So our Mass goes back, without essential change, to the age when it first developed out of the oldest liturgy of all. It is still redolent of that liturgy, of the days when Cæsar ruled the world and thought he could stamp out the faith of Christ, when our fathers met together before dawn and sang a hymn to Christ as to a God. The final result of our enquiry is that, in spite of unsolved problems, in spite of later changes, there is not in Christendom another rite so venerable as ours. ~Fortescue
Holy Innocents Church in NYC in 1901 - the year of its consecration.
The consecration of a Catholic church is a very solemn
and impressive ceremony, with rites that devote the edifice exclusively to
sacred use. The various parts of the traditional ceremonies of consecration are
of very ancient date, and are substantially the same today as they were many centuries
As formally decreed by the Council of Trent, Holy
Mass is not to be celebrated in any place except a consecrated or blessed church,
which is why the Church wants that cathedrals and parish churches be solemnly consecrated,
and that smaller churches be blessed. The consecration of a church is reserved
to a bishop, by which the church is dedicated to the service of God,
thereby raising it perpetually to a higher order, removing it from the malign
influence of Satan, and rendering it a place in which favors are more
graciously granted by God (Pontificale
As part of the consecration of a church, at
least one fixed altar must be consecrated. According to the Catholic Encylopedia (1913), before the time of Constantine, the consecration of churches was a private matter due to persecutions. However, after
Constantine’s conversion, it became a public rite: “After these things a spectacle earnestly prayed for
and much desired by us all appeared, viz. the solemnization of the festival of
the dedication of churches throughout every city, and the consecration
of newly-built oratories” (Eusebius of Cæsarea, Church History X).
The consecration of churches is believed to be, in a sense, a
continuation of the Jewish rites instituted by King Solomon.
Some authors date the rites to around the year 105 and attribute its origin to Pope
St. Evaristus, but it seems probable that he merely promulgated as a law what
had been the custom before his time. There are many examples to prove
that churches were consecrated before peace had been granted to the Church,
such as the one taken from the life of St. Cecilia, who prayed for
a cessation from hostilities against the Christians so that her home might
be consecrated as a church by St. Urban I (222-230).
Another example is taken from the life of St. Marcellus (308-309),
who consecrated a church in the home of St. Lucina (Breviarium Romanum, 16 January).
On the evening before the consecration of a church, exposition
of the relics that will be buried in the altar to be consecrated with
the church, the keeping of the vigil, the blessing of the Gregorian water
(a mixture of water, salt, ashes, and wine), the sprinkling of
the altar, and the translation of the relics to the church are
the same as those described for the consecration of a church. When
the relics have been carried to the church, the consecrator anoints with holy
chrism the four corners of the altar and the sepulchre of the altar,
and then he incenses them. The incense symbolizes the sweet
odor of prayer, which is to ascend from the altar to heaven.
On the day of consecration, the candles under the crosses on
the walls are lighted. After this, the bishop and the clergy go
to the place in which the relics of the martyrs were
deposited the evening before. Whilst the bishop is being vested, the Seven Penitential Psalms are recited, after which all proceed to
the main entrance of the church, where, remaining outside, the bishop blesses the
water. The bishop then goes three times around the outside of the church,
the first time sprinkling the upper part of the walls, the second time the
lower part, and the third time on a level with his face.
After each round, the bishop strikes the
door with the base of his crosier and says, “Lift up your gates, ye
princes, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall
come in.” Every time the deacon inside the church asks, “Who is
this King of Glory?” and the bishop twice answers, “The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord mighty in battle;”
and the third time he says, “The Lord of
Armies, He is the King of Glory.” According to Blessed Yves of Chartres in
his Sermo de Sacramentis, this triple
sprinkling and circuit of the walls symbolizes the triple immersion
at holy baptism, the consecration of the soul as the spiritual temple of God.
The essence of the consecration of a church consists
in the anointing of the (12) twelve crosses on the inner
walls with the form: “Sancificetur
et consecretur hoc templum,” etc. According to a decree of the Sacred
Congregation of Rites dated April 12, 1614, if before this ceremony the
consecrator should become incapacitated for finishing the function, the whole rite must
be repeated from the beginning. These crosses are not to be of wood
or of any fragile material. They must never be removed (Cong. Sac. Rit., 18
February, 1696), and documents failing, they serve to prove that the church has
been consecrated. Under each cross a bracket holding a candle is
“Such are the
impressive ceremonies which our Church uses for the sanctifying of a temple of
God. It is sprinkled, within and without, with holy water; the door and walls
are signed with blessed Chrism, the altar is anointed with the same oil, and is
made a tomb of one of God’s illustrious servants. The odor of incense fills the
house of God, and the solemn prayers of the Church are used to consecrate both
temple and altar to His service forever. ‘This is none other than the House of
God and the Gate of Heaven” (The
Externals of the Catholic Church, Rev. John Sullivan).
Tracing of the letters of the Alphabet in Latin and Greek letters on sand on the floor of the church.
Incense being burned on the five corses on the mensa of the Altar(s).