Spiritual Meaning of the Ceremonies
Before a Mass may be celebrated in a church it must be consecrated or at least blessed. The holy sacrifice, which we offer in a mysterious way, may be offered by the true faithful, only on a consecrated place. He who does otherwise, steps over the prescriptions. The consecration and blessing belong to the diocesan Bishop, although it can be done by another Bishop and also a priest with delegation. A priest can only consecrate a church with permission from the head of the Church.
The reason for this rule is based on: The church must serve towards our sanctification and therefore be holy, as must all. That is: a) It must be withdrawn from the rule of sin and other creatures subjected to sin, and purified and blessed through prayer and sprinkling with holy water. It must b) be lifted to an object of a higher place, to a place of prayer, of grace, and where the community will be sanctified.. Finally it must c) consecrated, namely exclusively given to God and taken in His possession. This threefold reason of consecration is shown through the words of the Bishop "That You bless and, sanctify and consecrate this church and altar." These words show the divisions and inner meaning of such an extensive and wonderfully magnanimous rite. As well as the steps that are manifested. However, under consecration is to be understood every renewal which the Holy Spirit completes in all, which arises from the body of Christ.
As every faithful is a temple of God, so the rite of consecration of a church is a magnificent example of the three steps and ways, the power of Holy Spirit completes the consecration of hearts in men. This first though allows us to comprehend the depths of the rite. What the rite for laying the corner stone signifies, unfolds in the church consecration. And it is this rite, which is the key to deep understanding which the holy use of the church offers.
Preparation for the consecration: On the evening before the consecration, (which should be on a Sunday or feast day,) the Bishop as well as the parish fast. The Bishop lays the holy relics in a container, which will be enclosed in the altar, according to the custom of the Church. Inside the container are three grains of incense, symbolizing a pleasant smell which the life and death of the saints who intercedes for us to God. With this is placed a piece of parchment giving the year and day of the consecration, the name of the consecrating Bishop, the name of the patron of the church, the holy relics as well as the agreement of the church consecration indulgence. This is the same as a baptismal certificate of the church The sealed container is set out before the church in between two lit candles and then matins and lauds of the martyrs are prayed.
On the day of the consecration itself, the Bishop prays then orders the 12 candles on the wall be lit by a deacon. These are symbols of the steaming light of the Gospels and the grace of the Church. The church doors are locked, only a deacon remains in the church, symbolic of a guardian angel. The priests and people go to pray the seven penitential psalms before the holy relics. Through the penitential prayers, the Bishop is enabled to worthily complete the consecration of the church and for the building of the kingdom of God from within, making the community worthy of entering into the house of God and in the temple of their hearts.
The first part, Blessing, purification: The Bishop speaks the preparation prayers while kneeling during the Litany of the Saints. After the prayer "Have mercy on us" the Bishop blesses water and goes around the church three times. He sprinkles the church with holy water in the name of the triune God. The first time above, the second time below and the third time in the middle in the form of a cross. The first two times from right to left and the third time from left to right, this remembers the manner and way of incensing the altar in the offertory of the Mass. Each time he returns to the door is repeated the dialog of words from psalms between the deacon inside the church and the Bishop outside. Each time the Bishop strikes the door with his crozier, but it is only opened the third time after he has made the sign of the cross on the door.
With this the church has been purified on the outside from all sides. Especially from any attached curses and preserved against evil powers. Then the power of the cross, the entrance of the victor over hell. The Bishop stands in place of the Redeemer. The Lord of all creation and the new reign of grace that should grow in the house of God. He enters and with him the truth of his beautiful greeting: "Peace be to this house" It is nothing else than this with the consecration of a temple of God.
As the creating Spirit of God swept over the waters, as the new creation will be brought to completion through Him, so also is the work of the consecration of the church. He must fill it and in His mercy, bless sanctify and consecrate. For this reason the Bishop calls "Come Holy Spirit" (facing the high altar) in the middle of the church. The Litany of the saints is begun and under the addition of the spoken prayers is fulfilled. The work of the Redeemer, that the Holy Spirit has begun in the church, is adscribed and requested through this Litany. For this reason the Litany is started from the beginning. The Redeemer begins in the same way, after he found entrance in the heart, bringing the reign of God's peace through the work of the Holy Spirit.
As the praise of Zacharia is sung, the Bishop writes the letters of the Greek alphabet and the Latin alphabet in ashes poured in a cross on the middle of the floor. Carrying the cross of our guilt, our Redeemer built his Church from one end of the world to the other, encompassing the eastern and western lands. Over this cross which will be daily seen in the church, the community must build itself, taking and accepting the word of the cross and the graces of our crosses in true penance. Also, the Lord lays in the direction of crosses in the heart who which has been consecrated to Him.
Now the purification of the church from within begins. The Bishop asks for the help of the Lord in a most gripping way. The he blesses a special holy water called Gregorian water, as Pope St. Gregory the Great ordered this rite. This water is a symbol of that source, which springs from the cross of Christ, streaming into the whole world with its sanctifying works. Now it will stream into the house of God for the faithful. The consecration itself is full of glorious thoughts and magnificent church poetry. Salt is blessed first as a symbol of power coming out of the cross, which the heavenly source of new life leads out into the world. (Blessing of water) ashes are blessed that they seriously undertake penance. The salt is mixed with the ashes, then both with the water. Where the power of above mixes with the penitential acts, then the water of heavenly life is stirred. Lastly wine is blessed and mixed with the water, for that spring fructifies to grace and life in God.
Before the blessing of the church begins, the Bishop with his crozier signs the upper and lower sections of the church with a cross as it were a consecration, so that the work of the redemption will not be destroyed either from within or without, or ever.
The inner purification of the church begins from the altar, and spreads out to other parts of the church. First the Bishops signs the altar in the middle with the Gregorian water and then the four corners of the altar, referring to the sacrifice of propitiation that will be renewed here, and on the five holy wounds of Christ which are ever opened again anew. He then goes around the altar seven times, sprinkling it with the Gregorian water. The number seven signifies perfect purification, but also the holy sacraments, which stream out of the source of the sacrifice. Now the same fullness of blessing can be led over the rest of the church and fill the whole space. The Bishop then goes from the altar three times Twice from the right to the left and once from the left to the right. around the inside of the church. He sprinkles the walls with the Gregorian water, first below, then in the middle, then from above. This differing from the way the outer walls of the church were sprinkled can only be explained through mystical explanations. The sprinkling of the outer walls signifies more defense and battle, therefore the form of the cross. The inner walls more the construction and penetration, therefore the sprinkling from below to above. He then sprinkles the floor in the form of a cross, from the high altar to the main doors and from one side wall to the other. Finally in the middle of the church standing east, west, south and north.
In this manner, the Lord closes the heart, which he entered through the sign of the cross, that is the mortification of the senses, It begins now to ring on all sides with the power of his holy blood, to the most inner thoughts and desires.
The mortar for the altar consecration is then prepared with the Gregorian water, it is blessed then the remaining water is poured out around the step of the altar., for here, the fullness of the blessing should penetrate to the smallest part. Here flows the source of grace!
The second part sanctification and enlightening: The holy relics and faithful people can now be led into the purified church. Therefore the Bishop goes to the place where the relics have been kept, and take them up under festive songs. They are taken to the church in procession, the people following saying "Lord have mercy." Before the door of the church the Bishop speaks to the people and a decree from the council of Trent is read. After a beautiful prayer on the sanctification of the Temple and the heart for the dwelling of the Lord, the Bishop anoints the outer door of the church with chrism so that the door is a way of sanctification and peace for all. We think on Christ who said "I am the door" The procession moves in the church up to the altar, a gripping image of Christ with his Saints in heaven at the end of the day.
What the altar is for the church, the sepulcher is for the altar. Therefore, the sepulcher is anointed with holy oil, so that this anointing will steam out over the altar and from the altar over the church. The altar tomb is anointed with chrism on the four corners, with this comprise signify the power, strength and comfort which the holy relics of this place should now on give for the sanctification of the faithful. The Bishop then lays the relics of the saints, who intercede for the faithful, in the altar and incenses them. He signs the top stone that will close the sepulcher with chrism in the form of a cross. He then puts mortar in the joint, closes it and anoints the stone on the outside. The antiphon and prayers bound with this explains the meaning perfectly.
Now the Bishop incenses the altar on all sides, right and left, forwards and backwards, in the middle and on the four corners, incensing the altar three times. From then on a priest continually incenses the altar, for the prayers and pleasant smell of the sacrifice must continually rise from this place to heaven. However the fullness of blessings should come down from the Holy Spirit over the altar, the church and the faithful, who are indicated through the triple anointing. The Bishop then anoints the altar and the in the middle and on the four corners twice with Catechumens oil and three times with Holy Chrism. The anoint with catechumens oil refers to the prayer and sacrifice that will be brought on the altar, the refers to the fullness of grace that flows to those praying and sacrificing. This also refers to the anoint of the baptized who are twice anointed with catechumens oil and the third time with chrism. The consecration of a church is comparable to baptism. After every incensing, he goes around the altar, twice from the right to the left and once from the left to the right. Lastly, the Bishop pours Catechumens oil and Chrism together on the altar, for its perfect holiness, as the antiphon says: "See, the odor of my son is the smell of a full field." The Bishop then anoints the twelve crosses on the wall of the church with chrism, incensing each. These crosses are signs the church has been consecrated and must always remain there. Through the relics of the Saints and the holy anointing the temple truly becomes the image of the Militant and Triumphant Church, built on the Apostles as twelve precious and bright jewels. The faithful should be led into the mystery, which is brought to completion in the house of the Lord.
The third part, Consecration, union: After the church has been purified and made holy, the altar as well as the whole church is consecrated as a place of offering and dwelling of God. For this a symbolic sacrifice is offered on the altar so that it will be worthy and acceptable for the true sacrifice of Christ to God the Father and a ful blessings for men. The Bishop the incense which will burn on the altar, and forms five crosses from it and lays it on the five crosses of the altar, where earlier they were sprinkled with the Gregorian water and anointed with chrism. The wax cross is laid on the incense and lit. , this is the prefiguration of the sacrifice whic will be offered on this altar daily. The preface and prayers which follow show that the altar is now ready, and on it and in the church Jesus Christ will remain dwelling and also rise up in unbroken sacrifices.
The Bishop now anoints the front side of the altar and the sides of the four corners, unwounded and unshakeable should the altar stand forever for as a source of overflowing grace for the community. After he completion of the consecration, the Bishop consecrates the decorations and vases of the church altar under appropriate antiphons, responsories with prayers, sprinkling and incensing. It mus be suitable for holy service, as in the image of the temple, all ornaments and tools were ordered and blessed. They are also a symbol of Christ himself, of whom the altar is a symbol, who appears before God.
At the conclusion, the Bishop or a priest celebrate mass, in which Christ truly takes possession of the altar and temple which have been blessed, sanctified and consecrated to Him.
The effects of the consecration can be summarized so: a) The church is separated from the world and made the sole property of God; b) It receives a holy character, as men receive in baptism, that can only be lost with the substance of the church, therefore the consecration can never be repeated; c) the church is filled with a mysterious power, which it enables it to be the house of God, a house of prayer, a worthy place of sacrifice, made for the continual presence of Jesus Christ. Therefore the parts of the church, the walls, fallen or broken, never be used for a bad purpose.