consecration of churches

[diagram of consecration of a church]
A custom of Apostolic origin. All cathedrals and, as far as possible, all parish churches should be consecrated. The principal condition for consecration is assured permanency of construction and purpose. Temporary churches, wooden churches, and those burdened with debt are not usually consecrated, but only blessed. The consecration, also called dedication, is performed by the bishop of the diocese or another bishop with his permission. The ceremony in use today is a combination of French and Roman rites and consists mainly of a triple sprinkling of all the exterior and interior walls with holy water, the consecration of at least one altar in the church, the anointing and incensing of twelve metal, stone, or painted crosses on the inside walls, and, finally, the celebration of Mass.

Some of the details of the ceremony, the history of which dates back to the sixth century, are as follows: There is prescribed a threefold procession around the church, accompanied with the aspersion of the outer walls with holy water, and at each passing of the main entrance the presiding prelate knocks at the door. After the third round of the building and the third knocking at the door, the church is entered solemnly. The Litany of the Saints is then chanted. Thereupon the Greek and Latin alphabets are traced in a large cross of ashes placed on the floor in the shape of the monogram X for Christ. A further threefold procession around the interior of the church follows, likewise accompanied by the sprinkling of the interior walls, after the table of the altar and its supports have been washed with the so-called Gregorian water, wherewith is also connected a sevenfold procession around the altar to be consecrated. Special mortar is blessed for the sepulcher of the relics to be placed in the altar-table. The oil of catechumens and chrism are used for the consecration of the altar proper. The anointing of the walls of the church at twelve places, designated by crosses, follows and then is burned a small number of grains of incense at the five points of anointing the altar-table. Finally, the altar linens and other paraphernalia are blessed with their own rites, and Mass is said at the altar. The essence of the consecration consists in the anointing of the twelve crosses painted or affixed to the inner walls, with the form “Santificetur et consecretur hoc templum” (Let this temple be sanctified and consecrated). Since consecration adheres to the walls, it is lost when the walls in greater part are simultaneously demolished, or the inner ones destroyed; also when additions enlarge the walls in any dimension.