Blessing of St Mary of the Cross, Ranelagh

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Blessing of St Mary of the Cross Church

Today is a day of celebration for the Parish community of Huon Valley. The blessing of this church building dedicated to St Mary of the Cross marks the fulfilment of a project that has been the focus of the parish community for some time. In particular I know it is a day of special joy for your Parish Priest, Fr Greg Barker, who has given himself wholehearted to this project.

Today the church building is blessed. This building has been constructed as a place of worship. It has been designed for Catholic liturgy. It is set aside for the celebration of divine mysteries. It is dedicated to God.

The ceremony today is simple and yet it expresses that this building has one purpose. The blessing with holy water invokes the presence and protective power of God over this place and all that happens within it. This is a holy place. This is a place where we are brought into communion with Almighty God, particularly every time the Mass or the Sacraments are celebrated here.

Catholics have a custom of blessing themselves with holy water when they enter a church. It reminds us that we are entering a house of prayer. Our attention is now focussed on the presence of God. We become silent and attentive to being in a sacred place. Our minds turn towards God.

As we move to our seat we genuflect. Our gaze moves to where the Blessed Sacrament is housed in the tabernacle. Our genuflection is an act of homage to the presence of the Lord in our midst.

In this church building the Sacred Scriptures will be solemnly proclaimed many, many times as they have been today. The Scriptures have an honoured place in the church. The lectern, or ambo, is the place from which they are proclaimed. At every Mass and Sacrament we firstly listen to the Word of God, attentive to what the Lord wants to reveal to us. We know that as the Scriptures are read that they are not just human words – the words of Matthew or John, or Paul or Isaiah, but they are, as we proclaim, the Word of God. They are a living word of the living God, and we seek to listen not just with ears, but with our hearts. We know that God longs to speak to the depths of our hearts. He wants to reveal himself to us. He wants to instruct us. He wants to encourage us. He wants to inspire us.

The centre of this church is the altar. On this altar the most sacred action we can engage in here on earth takes place. The priest solemnly prays the Eucharistic Prayer. In the midst of this prayer he stretches his hands out over the bread and wine brought to the altar and asks that by the power of the Holy Spirit they be changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord. He then repeats what Jesus did at the Last Supper saying the same words as Jesus did: “this is my body; this is my blood”.

At this altar an extraordinary mystery occurs – Christ, the risen Lord, who reigns in glory, comes among us in silence and humility. He is really present. He has come to be our bread of life. He has come as an offer to unite himself with us as his disciples. He promised he would be with us all days until the end of time and this is the principle way he has chosen to honour this promise.

And then we approach the altar, one by one. The host is held before us and the declaration is made: Body of Christ. And we say, “Amen”, yes, this is the Lord himself. Though we are unworthy – we are sinners – yet the Lord of Glory wants to dwell in our hearts. We approach the chalice and the declaration is made: Blood of Christ. Again we answer, “Amen”, yes. I am receiving the blood of Christ which was poured out as the sacrificial act for the forgiveness of my sins. Now, drinking from the chalice, I am embracing the saving death of the Lord for me.

What a wondrous mystery is celebrated on this altar, and I can share it in.

Today this building is set aside for sacred things. It is a holy place. Let us always treat it with great reverence and respect. Let us not forget its true nature.

This church is dedicated to St Mary of the Cross. Here in the Huon Valley our first canonised saint will be especially remembered and honoured through the name of this church. The choice of the name is worth noting. We often refer to her as St Mary Mackillop, drawing on here family name. In choosing the title, St Mary of the Cross, recognition is given to the name she chose in religion. The Gospel acclamation reminded us of those faithful women who stood by the Lord as he was dying of the Cross.

Mary MacKillop chose this name as she embraced religious life. And in choosing this name she was prepared to unite her life with Christ on the cross. She was Mary of the Cross, and her cross took many forms—ill health, frequent long journeys in primitive conveyances on land and sea in oppressive weather, the writing of thousands of letters, struggles to obtain the necessities of life, the hardships of real poverty.

But her most difficult crosses came from people, sometimes in high places. What she suffered is sometimes astonishing to read (as when she was falsely excommunicated), but more astonishing is the story of her charity and forbearance towards those who were unjust to her. She judged nobody, she blamed nobody, she was never heard to utter a word of criticism or bitterness, and her reverence for the sacred character of priests and Bishops was never diminished. She always tried to excuse those who had wronged her, called attention to their good qualities, and reminded the sisters of favours received from them in the past.

Mary of the Cross lived the cross and no doubt found consolation during some of her most difficult times by uniting herself with her suffering saviour on the cross.

This church is dedicated in her honour. I encourage all who worship here to remember her as a saint who was not afraid to unite herself with the crucified Christ. We have so much to learn from her example.

In that context may I offer one final thought on this happy day. It is a thought inspired by the second reading today. St Paul offers a moving appeal for how Christian communities should be to one another: “be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive one another as soon as a quarrel begins”. May the parish community who gathers in the church dedicated to St Mary of the Cross exhibit these qualities and be a witness to what it means to be a truly Christian community.

May God be glorified in this place and may God’s people be built up in unity and love as they gather to worship the Lord here in this Church.

St Mary of the Cross, pray for us.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Wednesday, 6 August 2014