Strange rituals for consecrating Catholic churches!

A decade or so ago, a friend posted these words on the Proclaiming The Gospel BBS:

I was reading in my Maryknoll Catholic Dictionary and came across the "consecration of a church". It reads: "Each permanent church should be consecrated, an act which dedicates it to sacred use. The consecrator is a bishop, usually the bishop of the diocese where the church is located, The highlights of the consecration are the sprinkling of the exterior walls, the tracing of the alphabet on the floor , the anointing of the door posts with chrism, the consecration of at least the main altar, the anointing of the walls at twelve consecration crosses, the celebrating Mass"--Maryknoll: Catholic Dictionary © 1965 The Maryknoll Fathers, page 152 Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur

After reading this account of the strange rituals involved in consecrating a church building for use by the Roman cult, I was prompted to look for more information on these patently pagan rites. What I found fleshes out my friend's original report and provides an explanation for the ritual tracing of the alphabets on the floor of the church.

The information that follows is taken from pages 592ff. of the 48th edition of an old book with a title so marvelous that I feel compelled to list it in its entirely here: Explanation of the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays, Holydays and Festivals throughout the Ecclesiastical Year to which are added the Lives of Many Saints. This book, by Catholic priest Leonard Goffine, was “Translated from the latest German edition of Rev. George Ott by Very Rev. Gerard M. Pilz, O.S.B. With many approbations of the Most Rev. Archbishops and Bishops of the United States.” It was published by Fr. Pustet & Co (Ratisbon), Printers to the Holy Apostolic See and the Sacred Congregation of Rites, in 1880. As his source for this information, Goffine cites Himiob. And Liturgy by Marzohl, &c. What follows will, of course, be a description of how things were done after Vatican I and before Vatican II. Given all the changes in the Missae Romanum, I imagine much of the showy stuff, as well as the implanting of relics into the altar, have gone by the wayside. Too bad; I imagine the spectacle was really something to watch.

From what I learned, the consecration rites actually began the day previous to the consecration. On this day, the bishop and the Catholic faithful fast, “because we can become spiritual temples of God only by mortification and penitential works, and only thus enter the heavenly Jerusalem of which the church is a symbol.” The RCC surely does like her symbolic rituals. Catholic fasting is, as I have on more than one occasion shown, little more than an empty gesture; a symbolic act that could hardly be called penitential and which certainly can result in little, if any, mortification.

While the bishop and the faithful are making do with one full meal and a few light meals, the bits and pieces of saints that are to be implanted in the altar are kept outside the church building, in a tent or other suitable place, to remind Catholics that “the saints lived on earth as pilgrims and strangers until Christ opened to them the gates of heaven.”

On the big day, 12 crosses are painted on the church walls. A candle is placed before each of the crosses and is lighted at the beginning of the consecration. The candles represent the 12 Apostles, “whom our Lord Himself calls the Light of the world, and they admonish us to live as children of light, adhering to the precepts of the Apostolic Church.” Interesting, no? The candles, which are symbolic of the Apostles, admonish Catholics to keep the precepts of their church. One cannot but wonder how a candle, an inanimate object devoid of life, can do anything at all, other than just sit in place and burn down when lit. More symbolism, of course, but one wonders that others feel no embarrassment at being “admonished” by a candle.

The next step in the process required the Bishop to stand before the church door and recite penitential psalms. He then blessed water, with which he sprinkled himself and everyone else within range. Then followed one of those processionals so dear to the hearts of the RCC as the bishop and faithful march around the church three times . As the parade progressed, the bishop sprinkled the holy water on the walls of the church. As he passed the church entrance, the bishop would knock on the door with his crozier. The door would not be opened until the completion of the third circuit. When the church door was opened, the bishop stood in the threshold and, after making the sign of the cross, uttered one of those pagan incantations that adorn RCC ritual: “Behold the sign of the cross; let all evil spirits depart.”

There are explanations for all this mumbo jumbo, of course. “The penitential psalms are to remind us that the road to the kingdom of God passes only by way of conversion of life; the blessing of water and the sprinkling with it, that only the pure can enter heaven; the triple knocking, that we must pray with perseverance and contend for heaven. . .and the sign of the cross on the threshold reminds us, that the devil…is not driven from this world without violence and much battling.”

Having paraded around the church, gotten everyone wet and then driven off evil spirits, the bishop and his helpers then enter the church. Everyone else had to remain outside for a while longer. The symbolism here was to remind folks of Christ’s entrance “with a number of saints into heaven, and the establishment of the Church triumphant there.”

Inside the building, the bishop would vocally render a hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus, and ashes would be scattered on the church floor in the form of a cross. At this point, as the choir (how’d they get in?) was to sing Benedictus as the bishop used his crozier to write the Greek and Latin alphabets in the ashes. The symbolism here is two-fold: to represent “the union of the Jews and the Gentiles in one faith and one Church, and also that the congregation belongs to that Church which especially celebrates its service in the Greek and Latin tongues.” Hmmm. Don't you just have to wonder whether the Jews are represented by the Greek alphabet or the Latin? This book was written a long, long time before Vatican II. Given that the RCC now worships in the vernacular, one can but wonder what alphabets are currently being traced on the ashes-strewn floor of new Catholic churches. One must always bear in mind the RCC motto, Semper idem, “Always the same.” Not!

At this point, the bishop would bless a nasty mix of water, ashes, salt and wine – called Gregorian Water after the pope who introduced it. He then sprinkled the walls and altar with this mix. “...the water represented Christ’s humanity, the wine His divinity, the ashes are a figure of death, and the salt of incorruption.”

Having made a mess of the place, the bishop would then cast a protection spell by making the sign of the cross with his crozier upon the upper and lower inside parts of the doors, “that all the enemies of peace and blessing should fly from its threshold, and to invoke the plenitude of all graces for those that pass over it.”

The bishop, who by now must be worn out from all the marching and walking to and fro, anointed the five crosses that are engraved on the altar stone. The altar represents Christ. The crosses sumbolize “His five sacred wounds, from which flow to us blessings and salvation for time and eternity, the anointing is in commemoration of the mysterious anointing of Christ by which He was made king, prophet, and priest of the New Testament, and reminds us of the blessings which flow to us from the altar, on which Christ offers Himself in the holy Sacrifice.”

At last it’s time to take the relics from the place where they were being kept. These bits and pieces of body parts were given their own little parade as they were marched around the church to the accompaniment of the faithful’s rendering of the Litany of the Saints. From this, the faithful were taught that they must “follow the saints, under the leadership of Christ, and implore God’s mercy and grace if we would enter the Church triumphant in heaven.”

Then, as a hymn of joy and praise was chanted, the relics were brought into the church, to remind the faithful “of the joy of the saints when Christ shall conduct all His elect into heaven.”

The relics were then inserted into the altar and the bishop cemented the stone that enclosed them with a mortar made with Gregorian Water. The symbolism here was that the saints are “perfectly united with Christ, and that whatever we ask through their intercession, we obtain only through Christ and His infinite merits.”

One of the priests then marched around the altar several times, incensing it. He represented the angel mentioned in Revelation 8:3,4, who stood before the altar with a golden censor and “placed much incense, that is, the prayers of the saints, upon the golden altar before the throne of God.”

Next, the bishop anointed the 12 crosses. This signifies the “grace granted to those who faithfully observe the apostolic instructions,” whatever that means.

It was then time for the bishop to perform another incantation. He used blessed incense to form five crosses that he placed on the five crosses carved into the altar stone. He then put another cross, made of wax, atop each of the incense crosses that were atop the carved crosses. He lighted the wax crosses, which then kindled the incense. “These lights are symbolic of the offering of the faithful, and of their hearts, enlightened by faith, and inflamed with the fire of love.

When the “burnt offering” was consumed, the bishop busied himself with further anointings. “The new, fresh altarcloths, vestments, chalices, &c., are blessed, the altar is covered with the blessed cloths, the cross and candlesticks placed upon it, and the unbloody Sacrifice of the New Law is for the first time offered on the newly consecrated altar by the bishop.”

And there you have it. The whole process reads rather like something one would expect in a Stephen King novel, or a movie set in Haiti. Of course, one would expect Catholic faithful to argue that just about everything involved in the consecration process points to Christ. That may be, of course, but a Vodun priestess or Santeria priest might make the same claim. It seems such a lot of folderol, fraught with mysticism and esoteric symbology and so unnecessary. There is no need for such foolishness when every believer has the God-granted RIGHT to go before the throne of God in person to place his petitions before our sovereign Lord.

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."

Whether directed toward God or not, this whole process is mindful of pagan ritual. And that which evokes pagan imagery has no place in a church that calls itself Christian. Bear in mind Paul’s admonition to the church at Thessalonica:--Hebrews 4:14-16, "

Abstain from all appearance of evil.--1 Thessalonians 5:22

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