The Dedication of the New Abbey Church
The Abbot’s Homily
Read the homily by Abbot Eugene J. Hayes, O.Praem.
“What we are all gathered here to celebrate is the dedication of a house of prayer. So while this is the house of our prayers, we ourselves are the house of God. If we ourselves are God’s house, we are being built up in this age, in order to be dedicated at the end of the age. The building, or rather its construction, involves hard toil, its dedication means exultant rejoicing. What was going on here when these walls were rising, is going on here and now when believers in Christ are being gathered together. It is by believing, you see, that beams and stones, as it were, are being hewn out of the forests and mountains; but when they are catechized, baptized, formed, it’s as though they are being chipped and chiseled, straightened out, planned by the hands of carpenters and masons. However, they don’t make a house for the Lord unless and until they are fitted together and cemented together by charity.”
These are words of the Saint whom Norbertines honor as one of our two Holy Fathers, the one whose rule we follow, the one whose rule our holy founder St Norbert chose for his followers at the beginning of our Order, exactly 900 years ago this year 2021, the one great sinner become a great Saint, Augustine of Hippo. The words are taken from a sermon which St Augustine preached around the beginning of the fifth century for an occasion just as we have today: the dedication of a church. These are words which the confreres heard this morning as part of the morning office of readings, as part of a longer selection forming the second reading. And I apologize to the confreres for repeating them and other words as well which I will repeat later on, which we Norbertines already have heard in preparation for this morning’s great ceremony of the dedication of our new abbey church and altar.
One of our confreres commented that preparation for the liturgy today was a real challenge. There is nothing else like it in the liturgical books. I think the words of Augustine right at the beginning of that selection I read help all of us to understand better what this Mass means to us assembled, even maybe in a deeply personal way. “What we are all gathered here to celebrate is the dedication of a house of prayer. So while this is the house of our prayers, we ourselves are the house of God.” This is the new house of prayer being dedicated, but equally important today is the house of prayer which we are, the church we form. St Paul writing to the Ephesians says as much: You are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” And St Luke in the narration of the story of Zaccheus teaches as much: “Jesus looked up and said: Zaccheus come down quickly for today I must stay at your house.” And then in response to the grumblers among his own people who objected because Zaccheus was a tax collector he says: “today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.”
As a new church today is being consecrated for sacred use alone so we too each of us baptized was consecrated for sacred purpose, by sacred and ancient ritual similar to today’s: hearing God’s word, professing Catholic faith, bathed with water, anointed with sacred oil, given a candle, the light of Christ, made partakers of the mystery of his body and blood. No surprise why today is so significant, why the ritual so unique.
Indeed, the construction of a church, the dedication of a new church building and altar, perhaps is far more significant than we can imagine. The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Parolin, in conveying the prayers and blessing of our Holy Father teaches us this, as did the personal greeting from the Holy Father’s ambassador, the apostolic nuncio to our country, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. The presence of a good friend of some years and a close friend of our community, a member of the College of Cardinals His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke likewise teaches this. So also does the presence of Metropolitan Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles and Metropolitan Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco who each exercise a ministry of service in California so that together we can say they represent all the diocesan churches in our state, so does the presence of our own Bishop Kevin Vann as the main celebrant and consecrator, as well the presence of his predecessor, and the assistant bishops of our diocese of Orange, so does the presence of the governing prelates of the four other Norbertine communities in our country, also known as churches, and so does the presence of you, all truly chosen, we believe, called by God to bring this day about.
That sermon 366 of St Augustine, now famous to us all, in its entirety goes on much longer than the selection which the confreres heard this morning. But at a certain point somewhere just past the middle, Saint Augustine says: “To stop me talking too much, let us now come to the words we have been singing.” So rather than talking too much, I turn now to other words not my own with which I would like to conclude, a text once again which all of us at our community supper heard last evening.
Our Abbot General, the direct superior of all the abbots and other prelates of our Order, was prevented from boarding his flight to the United States at the check in counter at Rome’s Fiumicino airport because he was told that Church meetings and Order events didn’t present sufficient reason to allow him into the country. In his message received a few days ago he speaks to his Norbertine brothers and sons of St Michael’s Abbey of what this day means for us:
Dear Fr. Abbot, Dear Confreres,
As the days of the dedication of the new abbey church of your canonry are com ing near, I find myself more and more thinking of you and of your community. This solemn event is a milestone in the history of your canonry, of your community and, indeed of the Premonstratensian order in America and of the entire order.
It is most unfortunate that I cannot be present in person. Not only because of the protocol but also because of the many personal ties that link us together.
Our holy father Augustine describes the church as a building as a model of the Church as a community. All different kinds of material are joined together to form one safe structure, a building, a house, a home. It is not difficult to apply the image to a canonry, where unity is forged by prayer and sacrifice, by charity and ultimately by grace: God’s loving presence in and among us.
The jubilee of the order adds a special meaning to the dedication of the abbey church of St. Michael’s and the official opening of the new abbey. We rejoice in this prophetic event that bears witness to the strength of the charism of our order. Nine hundred years after the beginning of the abbey of Prémontré we behold the consolidation of another important foundation of our order.
We feel invited to renew and to deepen our trust in Divine Providence and in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
With all of you I want to express my deep gratitude for what is being accomplished among you.
May the canonry of St. Michael’s at Orange continue to prosper and to grow to the Glory of God and the mission of his Church, through the powerful intercession of Our Lady, the Queen of our order, and of our fathers Augustine and Norbert. United with you in prayer,
Jos Wouters, O.Praem.
Our world needs well formed priests.
Our world needs well formed priests.
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