May 9, 2023 // Bishop
Bishop Rhoades Blesses Oratory and Dedicates Altar at Southold Center for Education
Bishop Rhoades delivered the following homily at Mass with Blessing of Oratory of the Holy Family and Dedication of Altar at Southold Center for Education in South Bend on Monday, May 1:
Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker. And today this Oratory has been blessed and dedicated to the Holy Family of Nazareth of which Saint Joseph was the guardian and protector.
Here in this oratory, you, the little Catholic community of Southold, will worship the Lord in the sacred liturgy and here you can come to pray to the Lord in what has become today a “sacred place.” Its walls have been purified by the blessing. The word “oratory” comes from the Latin word “oratorium” and the verb “orare,” which means to pray, to speak to the Lord. This oratory is now, as the name indicates, “a house of prayer.” And it is the house of the Lord since here the Lord Jesus becomes present on the altar in the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice and remains here present in the tabernacle. That is why we prayed in the responsorial psalm the song that the Jewish people would sing on their way to the temple in Jerusalem (psalm 121): “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”
The center and focal point of this oratory and of every Catholic church, oratory, or chapel is the altar. From the earliest times, Christians erected permanent altars for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord, the Holy Eucharist. By its very nature, an altar is a table of sacrifice. This is clear throughout the Old Testament. We read of the patriarchs, kings, and prophets erecting altars to offer sacrifices to the Lord, the greatest being the altar in the temple of Jerusalem. In the first reading from the first book of Maccabees, we heard about the celebration of the dedication of the new altar in the Jerusalem temple. Assyrian invaders had profaned God’s temple and turned it into a pagan temple. They defiled the altar in the temple. The faithful people successfully revolted against these invaders and rebuilt the temple and its altar. As we heard in the reading, they rejoiced at the dedication of their new altar. The altar was sacred to them because on it they offered burnt offerings and sacrifices to God. This all happened 2,200 years ago. Today, we rejoice at the dedication of this altar. It has much greater dignity than the altar that was built in the Jerusalem temple because on it will be offered the most efficacious and perfect sacrifice, the sacrifice of Jesus. From the Eucharistic sacrifice the most abundant graces flow, the graces that flow from the heart of Jesus who gave His life for us on the altar of the cross. The Church considers the dignity of the altar so great that, when it is dedicated, it is anointed with the same oil that is used at Baptisms, Confirmations, and priestly and episcopal ordinations: the sacred oil of chrism.
In the second reading, we heard a passage from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in which he teaches about the Eucharist. He teaches that the cup of blessing we bless is a participation (a communion) in the Blood of Christ and that the bread we break is a participation (a communion) in the Body of Christ. He is explaining the Eucharistic mystery. And he teaches that in partaking of the one loaf, we become one Body in Christ. We become His Church. That is why the Church teaches that the Eucharist “makes” the Church. The Eucharist is at the very core of the life of the Church and gives the Church its identity. As Saint John Paul II wrote in his last encyclical, his encyclical on the Eucharist: “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist.”
Saint Paul goes on to say that Christians who partake of the Eucharist, the Christian sacrifice, cannot participate in pagan sacrifices. “You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” Now this may sound quite obvious to us, but think of the situation of those early Christians. Following this instruction of Saint Paul could mean martyrdom for them. How does this apply to us today? We too must avoid partaking of the table of demons, of any kind of false worship or idolatry, ceremonies or practices which are incompatible with our Christian faith. It is alarming to see the increase in such practices in our culture today, not just Satanic rituals, but various other New Age practices where creation and not the Creator is worshipped.
Today’s Gospel is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Our Lord teaches that at worship, the people must leave their gift at the altar if, at the altar, they recall that a brother or sister has anything against them. They are to go and be reconciled, then come back to offer their gift. This teaching is also important for us who worship the Lord at Mass. Before approaching the altar, we too should be reconciled with our neighbor because, in order to be reconciled with God, we must be reconciled with each other. It is significant that in our liturgy, before we go to the altar to receive Holy Communion, we exchange a sign of peace with our neighbors. Today’s Gospel also is a reminder of the importance of the sacrament of Reconciliation. None of us should approach the altar of the Lord to receive Holy Communion if we are not in the state of grace, reconciled with God and the Church and thus properly disposed to receive the Holy Eucharist.
My sisters in Christ who reside here at Southold, what a blessing it is for you to live in a house that has an oratory where the holy sacrifice of the Mass is offered and where the Lord dwells in the tabernacle. I hope you will come here often to pray, even if it is just a short visit to the Blessed Sacrament. The counsel of Saint Josemaria is good to recall. He said: “Go perseveringly to the Tabernacle, either bodily or in your heart, so as to feel safe and calm; but also, in order to feel loved … and to love.”
My sisters, I pray that in this holy place you will grow in your friendship with the Lord, grow in holiness, and receive strength to live your vocation as His faithful disciples. May the Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph always be honored here, and may the Holy Family bless all who pray and worship here now and for many years to come!
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