On Monday 11 November, the monastic community at Sant’Anselmo celebrated the 119th anniversary of the Dedication of the Basilica of Sant’Anselmo, with Prior Mauritius Wilde presiding for the community Mass. Mass was celebrated in honor of and thanksgiving for the basilica’s history and its ongoing importance for the daily life of the community.
Prior Wilde’s homily can be found below.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Pope Leo XIII wanted to build the monastery of Sant’Anselmo and also this church. The Pope had financially supported its construction in a very generous way; and was also personally interested in how the work proceeded. Since he could not leave the Vatican at the time, he observed the construction of the building from the Vatican observatory with a telescope.
“The time has come when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father”, says Jesus in the Gospel, and adds: “The time has come, and it is this, in which true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”.
In reality, all the readings that the liturgy offers us regarding the solemnity of the dedication of a church speak of the fact that the church is more than a place, that the Church transcends the physical place, the walls, and manifests itself in the living stones and in the spirit.
However, meditating on this beautiful festival, I found myself catapulted back, still to the place, still to the walls. As the prophet Samuel asks: “Behold the heavens and the heavens of heaven cannot contain you, the less this house which I have built! But is it really true that God lives on earth”? Yes, it is true. He lives on earth. In the way God lived on earth, God incarnate, so today he lives in his church, even in our physical churches.
Truly, the physical church is a gift to be admired, not to mention the Church that we comprise as living stones, as a community, as the body of Christ, as a spiritual temple. Yes, even the stones, the walls, the space, the concrete house: they were given to us as a manifestation of the presence of God. We must not take for granted the fact that we have this church here, so big, so beautiful, our church, created for us Benedictines, here on the Aventine Hill.
I say this thinking of another reality today: In some parts of the world there are churches that are attacked, and even burned. And, what is more, at least in Europe: many churches are secularized. They are sold or demolished. They are turned into museums, supermarkets, restaurants, or hotels. I have seen confessionals that are now used as bar counters.
Therefore, it is not a foregone thing, naturally, to have a church, even walls. It means:
- To have a place where you can escape to pray, in front of the tabernacle, in front of the Madonna.
- To have a place that lets us catch our breath after class, after manual work or in the office.
- To have a space where we can celebrate ordinary Lods on ordinary mornings with eyes still half closed,
- but also a space where we can practice our Benedictine liturgy, with many ministers in great solemnity, but in simplicity.
- To have an organ that sounds good.
- To have a space where spouses can promise their love forever.
- To have a place where even visitors, tourists, “get lost”, finding themselves at the end of the Aventine roads, and perhaps finding some of that tranquility, that serenity that only God can give.
- To have a place that makes meeting God possible.
- To have a house where he lives, our God lives.
This is an extraordinary gift. As Benedictines we are used to having a church for us, almost like our living room. But, it seems to me, it’s something you don’t have to get used to. God is clearly among us. God dwells on the earth. We can also be grateful for these walls.
Surely, behind these walls there are the people who take care of this sacred space:
- the rector of the church,
- the sacristans,
- the volunteers who clean it,
- the administration that pays for electricity,
- the brother who takes care of the microphones,
- the development director who contributes to major improvements,
- and of course WE, who pray here.
We, together with these walls, are the church – alive.
- The bells ring from the bell tower and call us to prayers.
- The walls transmit the sound; they give us the necessary acoustics for Gregorian chant. Of course, we could also sing on the street, but…
Thanks to these walls we also have the story with us, the lives of our brothers who were before us:
- the brothers of Beuron and Maria Laach who created the mosaics,
- the brothers of St. Paul Outside the Walls that gave us these huge granite columns, taken from their old church,
- the genius of the first Abbot Primate, Hildebrand de Hemptinne, who created the design of this church.
On 11 November 1900, the Secretary of State of Pope Leo, cardinal Mariano Rampolla, officiated the Rite of Dedication of this church in the presence of 12 other cardinals, 16 bishops, 52 abbots, all the rectors of the pontifical universities, and many ambassadors.
Dear brothers and sisters, I hope with my homily I was able to “anoint” these walls a little as the cardinal did 119 years ago. However, like a Benedictine, I also remember the vision that our Holy Father Benedict had when he saw that his monastery would be destroyed. He cried so much. The walls are transient.
Our Lord Jesus ended his life outside a temple, hanging on the cross, exposed, halfway between heaven and earth. However, God did not abandon him. We are also on earth, but we pray in spirit. God will never abandon us. We will always find a space to pray and to sing, in spirit and in truth.