The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Feast of Dedication 2006

Among the different celebrations that a given parish might celebrate relative to its own particular existence as part of the Body of Christ, His Church militant here in earth, are a few different feasts. Most often thought of might be the patronal festival of a parish, although this is almost universally confused with that which is correctly called the feast of title.

The feast of title is the feast of that Divine Person, saint, mystery, or event, after which the church is named. It is sometimes, but incorrectly, called the patronal festival. Every church, whether it is consecrated or not, keeps its feast of title as a first-class feast. The title of a new church is formally agreed upon between the founders and the Bishop at the time of the laying of the foundation stone. In our case, where we in the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada most often acquire a church building that was erected by others, the title is chosen at the time when a given parish takes possession of the building. Sometimes, therefore, a particular parish may change its feast of title. The original name for our first parish in the country in Victoria, BC was St. Athanasius. When they acquired their own building, they changed their title to St. John the Evangelist. We, here in Ottawa, kept our title of The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary when we acquired this building, and that means that we keep our feast of title on March 25, the date of that feast, being exactly nine months before Christmas Day.

So what is the patronal festival? The Patron Saint is the Saint which a society of people have chosen to be, as it were, their special representative in the heavenly places and to plead for them before the Throne of Grace. Consequently, only a Saint can be a Patron – not, that is, a Mystery or event; nor on the other hand the Blessed Trinity or One of the Persons of the Godhead. A parish does not have a patron saint, this being merged in all cases with the feast of title; but a diocese, city, or nation may have a Patron Saint (e.g., the Diocese of Canada and the Dominion of Canada have St. John the Baptist as their Patron).

There is a third such festival, which we in this parish have glossed over for far too many years. It has its own Collect, Epistle and Gospel in the Book of Common Prayer; its own set of propers (Introit, Gradual etc.). It is the Feast of Dedication, which is the anniversary, or the day observed by custom as the anniversary, of the consecration of the church building. It should be kept each year on the actual anniversary day; but should this fall on a day which is regularly unsuitable – as, for instance, if a church were consecrated on Christmas Eve – then it would be in order for the Bishop to permit some other day to be observed as the dedication festival. Moreover, Convocation in the year 1536 ordered the keeping of this festival on the first Sunday of October, instead of the actual date. In the case of newly-consecrated churches, it is for the Bishop at the time of consecration to decide what day shall be observed as the dedication festival; in such case, as an aside, it would not be out of order for a votive Mass of Thanksgiving to be said on the anniversary of the opening of the church. The dedication festival has no connection whatever with the title under which the church is dedicated. The dedication festival is a festival in the honour of our Lord; for this local church is a microcosm of the church catholic, which is the Body of Christ. If the date for a particular church is unsuitable, or unknown, as in our case, then the feast is often kept either on the last Sunday in Trinity (the Sunday before Christ the King), or as mentioned, on this first Sunday in October.

A festival in honour of our Lord. Our first hymn, “Christ is made the sure foundation,” and our Offertory hymn which we shall sing in a few minutes, “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, Her Lord” certainly serve well to underline that which not only this particular feast of dedication is all about, but more importantly, what the Church itself is all about.

Any Sunday, indeed any time we come to church at all, is always a good time for each of us to be asking ourselves why we come here. If our focus is on seeing friends, singing hymns, listening to a gripping sermon, enjoying fellowship after the services, or, perish the thought, being focussed on avoiding others with whom we might harbour a lack of understanding or willingness to forgive, then we aren’t really coming to church for the right reason at all, are we?

The reason we come here is Jesus Christ. He is the building. When we speak of the Body of Christ, we might think perhaps of His physical humanity, or the Sacrament of the Altar, or, within the context of today’s message, His Church. This building, as part of that Body of Christ, is dedicated to Him, and to Him alone. When we come to participate in the services of His Body, the Church, our entire focus should be on Him to whom not only this building, but everyone who has been baptized into Him as the Mediator of the new covenant established by Him, are dedicated.

Fr. David Marriott, one of Fr. Michael Shier’s assistants in the Vancouver area has just returned from leading a mid-September pilgrimage to Walsingham in England, where the group had the pleasure of seeing Bishop Mercer again. In the just issued newsletter from the Vancouver parishes, Fr. David writes, “In a very intense week at Walsingham, the highlight of our retreat was the three presentations made by Bishop Mercer.

“He started out by speaking of what it is we worship: it must be God, not an idol; but what is an idol? In our society, it could be a building, a church, vestments, or even one’s own self-importance. All these are to be condemned, as there is only One worthy of worship.

“‘Where is God?’ This lead to a discussion of the temple, from the tent at Shiloh through the temple of Solomon and the various re-buildings of the temple. But all these were replaced by the person of Jesus Christ: there is no need of a place or a building. He has now fulfilled the purpose of the building in His Incarnation, Death and Resurrection.

“The temple was a meeting-place between God and man, but emphasizes separation: between God and man, Jew and Gentile, man and woman. Jesus, as temple, is very different. He brings reconciliation: between God and man, in that He has removed the veil [and is the new Temple Himself where man meets God]; between Jew and Gentile, in that we are One in Christ; between man and woman, in that both are seated in the Hand of God.”

Even though this brought back memories of a similar, perhaps the same, talks that Bishop Mercer delivered to us here on a Quiet Day in Advent or Lent some years ago, I would have loved dearly to hear again the entire content of those talks; but I think that Fr. David captured the essence of them; and, how curiously wonderful that they fit so well with that which this feast of dedication begs us to ponder.

We do not need a building; we need only Him. If we have a building, such as we are privileged to possess, we must constantly be on guard against the distractions that encumber ownership. If we are regular churchgoers, as most of us are, we must constantly be on guard against our attendance and participation here becoming too “routine” in the sense that we might be distracted by a multitude of trivialities, or perhaps lulled into a sort of complacence in that we recite the prayers by memory without really thinking about them. Also, as regular churchgoers, all members of His one Body the Church, may each of us approach that Holy Table to receive His precious Body and Blood, never, as we heard read in both St. Peter in today’s Epistle reading and in our Second Lesson at Mattins from Hebrews, never in the gall of bitterness and anger, but rejoicing as repentant and forgiven sinners, receiving the grace that flows from His one, all-sufficient sacrifice.

If our hymns today and Bishop Mercer’s comments remind us that Jesus, in being “all in all” has actually replaced the temple insofar as that which connects us to God, then the Epistle reading for the Feast of Dedication urges us, each of us who have been baptized into Him, to carry those thoughts even deeper. Using temple imagery himself, St. Peter tells his readers, “The Lord (Jesus) … to whom you come, as unto a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, and are built up yourselves into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable unto God through Jesus Christ.”

Twice in the past week, last Sunday in the Second Lesson at Evensong, and yesterday evening, we read the same particular Lesson - one of those coincidences that happen occasionally in our yearly Bible readings when a feast such as this, which has its own special Lessons that fall outside of the regular lectionary, occurs within days of our having read the same Lesson during the regular course of the year. In this particular Lesson, we hear perhaps even more striking imagery, than that of St. Peter in today’s Epistle, from St. Paul in his first letter to the Church at Corinth. Verses 9 - 11, “Ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Then after issuing a solemn warning to those who are called to build up the Body of Christ His Church, he continues in verses 16 and 17, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”

Both St. Peter and St. Paul are reminding us, as did Bishop Mercer, that Jesus, in His Incarnate form, replaced the Temple; and, since His Ascension, by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, we are, each of us, temples to God.

“Christ is made the sure foundation.” “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ Her Lord.”

Why do we come to Church? What is it that we worship?