Sixty years ago, seven members of our present community took part in the extraordinary ceremonies of the Consecration of the new Abbey Church, from 5th – 9th September. The actual Consecration started at 3.30pm on Tuesday 5th with Vespers followed by Tea, then the Sealing of the Relics and Matins of Many Martyrs by the Abbot’s side in the temporary Church, Matins of the Dedication of a Cathedral by the Prior’s side in the Oratory. Then at 6.30pm the first part of the Consecration of the Church began with the external blessing. On Wednesday 6th the ceremonies began at 9.30am concluding with Pontifical High Mass with Abbot Byrne which ended around 2.30pm. A truly extraordinary event lasting six hours in all.
The introduction of the service booklet puts it all very clearly into its proper context:
‘The ceremonies of consecration of a Church are therefore those performed over each individual at baptism. The sprinkling the outer walls with ordinary water represents the making of a catechumen by exorcisms and blessings. The alphabet on the floor represents their instruction. The altar, inside walls and floor are sprinkled with water, salt ashes and wine, representing the baptism. The altar is first anointed with the oil of catechumens, then with chrism, which corresponds to the anointing before and after baptism. The anointing of the walls and the front of the altar with chrism corresponds to confirmation.’
Here is the real meeting of liturgical ritual and theology. This Church is truly baptized – set apart for God as a sign of His living presence among us. No wonder St Benedict reminds us in the Rule that what is done inside this sacred space leads to God. This is not a beautiful venue for a concert, a drama, a meeting or indeed a school assembly. This is the gateway to heaven. The glory of the Lord has entered this Abbey Church and is still experienced by many who enter and pray. Here a people, set apart to sing the praises of God, gather each day and as Jesus said to Zacchaeus, he comes to our house to make his home.
Brethren, this is the day the Lord has made and we do right to rejoice and give thanks. But let this not simply be a day to reminisce and in some cases rearrange details of what took place. The feast of the Dedication is never a question of an annual historical commemoration of a building. Rather this is a day for us to renew our personal and corporate dedication as the living witness to God’s glory – the breathing tabernacle of his presence. Our greatest testimony to what took place sixty years ago is that we as a monastic community are vibrant with faith. This is our feast – the feast of the Baptized.
We are the living stones – what happened to this building has taken place in our lives through baptism and monastic profession. Living stones, not rubble. Here is the challenge of today. Are we truly a house in which God dwells? Are we gateways to heaven? Do we radiate the glory of the Lord? Nostalgia cannot replace mission. We exist for a reason and this temple of the Holy Trinity points to that mission. What is that mission? To make Jesus known, experienced and loved.
Abbot Robert Igo, OSB
6 September 2021