Archbishop of Sydney
17 October 2011
This evening we conclude the retreat day of the Ad Limina visit with both Mass in this renovated chapel of St. Peter Chanel and the consecration of its new altar.
I am not sure whether the chapel was ever consecrated previously by the Marist Fathers. But we can be sure that this place of worship has been made holy by the prayers and lives of all the Marist priests and seminarians who lived here during more than one hundred years.
As Jesus pointed out to the Samaritan woman, his followers, the true worshippers to which we belong, worship the Father in spirit and truth. It is the same Eucharist, the same seven sacraments that will continue to be celebrated here as in the Marist times, when we worship the Father through his only Son.
On this altar we shall be worshipping the one true God, who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It will be the same unbroken Eucharistic tradition coming from Christ himself.
Joshua the successor of Moses was a much earlier figure than Our Lord and set up his altar on Mt. Ebal after his second attack on Ai had been successful thereby establishing a solid foothold for the Jewish people in the Promised Land.
Not only the men but the women, children and foreigners with them were gathered for the burning of the holocausts and the peace offerings or communion sacrifice. A permanent altar represented a development away from the Jews’ nomadic past and was an emphatic re-endorsement of their covenant with Yahweh, which was further emphasised by Joshua reading all of Moses’ law to the people, the curses as well as the blessings.
The ancient Jewish roots of our Christian worship are evident also in the design of this chapel itself, which follows the ascending pattern of the temple of Jerusalem to the Holy of Holies, in our case the altar surmounted by the Blessed Sacrament and the spectacular bronze crucifix of Christ dying on the cross.
The beautiful, but solid marble altar indicates the special significance of Christ’s unique redemptive sacrifice for us. It is no flimsy ironing board. The statue of Christ the King is flanked by the figures of Peter and Paul, founders of the Church of Rome as a front for the altar. The relics of the saints remind us of the ancient traditions of faith and holiness which bind us together in the communion of saints around Jesus Christ and remind us too that every celebration of the Eucharist is followed by the heavenly choirs who join in our adoration.
In a certain sense we have run ahead of ourselves with our Christian reworking of these ancient stories, because it was St. Paul above all others, who translated the Jewish scriptures into Christian understandings. His task was to explain to his sceptical fellow believers that all the promises made to the Israelite people by Almighty God had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The altar anointed with oil, venerated with the burning of incense (a practice we inherited from the Jews and they probably took from the Persians) to emphasise its sacred nature where the unique sacrifice of Christ our Redeemer, who also died outside the gates, is made present and memorialized.
Christ is the light of this world and the next, because we have here no eternal city. In the words of St. Mary of the Cross MacKillop “we are but travellers here”, a truth which dawns on some of us later rather than earlier. St Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr, from around the end of the first Christian century was correct in describing the Eucharist as “the medicine of immortality”.
On this new altar the bread and wine will be changed miraculously time and time again