Yesterday, the feast of Pentecost (Whitsunday) was the final day of the Easter season. Today is the anniversary of the dedication of our parish church in 1950 by Bishop Cyril Cowderoy. If you are in the church today you will notice the consecration candles lit round the walls of the building: these mark where the walls were anointed with holy oil by the bishop when the church was consecrated.
In a Catholic parish we mark at least three dedication festivals each year: that of the pope’s cathedral (the basilica of St John Lateran, on 9 November), that of our own cathedral, St George’s, (7 November) and our own parish church. We see church buildings as important, as the primary place for the celebration of the sacraments – so we don’t normally use churches for other purposes (e.g. secular concerts or social events). They also witness to the doctrine of the Incarnation in that they testify to how God uses material things, such as buildings and art designed to honour God, as a way of giving us grace. This has a lot of implications: we treat church buildings with respect, and we also try and make them open and accessible for people to come in a find time to pray or reflect in God’s presence – particularly in the presence of the reserved Sacrament in the tabernacle, which Pope St Paul VI called the ‘beating heart’ of every Catholic Church.
All this has been challenged enormously since the beginning of the pandemic, here and elsewhere. At various points it has been necessary for the church to be closed to almost everyone, an unprecedented act, but necessary to protect people and serve the Common Good. Moreover when we have been able to get to Mass, almost everything we do has been curtailed and restricted; while the bishops have relaxed some restrictions this week, in line with medical advice and government policy, we still have a long way to go. At the same time we are fortunate that Mass and other acts of worship are broadcast live and recorded, bringing this holy church building into people’s homes, all over the world.
Later in the year, when hopefully all restrictions will be lifted, it will be important for all of us to reopen St Edmund’s fully – welcoming people without having to ask their name and contact details, allowing them to move freely around the church, lighting candles at shrines (this has begun to be restored now), praying in our quiet Lady chapel with its beautiful and powerful mosaic of Our Lady, singing the praises of God, and so on. We will also need to spend money on the fabric of the building, as it is over twenty years since it was extensively refurbished; reopening our church fully will be an opportunity to reflect on its place in our lives and in the Beckenham community.
While the church was consecrated in 1950 it was built before the war. Today is a good day to give thanks for those whose vision brought the building into being – Father Patrick Byrne, the architect J. O’Hanlon Hughes (who also designed the striking Salvation Army training college at Denmark Hill) and others – and pray for their souls.
God bless and take care