EOPLE dedicate all sorts of things. We dedicate plaques, bricks, car windows, songs, dances, books, performances, etc. The Church, too, dedicates many things. Chapels, gardens, vessels, vestments, windows, statues, etc. Today (18 November), we celebrate the dedication of two of the four major basilicas in Rome, the Basilica of Saint Peter and the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. These are, without a doubt, two of the most famous, most recognizable churches in the world. But what are we celebrating when we celebrate their dedication?
In the Church, every dedication is an invitation. The dedication of a church building is an invitation to God, asking Him to be especially present in that space. Certainly, God is present in every part of creation. After all, “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, Thou art there!” (Ps 139:7-8, RSV). But God, nevertheless, always appreciates our invitation.
It is a tradition as old as humanity to set aside—that is, to make sacred—certain places. Numerous Scripture passages testify to this practice in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Recall, for example, how Jacob memorialized the place where he dreamt of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven; he took the stone that had served as his pillow that night and set it up as a sacred pillar, anointing it with oil (Gen 28:18). During the ordination of Aaron and his sons, Moses used oil to consecrate a tabernacle (Lev 8:10). After building the first temple, Solomon assembled the whole community of Israel in order to celebrate the dedication of the space (1 Kgs 8). After the defilement of the temple, Judas Maccabeus and his brothers saw fit to rededicate the place (1 Mac 4:36-61).
Whenever a space is made sacred, God is invited to dwell there and to manifest Himself. Even we, ourselves, can be dedicated, simply by inviting the Lord to abide within our own “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19).
The dedication of church buildings has been featured several times on Views from the Choir Loft. For example, I used the anniversary of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica one year as an occasion to reflect on why churches should look like heaven (here). We also highlighted new music composed for the 2017 consecration of Montréal’s cathedral, the Basilica of Mary, Queen of the World (here). That same year, Richard Clark drew attention to the dedication of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Voyage in Boston (here).
Perhaps most profoundly, we reflected on the remarkable homily Pope Benedict XVI gave ten years ago this month at the dedication of the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona (here).
The most sacred place in the world is the place where man encounters God. May every church building be such a place for us!