by Fr Harry Curtis, Parish Priest

Wheeee!  It’s over!  “It”, of course, is the Dedication of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Coventry. 

“It” has been the focus of all our prayers and work in the parish for the past twelve months and more. 

We have had a parish Mission to help us to prepare spiritually and also a Day of Recollection; the Bidding Prayers each week have included a prayer for the Dedication; we have had innumerable planning meetings of the Finance Committee and Parish Forum and also choir practices and a servers’ practice. 

I tried to give some ideas about what was going to happen and what it all meant in homilies over the months. (My diction may not have been very clear because I did have the joy one Sunday of overhearing one parishioner saying to another after Mass, “And Father said that they are going to put a burning brassiere on the altar.”  I hope they weren’t too disappointed when the brazier was brought in). 

It all culminated in a wonderful celebration, led by Archbishop Bernard Longley, in a packed church. 

The church looked beautiful, and the music and the service matched it.  All the symbols of the service of Dedication were carried out reverently and were moving and inspiring.  But there was one symbol that was not part of the ritual that I should like to reflect on.

St. Joseph’s was built in the early 1980s and, as was not unusual in those days, there was an attempt to move away from the standard design of four walls and a roof.  In fact, it is a five-sided building, which is just a little bit awkward when we try to fit in the chairs in the most space-efficient way, but it is the feature that the architect picked out when I asked him to design a new stone altar and a new font.

Did you know that five is a significant number in the Bible?  It symbolises the grace of God – His goodness and life that reaches out to us. 

For a start, there are five Books of the Law – the five Books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  Those five books are the basis of the relationship between God and His people (“I will be your God and you shall be my people”). 

The Ten Commandments consist of five which relate to our relationship with God and five which relate to our relationship with one another. 

In terms of ritual worship, there are five types of offerings that God commanded Israel to bring to Him: the Burnt Offering (Leviticus 1; 8:18-21; 16:24); the Sin Offering (Leviticus 4; 16:3-22), Trespass (Leviticus 5:14-19; 6:1-7; 7:1-6), Grain (Leviticus 2) and Peace Offering (Leviticus 3; 7:11- 34). 

The 'tabernacle in the wilderness' which housed the Ark of the Covenant and whose design was given to Moses by God, contained five curtains (Exodus 26:3), five bars (Exodus 26:26-27), five pillars and five sockets (Exodus 26:37) and an altar made of wood that was five cubits long and five cubits wide (Exodus 27:1). The height of the court within the tabernacle was five cubits (Exodus 27:18).  The oil used for anointing the furniture in the tabernacle and the incense that was burned to honour God each had (you’ve guessed it!) five ingredients (Exodus 30:23-25).

In the New Testament Jesus refers to five several times in His parables, and when it came to feeding five thousand men He used five loaves.  Finally, He received five sacred wounds, symbolized by the five grains of incense that are inserted into the Paschal Candle at the Easter Vigil.

When you enter St. Joseph’s the five walls surround you, and it is not difficult to imagine that they symbolize the grace of God reaching out to us and enfolding us, like the wings of a mother hen encircling her chicks. 

The font stands just inside the main body of the church; it is five-sided and reminds us that through the waters of baptism we die with Jesus, sharing in His wounds, so that we may rise to new life with Him.  The font leads us to the sanctuary, where the word of God will be proclaimed from the five-sided lectern, and we shall be fed, not with five loaves, but with the One Bread – the Body of Christ. 

On the altar, which has pentagonal legs, the one Offering of Calvary will be made to God the Father, replacing and fulfilling all the offerings of the Old Testament.

In the beautiful prayer of Dedication the Archbishop addressed these words to the Father:
“Today we come before you, to dedicate to your lasting service this house of prayer, this temple of worship, this home in which we are nourished by your word and your sacraments. Here is reflected the mystery of the Church. The Church is fruitful, made holy by the blood of Christ: a bride made radiant with his glory, a virgin splendid in the wholeness of her faith, a mother blessed through the power of the Spirit. The Church is holy, your chosen vineyard: its branches envelop the world, its tendrils, carried on the tree of the cross, reach up to the kingdom of heaven.  The Church is favoured, the dwelling place of God on earth: a temple built of living stones, founded on the apostles with Jesus Christ its corner stone. The Church is exalted, a city set on a mountain: a beacon to the whole world, bright with the glory of the Lamb, and echoing the prayers of her saints.  Lord, send your Spirit from heaven to make this church an ever holy place, and this altar a ready table for the sacrifice of Christ. Here may the waters of baptism overwhelm the shame of sin; here may your people die to sin and live again through grace as your children.  Here may your children, gathered around your altar, celebrate the memorial of the Paschal Lamb, and be fed at the table of Christ’s word and Christ’s body. Here may prayer, the Church’s banquet, resound through heaven and earth as a plea for the world’s salvation. Here may the poor find justice, the victims of oppression, true freedom. From here may the whole world clothed in the dignity of the children of God, enter with gladness your city of peace. We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”

Amen.  Let it be.  Alleluia!

View lots more photos here