Bishop explains significance of consecrating new altar

NOTE: The following letter was published in the February 7, 2019 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

My dear brothers and sisters,

Wow, after the last issue of The Catholic Spirit was published, many of you asked me if I was going away or just cutting back on my schedule. One of you even worried that I was getting “burn out” from going around too much. I realized you were concerned about me and I am grateful for that. Upon inquiry with our staff I learned that apparently the last issue of “The Catholic Spirit” had space issues and they cut my schedule, only listing the first couple of days activities. So, if any are wondering, no I am not going away on vacation to somewhere warm, although that sounds tempting, and no I am not “burnt out.” I am keeping my regular schedule of visits and even added some more for Catholic Schools week. The whole schedule was still listed on our webpage but was not in “The Catholic Spirit.”

The situation did remind me that some of you actually follow my schedule and read my regular column. That was encouraging, as I thought perhaps only my mother was a regular reader. I try to share the schedule with you, as much as I can, and write a regular column to keep you aware of some of the things going on in my life and the life of our wonderful diocese. I will continue to do so, especially since I now know that you are following it.

The last Saturday in January, I had a unique privilege in our diocese. I consecrated a new altar at St. Magdalen de Pazzi Parish in Flemington. It was a joyful Mass. It is only the second time I have consecrated an altar, having done one previously at Our Lady of the Mount Parish in Warren when they refurbished their parish, too. Consecrating a new altar is one of the responsibilities and privileges of a bishop.

As part of the ritual when we consecrate an altar, it is anointed with sacred chrism. At the Chrism Mass during Holy Week, each diocesan bishop consecrates the chrism oil, the oil of the sick for the Sacrament of the Sick and oil of catechumens for baptisms which will be used in the diocese during the upcoming year. It is interesting that chrism oil is only used for anointings whenever there is a permanent change taking place in our lives, when we are being permanently marked for some specific task.

At baptism and confirmation chrism oil is used as we are made other “Christs” for the world; we are permanently marked to take on Jesus’ mission in our world today as we become members of His Body, the Church. At ordination to priesthood the palms of the priest’s hands are anointed and at a bishop’s ordination, his head is anointed, as we are marked for permanent service in the Church, ministering to the Body of Christ in Jesus’ name. The only other time Chrism is used is when a church is consecrated and an altar. The church and altar are permanently set aside for divine worship. The altar is marked permanently as a symbol of Christ, hence during Mass, when we pass by the altar we bow towards it in reverence. It is also marked as the sacred place which makes Christ present in our world through the eucharistic sacrifice which occurs on it each day.

Jesus becomes truly present to us, body, blood, soul and divinity on the altar. It is on the altar where we witness a truly blessed event, where heaven and earth come together, where Divine meets human, and as we receive Jesus’ Body and Blood, we pray that we become more like Jesus, taking on His eyes, His way of hearing and loving others. The Eucharist does this for us.

Consecrating an altar or new church is truly a special event and one to rejoice in. I was honored to be in Flemington for the consecration where our God will come to Flemington to nourish the faithful, support them and love them, as He does in your parish each day, too. We are blessed with a God who is always seeking us out, trying to break more fully into our lives, even with His own presence. I try to emulate and share that love of our God with you as your bishop, so know of my love for you, too, and my gratitude for you. I ask your continued prayers for me, that I may be the bishop you so much deserve. God bless you!

The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen