The first of seven chapters of the RDCA (Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar) treats the start of the physical project, either the laying of the foundation stone, or the start of physical work. There are thirty-one numbered sections. We’ll look at 1 through 8, the introduction, followed by the rite itself and its options, 9-31.
For today, let’s just look at the beginning of the introduction. These sections are often overlooked, but as we’ve seen in the past, they can be extremely enlightening with regard to the sacramental theology and the pastoral practice of the Church.
1. When the building of a new church begins, it is desirable to celebrate a rite to ask God’s blessing for the success of the work and to remind the people that the structure built of stone will be a visible sign of the living Church, God’s building that is formed of the people themselves. (cf. 1 Cor 3:9; Lumen Gentium 6)
In accordance with liturgical tradition, this rite consists of the blessing of the site of the new church and the blessing and laying of the foundation stone. When there is to be no foundation stone because of the particular architecture of the building, the rite of the blessing of the site of the new church should still be celebrated in order to dedicate the beginning of the work of God.
A community fortunate enough to commence a building project should celebrate this moment, indulge the future memories, and make this a prayerful and communal celebration. It’s important. How much so? It may be done on any day except during the Triduum:
2. The rite for the laying of a foundation stone or for beginning a new church may be celebrated on any day except during the Easter triduum. But the preference should be for a day when the people can be present in large numbers.
Sunday would seem to be indicated.
And who should lead it? It’s important enough to invite the bishop:
3. The bishop of the diocese is rightly the one to celebrate the rite. If he cannot do so himself, he shall entrust the function to another bishop or a priest, especially to one who is his associate and assistant in the pastoral care of the diocese or of the community for which the new church is to be built.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime situation for most faith communities. The bishop needs to celebrate and lead it. The community should plan for it. These rites deserve attention and the fullest and most complete possible celebration.