priest kisses the altar. Thanks.

10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do modern altars have the crosses and do they contain relics?

4:04 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Why, then...why, oh why, do we never have a solemnity of the dedication of a local parish church displacing the liturgy of a Sunday? I've never seen such a thing or heard of such a thing since I've become a Catholic!

Or am I missing something?

2:04 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Modern altars still have the five crosses.

They are not required to have relics.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Jeff, most clergy are ignorant of the solemnity-anniversary of the dedication of a church.

My monastery's church was dedicated on October 21, 1987, and we observe the anniversary as a solemnity every year, even if it falls on a Sunday.

6:42 PM  
Anonymous Bob Farrell said...

Are church buildings consecrated anymore?

12:44 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Bob, yes, but now we use the word "dedicate" rather than "consecrate."

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Bob Farrell said...

Here's a link with a detailed explanation of the dedication liturgy:

Am I missing something, or does this church only have a high altar?

10:17 PM  
Anonymous Bob Farrell said...

Nope, didn't miss anything; it's a church of a "traditional" order.

10:24 PM  
Blogger Derek Rotty said...

Very informative! I would like to make sure that my pastor knows of the rules regarding the dedication solemnity. May God bless your monastery and your ministry!

1:52 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Click HERE to go back to the front page of this blog.