Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Living Stones, Living Altars

(Corrected... because your narrator was out-of-his mind tired.) Joined by its titular bishop -- the Cardinal-Dean Angelo Sodano -- the Pope went to the mother-church of his vacation diocese on Sunday to dedicate the new main altar in Albano's Cathedral-Basilica of St Pancratius. The morning liturgy was B16's second turn at smearing the oil in as many months, following his July blessing of the new altar at Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral during World Youth Day.

While the titles to the Urb's "suburbicarian" dioceses have offically belonged to the six top members of the College of Cardinals (i.e. the "cardinal-bishops") for well over a millennium, their daily affairs have come to be handled by full-time resident bishops. Named cardinal-bishop of Albano in 1993, the bishopric of Ostia -- the senior suffragan -- was added on after the former Secretary of State was elected dean in 2005 in succession to the newly-elected pontiff.

Homily fulltext, and here's a snip:
Christ's real presence makes each of us his "house," and we all together form his Church, the spiritual edifice of which St. Peter speaks. "Come to him," the apostle writes, "a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:4-5).

Somewhat developing this beautiful metaphor, St. Augustine observes that through faith men are like wood and stone gathered from forests and mountains for building; through baptism, catechesis and preaching they are cut, squared, and filed down; but they only become the Lord's house when they are ordered by charity. When believers are reciprocally connected according to a determinate order, mutually and closely arranged and bound, when they are united together by charity they truly become the house of God that does not fear ruin (cf. Sermon 336).

It is therefore the love of Christ, the charity that "never ends" (1 Corinthians 13:8), the spiritual energy that unites those who participate in the same sacrifice and who nourish themselves from the same Bread broken for the salvation of the world. Is it indeed possible to be in communion with the Lord if we are not in communion with each other? How can we present ourselves divided and far from each other at God's altar? May this altar upon which the sacrifice of the Lord will soon be renewed be for you, dear brothers and sisters, be a constant invitation to love; always draw near to it with a heart open to the love of Christ and to spreading it, to receiving and bestowing forgiveness.

In this regard the Gospel passage that was proclaimed a little while ago offers us an important lesson for life (cf. Matthew 5:23-24). It is a brief but pressing and incisive call to fraternal reconciliation, a reconciliation that is indispensable if we are to present our offering worthily at the altar; it is a reminder that takes up again a teaching that is already quite present in the preaching of the prophets. The prophets vigorously denounced the uselessness of those acts of worship that lacked the correspondent moral dispositions, especially in relation to one's neighbor (cf. Isaiah 1:10-20; Amos 5:21-27; Micah 6:6-8). Every time that you come to the altar for the Eucharistic celebration your soul opens to forgiveness and fraternal reconciliation, ready to accept the apologies of those who have hurt you and ready, in turn, to forgive.

In the Roman liturgy the priest, having offered the bread and wine, bows toward the altar and prays in a low voice: "Lord, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice that we offer with humble and contrite hearts." The priest thus prepares to enter, together with the whole assembly of the faithful, into the heart of the Eucharistic mystery, into the heart of that celestial liturgy to which the second reading, taken from the Book of Revelation, refers.

St. John presents an angel who offers "incense together with the prayers of all the saints, burning them on the altar of gold placed before the throne" of God (cf. Revelation 8:3). The altar of sacrifice becomes in a certain way the point of encounter between heaven and earth; the center, we could say, of the one Church that is at the same time heavenly and in pilgrimage on earth, where, in the midst of the persecutions of the world and God's consolations, the Lord's disciples proclaim his passion and death until he returns in glory (cf. "Lumen Gentium," No. 8). Indeed, every Eucharistic celebration already anticipates the triumph of Christ over sin and the world, and shows in mystery the splendor of the Church, "immaculate bride of the immaculate Lamb, Bride that Christ loved and gave himself up for to make her holy (cf. "Lumen Gentium," No. 6).

These reflections draw our attention to the rite that we are about to perform in this cathedral of yours, which we admire today in its renewed beauty and that we rightly desire to continue to make welcoming and decorous. It is a task that involves all of you and that, in the first place, calls upon the whole diocesan community to grow in charity and in apostolic and missionary dedication. Concretely, it is a matter of bearing witness with your life to your faith in Christ and the total confidence that you place in him.