On the Dedication of a Church, Part 1 (GA 150 – 171)

Readers may have followed the recent consecration of the Abbey of Gower according to the ancient rites. (If not, there is a video of the ceremonies on Youtube and a photo page here.) The Gemma Animae offers commentary on this holy, awe-inspiring, and mysterious, which we will post over the next few days with illustrations.


(Chs. 150 – 171)

Dedication 2

Ch. 150
De Dedicatione Ecclesiae

The dedication of a church is the nuptial union of Christ and the Church. The bishop who consecrates her is Christ, who has married the Church. The bishop blesses the font in the atrium, and then sprinkles the Church with water all around (in circuitu), because Christ consecrated a baptismal font in Judaea and ordered all the nations all around the world (in circuitu mundi) to be washed in it.

CAP. CL. – De dedicatione ecclesiae.

Ecclesiae Dedicatio est Ecclesiae et Christi nuptialis copulatio. Episcopus qui eam consecrat est Christus, qui Ecclesiam desponsaverat. Episcopus fontem in atrio benedicit, et in circuitu aspergit, quia Christus fontem baptismatis in Iudaea consecravit, et in circuitu mundi omnes gentes eo ablui imperavit.

a) Prologue: Entrance and Inscribing the Floor

Ch. 151
On an Unconsecrated House

dedication 6

A house not consecrated to God is like the heathen world, ignorant of God and enclosed behind the bolted doors of unbelief. All around (in circuitu) the house, twelve burning candles illuminate it as the twelve Apostles illuminated heathenesse all around the world (in circuitu orbis) by the light of their doctrine. A candle gives light and burns, and the Apostles’ word gave light as they burned with charity. The pontiff strikes the lintel of the door three times with his staff saying “Attollite portas, principes, vestras, et elevamini, portae aeternales” (Psalm 23). In the pontiff we are to understand Christ, and in his staff the sceptre of power. The three-fold striking is his three-fold power in heaven, on earth, and in hell. Thus it is as if the Lord himself strikes the door three times with the crosier, giving the Church its power to bind and loose in heaven and on earth and promising that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16). He also commands the princes of darkness to remove the doors of death from the Church and the eternal heavenly gates (portae aeternales) to be raised, so that the just may enter into life.

CAP. CLI. – De domo non consecrata.

Domus non consecrata est gentilitas Dei ignara, et perfidiae repagulis inclusa. In domo duodecim candelae in circuitu accensae eam illuminant, et duodecim apostoli in circuitu orbis gentilitatem lumine doctrinae illustrabant. Candela lucet et ardet, et apostoli verbo lucebant et charitate ardebant. Pontifex super liminare ostii cum baculo ter percutit, Attollite portas, principes, vestras, et elevamini, portae aeternales (Psal. XXIII) dicit; per pontificem Christus, per baculum sceptrum potestatis intelligitur. Trina autem percussio terna potestas in coelo, in terra, in inferno accipitur. Quasi ergo ter Dominus ianuam cum capuita percussit, dum Ecclesiae potestatem ligandi atque solvendi in coelo et in terra concessit, et portas inferi adversus eam non praevalere tribuit (Matth. XVI). Iubet etiam ut principes tenebrarum portas mortis ab Ecclesia tollant, portae vero aeternales, id est coelestes, eleventur, ut iusti ad vitam ingrediantur.

Ch. 152
On the Doors

The gates of death are of course the vices and sins. The gates of life are faith, baptism, and good works. The one who responds from within represents the devil who is expelled from the house of the Church. For like a strong armed man he has guarded his house, the world, which he possesses by right. But one stronger than he has arrived, expelled him, and distributed his spoils (Matthew 12; Luke 11). I speak of Christ who conquered him in his Passion and redeemed the Church from his right of possession.

Soon enough the door is opened and the bishop enters, because the Church opened the door of faith to Christ and devoutly received him inside. Upon entering the bishop says Pax huic domui, because when he entered the world Christ brought peace to mankind and rising again from the dead he offered it to his own saying Pax vobis (John 20). He shouts pax huic domui three times, indicating that the Church has been reconciled through the Trinity, or perhaps because there is “one God, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).

Then the bishop prostrates himself and prayers for the consecration of the Lord’s house, just as Christ prostrated himself on the mountain before his Passion and prayed the Father for the Church’s sanctification. Upon rising the bishop does not greet the people with Dominus vobiscum but invites them to pray through Flectamus genua, because the unfaithful and impious should not be greeted but encouraged to conversion and penance.

CAP. CLII. – De portis.

Portae quippe mortis sunt vitia et peccata. Portae vitae sunt fides, baptisma, operatio. Per eum, qui intus respondet, diabolus intelligitur, qui de domo Ecclesiae expellitur. Ipse quippe quasi fortis armatus atrium suum custodivit, dum hunc mundum quasi iure possedit. Sed fortior superveniens eum expulit, spolia eius distribuit (Matth. XII; Luc. XI); dum Christus eum passione vicit, et Ecclesiam ab eius iure eripuit. Mox ostium aperitur, et episcopus ingreditur, quia Ecclesia ostium fidei Christo aperuit, et eum intra se devote recepit. Episcopus ingrediens Pax huic domui dicit, quia Christus mundum ingrediens, pacem hominibus contulit, quam resurgens a mortuis suis praebuit: Pax, inquit, vobis (Ioan. XX). Ter pax huic domui clamat, quia reconciliationem Ecclesiae per Trinitatem factam insinuat, vel quia unus est Deus, una fides, unum baptisma (Ephes. IV). Deinde pontifex prosternitur, pro consecratione domus Dominum precatur, et Christus se ante passionem in monte prostravit et pro Ecclesiae sanctificatione Patrem oravit. Surgens pontifex populum per Dominus vobiscum non salutat, sed per Flectamus genua ad orationem invitat, quia infideles et impii non sunt salutandi, sed ad conversionem et poenitentiam provocandi.

Ch. 153
On the Alphabet

Dedication 7

Next he writes the alphabet on the pavement with his staff, starting from the left corner on the eastern side and ending on the right corner on the western side. Then he begins another alphabet from the right corner of the eastern side and finishes in the left corner of the western side. These two alphabets meet in the middle of the church the form of a cross and it is clear what mystical sense we are to gather from it.

CAP. CLIII. – De alphabeto.

Post hoc alphabetum in pavimento cum capuita scribit, incipiens a sinistro angulo orientali, in dextrum occidentalem desinit. Deinde aliud alphabetum a dextro angulo orientis inchoat, et scribendo in sinistro angulo occidentis consummat. Quae duo alphabeta in medio Ecclesiae in formam crucis conveniunt, et quid mysticent nobis aperte innuunt.

Ch. 153
On the Four Corners of the Church

The four corners of the church are the four regions of the world. The writing inscribed in the pavement is simple doctrine, inscribed into hearts made of earth. The bishop begins to write from the left corner, because Christ began to teach in Judaea, which may be compared with the left corner, because on account of its unbelief it is reckoned with those standing on the left. The eastern corner is so called because Christ, who is the East, originates from that part of the world according to the flesh. The bishop writes toward the right corner because Christ’s doctrine comes to the Church, which may be compared to the right corner because she is reckoned with those standing on the right. The western corner exists because all unbelief gathers in that region, where also Christ the Sun of justice went down in death.

CAP. CLIV. – De quatuor angulis ecclesiae.

Quatuor ecclesiae anguli sunt quatuor plagae mundi. Scriptura, quae terrae inscribitur, est simplex doctrina, quae cordibus terrae imprimitur. A sinistro angulo episcopus scribere incipit, quia Christus a Iudaea docere incoepit. Ipsa quippe sinistro angulo comparatur, quia ob perfidiam cum sinistris reputatur. Ideo angulus orientis dicitur, quia Christus, qui est oriens, in eo secundum carnem oritur. Scripturam in dextrum angulum deducit episcopus quia doctrina Christi ad Ecclesiam usque pervenit. Ipsa enim dextro angulo assimilatur, quia cum dextris computatur. Ideo autem angulus occidentis existit, quia in ea perfidia corruit, et Christus Sol iustitiae pro ea in morte occidit.

Ch. 155
On the Right Corner

Again, the bishop begins writing from the right corner on the eastern side and ends on the left of the western side, because Christ began his teaching in the primitive Church and will bring it to completion at the end of the world in the people of Israel. The right corner signifies the primitive Church because she is the queen who stands at God’s right hand. It is called the eastern angle because there “to the righteous a light is risen up” (Psalm 111). The people of Israel are called the left corner because they remain still in their shameful infidelity. The western corner is so-called because as the world passes away (occidente iam mundo) and the full number of the Gentiles has come in, Israel too will be converted to Christ (Romans 11:25-26).

dedication 9

The two alphabets that run from the various corners in the form of a cross are the two peoples who gather together from two different rites into the one faith of the cross through Christ, for there are two Testaments that when joined together expressed the cross of Christ’s passion. One alphabet is written in Greek, the other in Latin, because the Greek language is acknowledged to be eminent on account of wisdom, but Latin on account of the imperial power. Both are written with a staff because all of these things are performed by preachers.

Everything that has been done up to this point has been a prologue to the consecration. Now the dedication of the church begins. What follows signifies the passion of Christ and the effusion of the Holy Spirit through which the Catholic Church is consecrated.

CAP. CLV. – De dextro angulo.

Iterum episcopus scripturam a dextro angulo orientis inchoat, et in sinistro occidentis eam consummat, quia Christus per doctrinam suam in primitiva Ecclesia inchoavit, et eam in fine mundi in Israelitico populo consummabit. Primitiva Ecclesia dexter angulus dicitur, quia ipsa est regina, quae a dextris Dei stare scribitur. Ideo angulus dicitur orientis, quia lumen rectis in ea exoritur (Psal. CXI). Populus autem Israel ideo sinister angulus vocatur, quia adhuc in infidelitate perdurare non verecundatur. Ideo vero angulus occidentis dicitur, quia occidente iam mundo post plenitudinem gentium Israel ad Christum convertitur. Duo alphabeta, quae ex diversis angulis in formam crucis conveniunt, sunt duo populi, qui ex diverso ritu in unam fidem crucis per Christum convenerunt. Duo enim testamenta sunt, quae insimul coniuncta crucem passionis Christi ediderunt. Unum autem Graece, alterum Latine scribitur, quia Graeca lingua propter sapientiam, Latina propter imperialem potentiam aliis eminentior cognoscitur, quod utrumque ad fidem crucis convertitur. Utraque vero per baculum scribuntur, quia haec omnia per praedicatores peraguntur. Hucusque totum quod praecessit, quasi prooemium consecrationis fuit. Abhinc dedicatio ecclesiae incipit, et ideo per hoc, quod nunc sequitur, Christi passio et Spiritus sancti effusio innuitur, per quae Ecclesia catholica consecratur.

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