First, I want to offer congratulations to the St. Mary’s Cathedral parish on this event of dedicating your new altar. Secondly, I simply draw your attention and ask you to move your eyes to the beautiful marble stone which sits atop this altar.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI offered these words from his book, “A New Song for the Lord”: “If we want to become spiritual stones suitable for building up the spiritual edifice of the Church, we must accept our fate of being cut and carved. In order to be suitable for the house, we must let ourselves be bent into shape for the places where we are needed.”
In a few moments we will offer these words from the Prayer of Dedication of the Altar: “Let this stone, cut and shaped, be for us a sign of Christ, from whose pierced side flowed blood and water, by which were established the Sacraments of the Church.” I believe it is good for us to remember the sacrifice offered to this marble stone so that we might enjoy a beautiful altar. This stone had first to be cut and carved before it could be placed upon this altar. This stone will become for us the place where heaven and earth shall kiss. This is where the Holy Spirit will come upon simple bread and wine to make for us the heavenly Body and Blood of our Lord.
Today I would also suggest that this cutting and carving is something that must happen to us. We allow God to bend us and shape us for the places where God wants us. We learn this from our Lord on the Cross where he is literally cut open and carved up. We also learn this in each Eucharistic event as Jesus allows himself to be broken open and poured out on our behalf. As we prepare to dedicate this marble stone, let us also renew our willingness to allow God to cut and carve our lives for God’s purposes.
The introduction to the ritual for today says that the life of each Christian is also to be a Spiritual Altar. St. Ignatius of Antioch says, “Grant me nothing more than to be offered as a sacrifice to God.” The introduction for this ritual also says, “the Christian faithful who make time for prayer, who offer petitions to God and make sacrifices of supplication, are themselves living stones from which the Lord Jesus builds the altar of the Church.” In the way we live our lives we are called to offer and sacrifice all for God.
Today we also join with the whole Church throughout the world to mark the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. The Angel Gabriel comes to Mary with a Word from God. Mary’s response is a model for us of how to offer our lives to God. We allow ourselves to be cut and carved — bent into shape for the places where we are needed. We say “yes” to the will of God — oftentimes with our very bodies. Mary allowed her body to be “cut into” so that God’s mysterious love might fill her with the Incarnation. Let her response resound in each of us today, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to thy will.”
The Gospel for today comes from the 5th chapter of Matthew: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
To err is human. To forgive is divine. This altar will be for us a doorway into the divine. This is where we encounter God who will shape and transform our human errors so that we learn the way of love. This altar is the place where we will learn how to forgive. Here is where we learn the ways of heaven. Let us be willing to be shaped into the way of Jesus.
Finally, I imagine that — for a while — we will all be taken aback when we enter this space of worship. This is fitting. As Catholics we rarely simply stroll into a Church. We look for the Holy Water and we remember our baptism. We look for the Blessed Sacrament and we genuflect. We prepare ourselves for an encounter with the God who made us.
If none of us simply strolls into a Catholic Church, even more so, none of us just “walks” into heaven. We must first be made holy. We must be shaped by our God, cut and carved — transformed.
Here, at this altar, we learn the way of heaven, the way of God. We are humbled. We learn child-like trust in God’s infinite mercy. We hunger for the only thing that will satisfy — the bread of life and the wine of salvation.
In a few moments we will pray these words as we prepare to light the candles of this altar for the very first time: “May the light of Christ shine upon the table of this altar and may those who share the Lord’s Supper shine with his light.” May this happen to us. Amen.