Given at Mass for the consecration of the new altar at Allen Hall Seminary on 9 December 2015.
This evening we come to make an irrevocable act, the consecration of this stone, making it holy, setting it apart for ever. This is done, by the work of the Holy Spirit, at the request of the Church made through the mouth of Jesus, himself.
This moment brings to the surface a central aspect of our faith: that God acts with astonishing particularity: this stone, this place, this land, as Jacob said in the first reading, with connotations that echo strongly in our world to this day.
There is something potentially very shocking about this particularity and the claims that it can set up. This is so if the choice of God, the particular choice, this stone, this place, this land, is taken in an excluding or exclusive sense. We are always tempted to say: Yes, this place, and therefore not that place; Yes, this land given to me and therefore not for you; me not you as the chosen one.
We only get beyond this interpretation of God’s choice as an excluding choice only if we truly understand the purpose of this particularity of God’s actions.
Surely the pattern of God choosing ‘this place, this people, this moment’ is to point to, prepare us for, the ultimate particularity of God’s actions: the coming in the flesh of one man of the eternal Word of God. This is the most shocking thing of all: that the infinite reality of the Godhead should be expressed and made present in one time, in one place, in one particular person. Yet, and this is the key, this particularity is precisely for the benefit of all. This one man, unique in his two natures, is literally and always ‘for all’, in the shedding of his blood and in his rising from the dead.
In the reading from the Book of Genesis (Gen. 28:11-18) we are already presented with this deepest purpose of the particular choice of God in giving a land to a people. It is not for them to keep, exclusively, for themselves, but it is given so that ‘all the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants.’
In the gospel reading which we have heard, it is clear that all previous particularity now finds its fulfilment in Jesus. Worship, that key relationship between God and his people which holds a people together and directs their thoughts, words and actions, is now ‘neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.’ Old particularities are surpassed. Worship is now ‘in spirit and in truth’, in Jesus who is the fulfilment of all that Jacob glimpsed: the ‘awe-inspiring place, the house of God, the gate of heaven.’
In this particular place, here, this evening, everything points to Jesus, or it risks losing its purpose and becomes a place of exclusion. Everything points to him, and in him finds its meaning.
This is the way to understand this stone which we consecrate tonight: the five crosses carved into its surface speak of the five wounds in his body; the anointing of this stone is the anointing of his body, carried out with such love by his faithful friends; the altar is clothed and made beautiful just as he appeared in glory; from this stone, this person, the incense of our prayer arises into the presence of our Father; here the one represented offers himself and is the one by whom and with whom we are nourished for we are his bride, his body, his gathered people, his church through whom, we pray, all will people will be blest.
It is no wonder, then, that we kiss this stone with great reverence.
Just a few days ago, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa gave his first advent homily. It is well worth reading. It is a Christological reflection on ‘Lumen Gentium’ in which he explores how everything about our life in the Church flows from this bonding of ourselves to Christ. We are first of all, he insists, the spouse of Christ, joined to him in his flesh. In this way we become one body with him, and through this union, and by no other means, we become fruitful as his Church.
These are thoughts on which we can ponder as we enter into this wonderful ceremony, seeing ourselves again, and only, within this saving relationship with the Lord, seeing how all that this altar signifies, all that takes place here, is the sole source of all we aspire to be, in our human experience, in our sense of vocation and mission. From this stone flows our very life; in this stone we see our Saviour, around this stone we remember again, and again, who we are and what we are to become. ‘How awe inspiring this place is!’
Fr Cantalamessa leaves us with a particular appeal, one which should always resonate loudly, and silently, in this chapel, especially every time we gather around this altar. We proclaim and hear the words of our Lord, ‘This is my body given for you.’ Our response must always be to say with all our being: ‘Yes, Lord, and this is my body given to you, that we, you and I, Lord, may be one and that through us, Lord, from this place, may your world be blest.’