13 February 2011


Tomorrow Bishop Pat will - well, I don't know precisely what he will do - but in some official sense he will dedicate our new church building.  Will he consecrate it?  If so, does that mean it hasn't been a 'real' church until now?  We have, in fact, been having Mass there since the first Mass was said there on 31 October last year - well, in fact, a funeral was said in the partially-completed building some time before that.

So I don't exactly know what the Bishop will do, but whatever it is, he will do it tomorrow afternoon.

Does it matter?  Certainly I do not think the church was dedicated or consecrated or anything special at all last year at that funeral Mass.  The reason the funeral was held inside the now-roofed but still un-walled building was that it was the funeral of Henk van Lieshout, whose labour had been a prime mover in getting the church building project going, keeping it going - and who had suddenly died of a heart attack before the church could start being used for regular Masses.  It was wonderfully right that his funeral should have been in the building he had loved into existence.

But that building was certainly not a consecrated (or dedicated, or whatever) church at the time.  And at different times in the past we have had Mass out of doors; once in a gymnasium; for nearly a year in the church hall.  Mass is Mass.  The world is the Lord's and the fulness thereof.  Mass does not require a special building.

Nevertheless, the consecration makes a difference.

John Henry Newman, in his attempt to justify the via media - the Anglican Church as a 'middle way' between Protestantism and Catholicism - said that his religion was founded on three principles:
  1. The dogmatic principle - that religious truth could be known with certainty; that certain things were true and their contraries false; that religious truth did not all reduce to matters of private opinion;
  2. The sacramental principle - in his words: the doctrine that material phenomena are both the types and the instruments of real things unseen.
  3. Anti-Romanism.
The third principle had necessarily to abandoned when he became a (Roman) Catholic!  The first, of course, did not.

And neither did the second.

Was it Max Weber who said that Protestantism, and particularly Calvinism, desacralised the world?

It didn't work - as anyone who contemplates the rather more emotional side of modern environmentalism can testify.

Man is a natural priest.  He is that strange centaur-like creature, part god, part beast, who connects the material and spiritual worlds.  This is unavoidable, and hence, when not guided by reason and revelation, man finds his own way of being the junction, the seam, that joins Heaven and Earth.  I recall something from Kroeber's book Ishi - Ishi, she said, was very religious, leaving tobacco around in various places.  This was very natural.  This was the sacramental principle.

Our church is more than timber and cladding, steel and paint.  It is a House of God.  It matters to us humans that we are physical as well as spiritual.  In my last months in the Reformed Church, during 1994, when I suspected that I would have to become a Catholic, I began to have a longing to be able to kneel in prayer - rather than simply sitting as we did.  I spoke once with one of our elders, after we had announced our intention to become Catholics, about the bareness of the building we used in Reformed worship.  He said that he greatly appreciated the austerity - he wanted nothing between him and God.  This is quite right, too.  In the sacramental principle lies always the danger of idolatry - of mistaking the means for the end.  That is so, and the Catholic Church is very much aware of it.  Yet I think the behaviour of wandering modern man - whether the environmentalist, the New Age adherent, or simply the ordinary person whose car, computer, or boat acquires more than merely utilitarian value - the behaviour of all these shows the fact that you cannot deprive man of the sacraments.  One way or another, he will have them.

God knows what is safe for us, and thus He gives us the Sacraments of Baptism, of the Eucharist, of Confession, and the others, as the roads to Heaven.

And He encourages us to house them in a house devoted to Him, one in which He lives especially and waits for us.

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