by Father Mike Stubbs
The names of several area towns all share something in common. Blue Springs, Excelsior Springs, Bonner Springs all include the word “springs.”
This is no accident. Neither is it an affectation on the part of these towns to promote themselves. Rather, it is grounded in reality.
Local geology and the water table combine to produce springs of water in those places. Water collects on the limestone bedrock. That pool of water seeps out in the form of a spring.
That is also the image that Sunday’s first reading — Ez 47:1-2, 8-9, 12 — presents to us: “The angel brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the façade of the temple was toward the east; the water flowed down from the southern side of the temple, south of the altar.”
That spring of water eventually forms a life-giving river. On its banks, fruit-bearing trees grow, whose leaves serve as medicine. The river flows into the sea and enables fish to flourish there.
That river represents God’s grace, which flows to the people of Israel from the Temple. In that, Ezekiel’s prophecy anticipates the grace that flows to us from the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the source of life for the church, because it provides us with the body and blood of Jesus Christ, our spiritual nourishment. Its grace flows from the altar where we celebrate it, just as the life-giving river flows from the altar in Ezekiel’s prophecy.
That is why the altar stands out as the most important spot in the church building. The rite of dedication of a church draws attention to that importance. It is a very impressive ceremony.
First, the altar is sprinkled with holy water, along with the walls of the church and the people. Then, the altar is anointed with chrism. “The anointing with chrism makes the altar a symbol of Christ, who, before all others, is and is called ‘The Anointed One’; for the Father anointed him with the Holy Spirit and constituted him the High Priest so that on the altar of his body he might offer the sacrifice of his life for the salvation of all” (Rite of Dedication, 16).
Next, “incense is burned on the altar to signify that Christ’s sacrifice, there perpetuated in mystery, ascends to God as an odor of sweetness, and also to signify that the people’s prayers rise up pleasing and acceptable, reaching the throne of God.” A cloth is placed on the altar, because “it is the Lord’s table at which all God’s people joyously meet to be refreshed with divine food, namely, the body and blood of Christ sacrificed.”
As we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran, the mother church of Christendom, we honor all our churches, where we partake of the Eucharist, our source of life.