Mass with Blessing of St. Francis of Assisi Chapel and dedication of the altar
Bishop Luers High School
“How lovely in your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!” We prayed these words of Psalm 84 today, words that express our sentiments as we celebrate the blessing of this beautiful new chapel under the title of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patroness of Bishop Luers High School. This lovely chapel becomes a sacred place today, a place of prayer and worship, where the Lord will be adored and praised by the Bishop Luers community. The Blessed Sacrament will be reserved here in the tabernacle making this chapel truly the dwelling place of the Lord.
The most important part of this ceremony, after the Eucharist itself, will be the dedication of the altar. The altar is a sign of Christ. It is the focal point of every Catholic church and chapel. Why is this? Because it is at the altar that we celebrate the memorial of the Lord, the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice. We carry out at the altar Christ’s command: “Do this in memory of me.” By the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ spoken by the priest, the gifts of bread and wine on the altar become the Body and Blood of Christ.
We heard in our first reading about Joshua in the Old Testament building an altar to the Lord on Mount Ebal. On the altar, they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord. But on this altar, the offering will infinitely surpass those offerings of old. Here, the offering will be Jesus Christ. His sacrifice on the cross will be made present in mystery (sacrament). And we who are the Body of Christ, the Church, will unite ourselves to His offering. Through the Eucharist, we are united with Our Lord’s great sacrifice of love. Referring to His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus said to the crowd in today’s Gospel: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” That’s what Jesus did when He was lifted up on the cross. In mystery and truth, the Lord draws us to Himself in every Mass as His sacrifice on the cross is made present.
Then in Holy Communion, we are able to receive the fruits of Jesus’ sacrifice – grace and life, union with Jesus and with one another. This is the miracle of the Eucharist. As Saint Paul wrote with amazement: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one Body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” This is why we can say that the Eucharist makes the Church and builds the Church. It is the sacrament that makes us one Body in Christ. This community of disciples of Jesus at Bishop Luers High School, like every community of disciples in the Catholic Church, is united with Christ and with one another through the Eucharist, the sacrament that makes us one Body in Christ.
In this ceremony, I will dedicate the altar. Another word for dedication is consecration. We were all dedicated to God, consecrated to Him, in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. In those sacraments, we were anointed with the sacred chrism, the sign of our consecration to God. Priests and bishops were anointed with the holy chrism at their ordinations, again, a sign of dedication and consecration to God. The chrism is used in these sacraments of consecration of persons. But today, this same holy chrism is used for the dedication of a thing, not a person. I will anoint the altar with the oil of chrism. Why? Because this altar will be dedicated to God. It will be reserved for the sacrifice of Christ, the celebration of the Eucharist. It will only be able to be used as the table of the Lord, the table where God’s people receive nourishment and strength. Because the altar is something holy, at the beginning and end of Mass, the priest kisses it. Notice I did not kiss the altar at the beginning of Mass today because it is not yet dedicated, but I will kiss it after the dedication before the preparation of the offerings. Why do we kiss the altar? Since the fourth century, the bishops, priests, and deacons have kissed the altar at the beginning of Mass as a reverential salutation of the place where the holy mystery is about to be celebrated. By kissing the altar, we honor its sacredness.
This new chapel is named in honor of one of the most popular saints of the Church, Francis of Assisi. He is the patron saint of Bishop Luers High School. The art of this chapel will reflect the medieval art in Assisi and include beautiful scenes of Saint Francis’ life. Here in the center we see the San Damiano crucifix that spoke to Saint Francis at the beginning of his mission to renew the Church. Saint Francis is an extraordinary model of discipleship. He was a troubadour of the Lord, filled with love for Christ and the joy of the Gospel. His poverty inspires us to remember that only Christ is our true treasure. Meditating on his life of evangelical poverty, simplicity, chastity, and obedience, his love for the Church and the Eucharist, and his care of creation, can help us to live and embrace the radical truth of the Gospel. I pray that Saint Francis’ example and prayers will lead all who pray in this chapel to be faithful and committed disciples of the Lord.
I hope that everyone who prays in this chapel will draw closer to Christ and be open to His grace. I pray that Bishop Luers will truly be a school of holiness, a school of saints. I hope that all of the students who attend here and pray in this chapel will not be afraid to live an extraordinary life in Christ after the example of Saint Francis of Assisi. The Lord calls us as He called Saint Francis to conversion and to holiness. The Eucharist fills us with the grace to grow in holiness and to become saints.
Finally, let us ask Saint Francis to intercede for us and for this community under his patronage. Francis was an exemplary disciple of Jesus, a model for us of following Christ. May this chapel be the center and heart of this school, reminding all of the holy mission of this school, to teach and form disciples of Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life! May the Lord bless this community and all who will pray and worship here for many years to come! Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us!